High school can be the toughest years of someone’s life. Everything is confusing—from fitting in with a group of peers to asking a girl to prom—high school is not an easy ride.
It is especially hard in the digital age, when social media is the primary way for high schoolers to connect with one another, not to feel the weight of peer pressure in high school. Often, peer pressure can lead to risk tasking behaviors such as binge drinking and substance abuse. Even just being a teenager can lead to these risk taking behaviors – teenagers are a curious breed with a desire for the unknown.
In fact, there has been research in examining the differences in risk taking between adolescents and adults. A study published by Agnieszka Tymula, a postdoctoral student at New York University, confirmed that teens do in fact love the unknown and engage in risk taking behaviors more often than adults. Whether it’s ignorance, naivety, or a sense of adventure that drives teens to take risks is unclear—maybe it’s all three. The fact of the matter is that teenagers are prone to experimentation.
Although teens are susceptible to risk, high schools can act as a breeding ground for risky and illegal opportunities. A survey by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASAColumbia) found that 17 percent of high school students—almost 3 million teens—drink, smoke, and do other drugs during the school day. In a press release, Joseph A. Califano (founder and chairman of CASAColumbia and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare) warned that, for teenagers, their time in high school are the most dangerous years. This same survey also revealed that 60 percent of high school students attend a school where drugs are sold or used on school property. Navigating your way through high school is a tough challenge; a challenge that brings with it a lot of social and academic stress. In fact, the stress level of a teenager in high school is so great that 73 percent of teens report it as their number-one reason for using drugs. Simply by attending high school, teenagers are more likely to encounter drugs and alcohol, and because they’re adolescents, they’re more likely to indulge in these risky behaviors.
Dangers of Peer Pressure
Another factor in a teen’s decision to use drugs during their high school years is peer pressure. The desire to fit in with cool or unique encourages many teens to engage in risky behavior. Parent Further printed a publication claiming that only 10 percent of teenagers surveyed said that they had NOT been influenced by beer pressure, meaning 90 percent of the teenage population had experienced peer pressure. On that note, the Foundation for a Drug-Free World found that 55 percent of teens tried drugs for the first time because they succumbed to peer pressure, and the Canadian Lung Association reported that 70 percent of teens who now smoke started because their friends did. However, with the emergence of social media and the Internet, peer pressure can take both subliminal and blatant forms. In the previously mentioned CASAColumbia study, researchers looked at the role social media played in teenagers’ drug and alcohol use. They found that 75 percent of 12 to 17-year olds surveyed said seeing pictures on the Internet of other people partying or using drugs and alcohol encouraged them to act similarly. Furthermore, teens who see these pictures of other people indulging in risk taking behaviors on social media were found to be four times more likely to have used marijuana, over three times more likely to have used alcohol, and almost three times more likely to have used tobacco. This is not the first time the CASAColumbia team has found this correlation between social media and drug use – the rates for the year before were quite similar.2 These statistics teach us that, while sending your kid to high school will always come with risks, there are ways to keep an eye out and help prevent or solve any drug or alcohol use.
As stated before, 73 percent of teens report that stress is a huge factor in their decision to use drugs, but its telling that only 7 percent of parents believe that stress plays a role in their teen’s decision to use drugs. In addition, more than one in five parents of teenagers believe talking to their kids will have no influence in their child’s decision to drink alcohol or experiment with drugs, and approximately one in ten parents don’t even speak to their kids about such things! Parents who inform their kids about the dangers of drug use substantially lower their kids’ chances of using.3 Education from both parents and adult role models, early on in a teenager’s development, can help stop any future use of illicit substances or risky actions.