The key years during which experimentation occurs - between 13 and 16.
Kobus discusses influences that launch an adolescent's smoking habit from several perspectives. First, the "social learning theory": relationships that are "more intimate" and that are developed "earlier in the youth's experiences" and thought to be more important; and youths are more likely to "imitate the smoking habits" (or non-smoking habits) of those with whom they have the closes and most frequent contact. Second, the "primary socialization theory" takes into consideration influences of the family, schools, and peer clusters; this theory also gives consideration to an adolescent's "individual personality traits" like self-esteem, anxiety, "sensation seeking and psychopathology" that are "direct influences on drug use and deviance," Kobus writes. When the bonds a youth has with family and school are "weak," the role of peer clusters is "heightened"; and of course if the individual has low self-esteem, the peer cluster plays an even more dramatic influential role.
The third theory is the "social identity theory": the self-concept of an adolescent is a combination of two self-images ("I am a smoker"), and ("I belong to the smoking group"). And when "personal identity" is a salient factor, the norms of the social group take a back seat; but then "social identity" is stronger, the adolescent will act in concert with the peer group, Kobus continues. The fourth theory is the "social network theory"; individuals that are central or "highly connected" central members of a peer group are not always the most influential, despite what might seem to be the case. When the issue at hand is "non-controversial" the central person may have great influence; but when the issue is controversial, the "marginal individual" is more important to the group. Finally, in summary, Kobus explains that teenagers do not always feel "direct pressure" from their peers to smoke; rather, they experience a "self-pressure to smoke if others around them do."
THE TIMING of PUBERTY (as an influence): The authors of this research (Dorn, et al., 2003) in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence explain that two hypotheses have stood out for years in terms of the influence that the timing of puberty's arrival has on an individual. One, the "maturational deviance hypothesis" asserts that an adolescent experiences stress and adjustment problems when puberty is "off-time" (either early or late). Why? Because the social support factors with peers are "less available," according to the research. The second hypothesis, "early-maturational" or "early timing" hypothesis posits that early arrival is a disadvantage especially for girls; "...the opportunity was passed for completion of normal developmental tasks of middle childhood." Also, when boys or girls develop earlier they face "greater pressure" since they appear to be more mature physically and so socially, they're categorized as older, and expected to do more adult-like things, for which they are not ready. Hence, early puberty has a strong influence on behavior, as there is pressure to associate with an older more mature peer group.
Early maturing boys are "more likely to participate in antisocial or deviant behavior," the authors point out, while late maturing girls have "more positive outcomes" because they are more emotionally prepared. The research article reports on a study involving 52 girls (9-14) and 56 boys (10-15) from mostly upper-middle class Caucasian families, who were in five different stages of pubertal development. The results of this study show that "pubertal timing was a significant statistical predictor of self-image and behavior problems" in most instances. In fact, the study (which involved close monitoring of hormonal levels through blood sampling and parental participation in behaviors) concluded that, "...it was always later maturing adolescents who had more negative self-image or more behavior problems." In particular, later puberty timing in boys related to "more negative behavior" than in girls.
GENETIC & ENVIRONMENTAL INFLUENCES: Meanwhile, a scholarly and sometimes technically esoteric article in Developmental Psychology (Johnson, et al., 2006) looks into the genetic and environmental influences on academic achievement during adolescence; this empirical, longitudinal and quantitative study points out that academic achievement is an "important predictor of adult outcomes" because our society is increasingly technological. So, achievement in school, for an adolescent, is often associated with "lower rates of negative outcomes" (teen pregnancy, criminal behavior) and "higher levels of positive outcomes" (stability in employment, etc.). That said, the research discussed in this article points out the rather obvious "environmental factors" that influence adolescents in school (stress caused by parental break-up, job loss, violence in the home, poor parental mental health, poverty) along with not-so-obvious genetic factors (children face genetic risks that mirror their parents' characteristics).
The researchers in Minnesota selected their participants for this study by approaching "90% of the like-sex twin pairs born in Minnesota" who were approximately 11 years old; their parents were also a large part of the research. They research ended up with 443 pairs of girls and 381 pairs of boys (whose parents signed permission slips), with follow-ups when the twins turned 14. The results of the studies reported by this article are summarized here; "We observed strong genetic influences and moderate shared environmental influences" on the participants' achievement levels, Johnson concluded.
The research also revealed "genetic influences on linear changes in achievement" which implies to those conducting the study that "some biological involvement exists in whatever developmental mechanisms operate during adolescents" that eventually lead to academic achievement. In other words, the "biological involvement" influences relate to puberty; and the genes that are involved in an adolescent's increased expression of behaviors and depression as well as the genes that are part of cognitive maturation had, in the research, "an overall change in achievement" (either good or bad, depending in most cases on "parental expectations for academic achievement during adolescence").
The bottom line following all the statistical research, for girls and boys, their IQ, relationships, and "family risk" factors / influences were stronger at the environmental level than at the genetic level. And it is worth noting this research was among Caucasians, with "very few people in abject poverty," and that the methods used were based on an assumption that "genetic and environmental influences are independent."
PARENTING INFLUENCES (on adolescent ALCOHOL use and IMPULSIVE behaviors): "The more permissive the mother or father, the more impulsive were the daughters and sons, respectively" (Fromme 2006), according to summaries of several articles in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. In that same context, a father's authoritativeness ("high warmth, high control") was "negatively related to sons' impulsivity" and a mother's authoritarianism ("low warmth, high control") was positively related to daughters' impulsivity. Translate that like this: authoritative fathers create less impulsive sons (with reference to drinking and other deviant behaviors) but authoritarian mothers result in more impulsive daughters.
Also, family environmental factors do influence whether a child grows up to be an alcoholic, the research confirms. Even in a family where parents are alcoholics, "family cohesion" was found to "mediate" the relation a child encounters with exposure to parental alcohol misuse and the child's own "sense of self-worth." In other words, even though the parents abuse alcohol, if the family is close-knit the child's sense of self-worth can be good.
But if the family has little cohesion, the opposite is true, and environmental factors in this case do contribute to a child abusing alcohol just as his family does. In another study (summarized in Fromme's article), "negative parenting" tended to mediate the relation between parent "internalizing problems" and "child affective problems" - but not child anxiety problems. When there is positive ("high-positive") involvement by parents, it was found to "moderate the relations between parent externalizing problems and child internalizing problems." That basically means, the adolescent is less likely to keep feelings inside if parents interact well in spite of their talking out loud about their problems (due in large part to excessive drinking).
FAMILY INFLUENCES on DETAINED ADOLESCENTS (with sexually transmitted diseases): Research published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry (Crosby, et al., 2006) indicates that adolescents are "disproportionately infected by sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)" and those adolescents under lock and key in juvenile detention centers are a "highly vulnerable population" when it comes to acquiring STDs. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that rates of gonorrhea among adolescent detainees were 7 times greater among males and 10 times greater among females than rates among adolescents in the general population, the article explains.
So, where does family come into this equation? Crosby's article entails the results of a study in Georgia involving detainees from 8 regional youth detention centers (RYDCs), whose male to female ration was 3 to 1; each of the 8 RYDCs held a maximum of 30 adolescents (average age 15.4 years). Eighty-five percent of the detained adolescents agreed to participate in the study (47.7% African-American, 46.1% Caucasian). Carefully constructed questionnaires were put in place to…