Teens who hang out with their friends and do not have adequate parental supervision more likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol.

A small study seems to confirm parents’ worries that the more time their teens are unsupervised, the more likely they are to try drugs and alcohol.  The study, “Out-of-School Time and Adolescent Substance Use” by Kenneth T.H. Lee and Deborah Lowe Vandell, Ph.D., from the School of Education, University of California, Irvine, California, found that teens who spend more than the average amount of unsupervised time “hanging out” with their friends were more likely to smoke cigarettes and marijuana and drink alcohol.

Researchers in the study also found that teens who are more involved in sports were less likely to smoke tobacco or pot, but they were more likely to drink. They also discovered that kids who worked part-time jobs were more likely to smoke and drink, but less likely to smoke pot. Peer Pressure also has a great deal to do with teen's experimenting with drugs and alcohol, especially teens who are not supervised by parents.

The teens in this video talk about peer pressure? How powerful is peer pressure for teens unsupervised by their parents? Do parents even know?

The surprising part of the Lee and Vandell study was that the greater than average involvement in structured school and after-school activities does not seem to protect teens from drugs and  alcohol, like some parents may think.

The study team expected structured activities to have the strongest negative relationship to kids’ use of dangerous substances, and therefore, the greatest predictive power, according to lead author of the  study, Kenneth Lee. “But we’re seeing it’s unsupervised time with peers that’s being the most predictive of substance abuse,”  Lee, a doctoral student in education at the University of  California-Irvine, told Reuters  Health in an e-mail.

Deborah Lowe Vandell, an education researcher at University of California-Irvine and co-author of the study with Lee, also points out in the  Journal of Adolescent Health that other studies have shown similar results. A growing consensus is  finding that unsupervised time with peers and a lack of structure can increase the risk of delinquency and illegal acts.

However, most research of this kind only looks at a single context, such as involvement with sports, and often focuses on ways to stop kids from using dangerous substances, rather than preventing them from ever even starting, said Lee.

“We thought it would be interesting to identify when, where and with whom adolescents are partaking of substance abuse. We thought the best way to do this would be to look at various contexts - especially in the out-of-school time environment,” continues Lee.

Teens and "Risky Behavior"

Are some teens predisposed to risky behavior? If so, should these particular teenagers go unsupervised? Should parents of some teens be more involved with their child than normal? It depends upon the child's predisposition toward risk taking. 

In early adolescence, typically between 10 to 14 years of age, is thought to be the “critical” adolescent development stage when tendencies toward “risky behavior” begin. Adolescent “risk taking" has the potential to be positive or negative, it all depends upon each child’s unique circumstances and upbringing (family values), and the involvment of the parents.

It is believed that teens, especially teens who are unsupervised and allowed to hang out with the "wrong crowd", will most likely begin to experiment with things like sex, smoking, and drugs and alcohol. It’s all about “peer pressure” and the teen’s propensity toward risky behavior.

Video: The Harmful Effects of Risky Behaviors

The adolescent brain is pre-wired toward “reward signals”. Some teens are wired to take more risks, specially when the potential reward is perceived as being great. The brain chemistry of some adolescents might explain why they are willing to take “ridiculous and dangerous” risks. The question is to parents… "is your teen a hyper risk taker?"

Understanding why some teens act crazy (brain chemistry - pre-wired for hyper risky behavior) might help parents to channel their child into more productive “risky behaviors”. The point is that some kids need a high degree of direct parental (adult) involvement and oversight.

The truth is that some teenagers do crazy things, and their chemistry in their brains might explain why. If this describes your child, you probably need to take extra steps to ensure that his/her risk tendencies focused in the right direction.

Athletics is one option for the risk taking child, but there are many more - it all depends upon the child. Other options are rock-climbing, martial arts, mountain biking, motorcross, or even flying airplanes. Some teenagers might even find they love the ‘rush’ of performing in drama or rock band.  The point is that your risky child needs to invest his/her risk taking into positive events and activities. To do so, the parent must be involved.

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