Peer-Led Prevention Efforts Prove More Effective for Teens
> 10/11/2007 11:48:40 AM

Recent research on teen drug use education and prevention reveals the pervasive nature (both good and bad) of peer influence. In surveys conducted one year after the study began, high schoolers who'd attended drug prevention seminars led by those in the same age group reported rates of alcohol, tobacco and drug use 15% lower than those who'd been lectured by teachers or health educators.

The only logical explanation for this disparity comes from the easy truism that teens simply place more value in the words of their peers. Any sort of advice from one's elders, especially messages perceived as condescending like the "Just Say No" campaign, just don't carry as much weight as the testimony of fellow high-schoolers or those who truly "understand." Warnings delivered by parents or other adult authority figures don't necessarily make the behaviors in question more attractive to teens, but the ominous messages contained therein very often go unnoticed or meet with curt dismissal.

Unfortunately, those whose friends use drugs were actually more likely to follow suit after peer-led seminars, and in keeping with the always-relevant "If Johnny jumped off a bridge..." theme, high-schoolers are also more likely to smoke, drink and use drugs if they see the popular kids doing it (they also associate tobacco and drug use far more readily with those high-profile objects of envy than with less-prominent counterparts who lack the social standing to eat lunch at the cool table).

If any conclusions can be drawn from these studies, they would seem to fall into the confirming-common-wisdom category: kids whose friends choose not to use draw positive influence from advice pointing toward abstinence, while those whose friends are familiar with all things illicit will probably join in the fun no matter who tells them to stay away. So are drug-friendly classmates truly bad eggs leading innocent Johnnies and Janies down the road to debauchery? The situation may not be quite so dramatic, but as most parents know, kids will often follow their friends with very little concern for consequences. And positive, drug-free influences more often foster good behavior.

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