Underage drinking has a profound impact on the lives of teenagers. Research suggests the earlier the onset of underage drinking, the higher the risk of future illicit drug use and risky sexual behavior. Despite knowing the risks, teens are still drinking. But why?
First, researchers have looked at masculine norms. Norms are formed at an early age and seem to shape and guide how one is expected to interact and behave with others. Some masculine norms that are salient in our society include the drive for multiple sex partners, controlling and restricting emotion expression, competition, striving to appear heterosexual, and engaging in risky behaviors. If a male does not act in these masculine ways, society does not consider him a real man. Researchers have found that high levels of masculinity and adherence to masculine norms in college students were associated with binge drinking, intoxication, and alcohol-used related problems.
In addition to the link between masculine norms and alcohol use, peer pressure has also shown to be a factor. In late adolescence, parent involvement and supervision decreases while peer influence increases. Becoming a part of a peer group is an essential developmental milestone in adolescence as it fosters identity development and a sense of belonging. However, joining a peer group can come at a cost, as the individual likely conforms to the beliefs and values of the group.
Teens who conform to masculine norms are likely to seek out peers who engage in alcohol use and other risk-taking behaviors. Yet, they often fail to consider the negative side effects. Boys who adhere to these norms are more susceptible to peer pressure than girls, as they feel pressured to prove their manhood. Furthermore, “jocks” are less likely than “burnouts” to get away with alcohol use and inappropriate behavior, as this social group is favored in our society.
Conformity to adult norms is another link to underage drinking. Teenagers look up to adults as role models for the right way to behave. They learn expectations and norms from the adults they are surrounded by, thus when they see adults drink, they may desire to drink too. It is important to be mindful of the masculine norms, adult norms, and peer pressure in your family’s
environment to understand the risk your teen may be at to engage in underage drinking.