The homophily theory claims that peer influence is the most important factor in adolescent-related problems. In particular, the role of peers in youth drinking patterns is greatly emphasized given the shift away from parental influence and towards the importance of friends and social relationships during the developmental stage of adolescence. Nonetheless, we hypothesized that parents and the family environment continue to play an important role in youth development. In this study we estimated the different marginal effects of parent- and peer-related variables on the probability and the frequency of alcohol consumption among adolescents in Santiago, Chile.
Data are from an ongoing NIDA-funded study of drug use with over 700 13-17 year olds (mean = 14 years, 51% male) from municipalities of mid- to low- socioeconomic status. In 2008-2009, youth completed Wave 1 assessments that consisted of a 2-hr interviewer-administered questionnaire with comprehensive questions on drug use, drug opportunities, including individual, familial, and contextual factors. Wave 2 assessments will be completed two years from now. The two dependent variables in this study are ‘ever alcohol use' (more than a few sips) and number of days alcohol consumed in the past 30 days. The study includes measures of youth mental health, peer alcohol use, quality of peers, parent alcohol consumption, quality of parenting and of child-parent relationship, parental monitoring, and parental autonomy as well as measures of neighborhood characteristics. Control variables include, age, sex, and SES. Data were analyzed with probit and negative binomial regressions.
Of the 16 predictors included in the models, peer alcohol consumption was the most important predictor that accounted for variation in the adolescents' alcohol consumption. Specifically, the probability of a youth consuming alcohol increased 10.6 percent for each additional peer who drinks alcohol, even after adjusting for all other predictors. An increase in the number of peers who consume alcohol results in about 0.93 more days of alcohol consumption per month. Despite the strong influence of peer drinking behavior, the quality of the youth relationship with the father (not the mother) and the quality of the family relationship were inversely related to the adolescent probability of ever drinking alcohol and the number of days he or she drinks.
Conclusions and Implications
As expected, peer influence is stronger than that of parents and families predicting the probability of drinking and the frequency of alcohol consumption. Findings support the importance of youth having high-quality relationships with their parents and families. Positive relationships serve to positively guide youth through the challenges of adolescence. The significant role of fathers in protecting their children from engaging in risky behaviors is of particular interest. More research is needed to better understand the protective role of mothers, fathers, and families in relation to the strong influences that peers exhibit among youth in the U.S. and in other countries and cultural contexts.