Kids Say Maybe to Alcohol and Cigarettes

Alcohol and cigarettes invoke mixed reactions from pre-adolescents

(RxWiki News) Tweens, or children aged 10-12, are among the most impressionable age groups, and currently they are decidedly ambivalent towards cigarettes and alcohol. What can be done to change their minds?

New research suggests that telling tweens to avoid cigarettes and alcohol won’t do the trick. Tweens implicitly know these substances are bad - however, they are easily overcome by social pressures.

"Talk about the dangers of cigarettes and alcohol with your children."

Roisin O'Connor, Ph.D., of Concordia University, and Craig Colder, Ph.D., of State University of New York at Buffalo, co-authored the study.

The team cites prevention as the reason for investigating the tweens attitude towards the substances. "We conducted this study to have a better understanding of what puts this group at risk for initiating substance use so we can be more proactive with prevention," said O’Connor. “We need to be concerned when kids are ambivalent because this is when they may be more easily swayed by social influences."

Three hundred seventy eight children between the ages of 10 and 12 participated in a computer based test for the study. They were asked to place pictures of cigarettes and alcohol with negative or positive words that appeared on screen.

Depending on the trial and context, the substances may have been related to a positive or negative word.

The team relied on self-reporting to determine substance use by the tweens. Of the 378 participants, 168 reported having consumed alcohol (142 of these had parental permission). Only 13 reported having smoked a cigarette (all without parental permission).

“Using a mathematical formula of probabilities we were able to identify how often responses were answered with impulsive and thoughtful processes as they related to drinking and smoking," said O'Connor.

The study suggests that tweens have an automatic negative impulse towards cigarettes and alcohol, but they have the cognitive ability to overcome this negative bias - mostly driven by social pressures.

The next stop is to watch children over a longer period of time to see if there is a weakening in the negative attitude towards the substances as the tweens grow.

The study was published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs and was funded by the American National Institute on Drug Abuse. 

Review Date: 
March 16, 2012