High school is a time for rapid physical and mental development, leading to much self-examination and comparison to peers. Students often feel peer pressure as a factor in making decisions about their behaviors. When it comes to making decisions about substance use, the social group is very influential.
A new study based on results from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health finds that when teens drink, they may experience a feeling of being socially outcast by their peers, especially when drinking alcohol is not generally practiced by fellow students at their school.
The study finds that drinking can lead to increased stress in social settings for teenagers, and can also affect academic performance, especially in schools where there are tight cliques and alcohol consumption is not an accepted behavior among students.
The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health involved 8,271 students from a total of 126 junior and senior high schools. The students were all between 7th and 12th grades and constituted the largest health-related survey ever taken of this particular age group.
The research team found that there was a connection between drinking and feeling lonely, in addition to the perception that a student didn’t see themselves as fitting in among school peers. However, the correlation was especially strong when the students attended a school in which there was a general avoidance of alcohol consumption and the students were closely connected socially.
The study was led by Dr. Robert Crosnoe, a sociologist at the University of Texas in Austin.
Dr. Crosnoe notes that despite the increased perception of social ostracizing at schools where drinking is not acceptable, this does not mean that teens who drink would benefit from being at a school where drinking is more popular within social cliques.
He says that the results instead suggest that there needs to be increased attention to teens who are suffering in school environments, with specialized attention given to youth who are struggling in a positive school environment.
The researchers used many variables to control for their results, including gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic circumstances.
When analyzing the results, they found that there was a direct connection between feeling isolated among peers and a declining grade point average. The effects could be measured in as much as three-tenths of a point of a grade point average from one year to the next.
Dr. Crosnoe explains that teens who feel like they don’t fit in at their school may struggle academically, even when they are able to do better and even when their fellow students value good grades, because the student has become more focused on social challenges than on academics.
The study’s findings are published in a recent issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.