[caption id="attachment_1240" align="alignleft" width="400" caption="Image courtesy of graur codrin"][/caption] At the beginning of this week I wrote an important review of a new study by the U.S. Surgeon General that addressed the issue of smoking among teens and young adults in America today. Though the numbers of teens and young adults who smoke are clearly down from the last study, conducted in 1994, the numbers of young people who still willingly engage in this dangerous and deadly habit is alarmingly high. That is why I was really intrigued by another, related study published in The Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs which links positive and negative associations with alcohol and cigarette use to the so-called “tween” years (aged 10-12). Many Tweens Are Still Ambivalent On the heels of the Surgeon General’s findings about smoking habits which start before age 18 – 88% of adult smokers started by that age – this new report sheds light on just how early preventative messages need to start. Led by two researchers, Roisin O'Connor from Concordia University and Craig Colder from the State University of New York at Buffalo, this report focuses in on the influence of peer pressure and media portrayals of alcohol and cigarette use. The researchers asked about 400 students ages 10-12 to respond to images of alcohol and cigarettes on a computer. The children placed the images of alcohol and cigarettes with either negative or positive words, which was then extrapolated into a mathematical formula. The two researchers found that there is a general confusion about these substances for most tweens, that although children inherently seem to classify them as “bad,” they are easily swayed otherwise through either impulse or coercion. Implications and Future Research The implications of this study are clear. In the quest to eliminate smoking and underage drinking among our population, a targeted approach during these precious tween years seems more and more essential. Educators, policy makers and parents alike will be called upon to discuss the use of these substances and their portrayal in the media with their children/students in a way which helps to solidify that negative classification. As O’Connor and Colder continue their research, their new focus will be on the long term attitudes of children as they exit the tween years and start high school and college – possibly choosing to smoke and/or drink. Since the two have already identified the role that conscious thought and evaluation plays in the decisions of tweens to use (or positively classify) these substances, the next logical step is to look at how we can keep them from making the impulsive choice to use. Ultimately, the results of this study show that the scholastic approach to alcohol and cigarette use, which labels these substances as “bad” is somewhat repetitive, since children already inherently understand that. Instead, we need to refocus our effort on impulse control and behavioral management that give tweens and young teens the power to say “no.”
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