Focus on Teen Misbehavior
As we head into the summer season here on the east coast, we should focus on teen misbehavior -- because idle time for our kids and teens has many parents and educators concerned about the best ways to keep kids engaged and safe during the long, hot summer days. It is no secret that there is a special risk among teenage students who, whether they are lucky enough to find a summer job or not, are far more likely to engage in risky behaviors without the worry of school, homework, and tests hanging over their heads for the next few months. Two articles that I came across recently have shed some light onto the realities and effects of these risky behaviors which sometimes go hand-in-hand. The first article covers the ways in which juveniles process alcohol both physically and psychologically. As many adults know, it is a biological fact that alcohol tolerance can be built. Essentially, the more you drink, the more you can drink without feeling alcohol’s effects. Basically, your body becomes more effective at metabolizing the alcohol, allowing you to drink more and still maintain control over your physical actions. However, new research from Baylor University suggests that despite these physical tolerance increases among adolescents, the mental aspect of handling impaired behavior caused by alcohol consumption may not be as heavily affected by increased tolerance and consumption. The next article is semi-related and has a lot to do with the cyberbullying post I made yesterday. Here, a study to be published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior shows that the number of teens and young adults who continue to send and receive sexually explicit text messages (called “sexting”) has continued to increase. What’s more, often these young people have idea about the long term, often legal, danger of this activity. With summer idle days (and nights!) upon us, talking to our teens about alcohol, sex, and responsible behavior is more important than ever. [caption id="attachment_1602" align="alignright" width="300"] Image courtesy of Baylor University and iStock Photo[/caption] Juveniles Build Up Physical – But Not Mental – Tolerance for Alcohol From a Baylor University Press Release Research into alcohol's effect on juvenile rats shows they have an ability to build up a physical, but not cognitive, tolerance over the short term -- a finding that could have implications for adolescent humans, according to Baylor University psychologists. The research findings are significant because they indicate that blood alcohol concentration levels alone may not fully account for impaired orientation and navigation ability, said Jim Diaz-Granados, Ph.D., professor and chair of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor. He co-authored the study, published in the journal Brain Research. "There's been a lot of supposition about the reaction to blood alcohol levels," Diaz-Granados said. "We use the blood alcohol level to decide if someone is going to get arrested, because we think that a high level means impairment. But here we see a model where we can separate that out. You may have a tolerance in metabolism, but just because your blood alcohol concentration is less than the legal limit doesn't mean your behavior isn't impaired." "More research is needed to fully understand how adolescents react to alcohol, but this contributes a piece to the puzzle," said study co-author Douglas Matthews, Ph.D., a research scientist at Baylor and an associate professor in Psychology at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. The study was conducted in the Baylor Addiction Research Center of Baylor's Department of Psychology and Neuroscience in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences. More than half of under-age alcohol use is due to binge drinking, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and "when initial alcohol use occurs during adolescence, it increases the chance of developing alcoholism later in life," said lead study author Candice E. Van Skike, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Baylor. Researchers have long been interested in whether adolescents react differently to alcohol than adults and how alcohol use affects their brains when they reach adulthood, but Baylor researchers also wanted to test the short-term effect of alcohol on adolescents' brains in terms of memory about space and dimension. In the study, 96 rats were trained to navigate a water maze to an escape platform. Half were exposed to alcohol vapor in chambers for 16 hours a day over four days (a method to approximate binge-like alcohol intake), while others were exposed only to air. After a 28-hour break, some were injected with alcohol, then both groups tested again in the maze. A comparison found that those who had undergone the chronic intermittent ethanol exposure built up a metabolic tolerance. They were better able to eliminate alcohol from their systems than ones who had been exposed only to air, based on a comparison of the blood ethanol concentrations of the two groups after they had been injected with alcohol later. While the alcohol-injected rats swam as hard and as fast as the others, their ability to find the escape platform was impaired. Previous research at Baylor led by Matthews showed that adolescents are less sensitive than adults to motor impairment during alcohol intake because a particular neuron fires more slowly in adults who are drinking. The lack of sensitivity may be part of the reason adolescents do not realize they have had too much to drink. "It's difficult to compare metabolic and cognitive tolerance in adults with those of juveniles, because many studies that have looked at the cognitive aspect of chronic ethanol exposure didn't measure blood alcohol concentration levels," Van Skike said. "It would be an interesting comparison to make, and it is an avenue for future research." Other research has shown that high levels of alcohol consumption during human adolescence are mirrored in animals. Adolescent rats consume two to three times more ethanol than adults relative to body weight, suggesting that adolescents are who drink are pre-disposed to do so in binges. Another collaborator in the Baylor study was Adelle Novier, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Baylor. [caption id="attachment_1603" align="alignleft" width="199"] Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici[/caption] Sending Sexually Explicit Photos by Cell Phone Is Common Among Teens Press Release from Archives of Sexual Behavior A significant number of teenagers are sending and receiving sexually explicit cell phone photos, often with little, if any, awareness of the possible psychological, interpersonal, and sometimes legal consequences of doing so. Even many of those who believe there could be serious legal consequences are undeterred and still choose to engage in 'sexting'. These findings by Donald Strassberg, from the University of Utah (US), and colleagues are published online in Springer's journal Archives of Sexual Behavior. New communication technologies play an increasingly important role in the lives of young people, especially adolescents. Instant access to others via online social networks has dramatically changed when, how, and what teens learn about each other and the world. In addition, sexting -- the transfer of sexually explicit pictures via cell phones -- is a new way in which adolescents are exposed to sexual material. In many US states, those sending or receiving nude pictures of individuals under 18 risk charges as serious as possession or distribution of child pornography, carrying penalties that include being listed on a sex offender register. In addition, for those featured in the photos, there may be serious psychological consequences. Strassberg and team looked at how prevalent sexting is among adolescents and how aware, or not, teens are of the potential consequences. They recruited 606 students from a private high school in the southwest US, who completed a questionnaire about their experiences of sexting and their understanding of what consequences they believed were associated with being caught sexting. The students were also asked about their feelings on sending sexually explicit cell phone pictures, for example, in what context it might be right or wrong. Nearly 20 percent of the students, some as young as 14, said they had sent a sexually explicit image of themselves via cell phone, and nearly twice as many said that they had received a sexually explicit picture. Of those receiving such a picture, over 25 percent indicated that they had forwarded it to others. In addition, of those who had sent a sexually explicit picture, over a third had done so despite believing that there could be serious legal and other consequences if they got caught. Students who had sent a picture by cell phone were more likely than others to find the activity acceptable. The authors conclude: "These results argue for educational efforts such as cell phone safety assemblies, awareness days, integration into class curriculum and teacher training, designed to raise awareness about the potential consequences of sexting among young people."