Drinking in middle school tied to risky sex
Kids who begin drinking in the 7th grade are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior in mid-adolescence - but parents can make a difference in their kids’ drinking habits, researchers have shown.
In a new study, U.S. investigators found that students who said they started drinking by the 7th grade were more likely to say they had unprotected sex, multiple partners, sex while drunk or high, or been pregnant.
In another related study, a group of researchers showed that middle-schoolers who binge drink—downing at least 5 drinks on one occasion—are more likely to binge drink in high school.
However, kids who said their parents were involved in their lives—communicated well with them, were reasonable, and moderately supervised their activities—were less likely to say they tried binge drinking. This suggests that parents can influence kids’ choices, the researchers write.
“Parents often underestimate the risks to which their young teens are exposed or the extent to which they still have influence over what their children do and who they hang out with,” Dr. Ann Stueve, an author of the study on early drinking and risky sex, told Reuters Health.
“Talking to children before they start to drink or have sex is critical to promoting abstinence and setting young teens on a healthy course,” she added.
Both studies appear in the American Journal of Public Health.
Stueve and her colleague Dr. Lydia N. O’Donnell, both based at the Education Development Center in Newton, Massachusetts, surveyed 1034 African-American and Latino students in the 7th and 10th grades about their drinking and sexual behaviors.
Kids who drank by 7th grade were also more likely to take sexual risks, such as having unprotected sex. Girls who drank at an early age were more likely to start having sex and have had sex during the previous 3 months.
Stueve explained that there are “many possible reasons” why drinking early in life could put kids at risk of later problems. For one, early drinkers may have problems at home or with friends, or feel peer pressure to do more grown-up things, she said.
“Once youth initiate risk behaviors, such as drinking, they are more likely to engage in risky behaviors in the future,” Stueve noted. “This is why it is so important to begin prevention early, before youth initiate drinking or sex.”
As part of the related study, Dr. Vincent Guilamo-Ramos of Columbia University in New York and his colleagues surveyed 5,300 7th and 8th grade students about their drinking patterns. Eight percent of 7th graders and 17 percent of 8th graders said they had tried binge drinking in the last year, and those who did in middle school were more likely to continue the habit in high school.
However, students who said their parents did very little to control or supervise—or were extremely controlling and supervising—were more likely to binge drink. “These data show that relatively moderate levels of control and supervision are optimal,” the authors write.
Students who said they were happy with the way they communicated with their parents, and their parents took the time to explain why something they did was wrong, were less likely to binge drink.
SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health, May 2005.
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