This column on Prevention is possible because of the support of Be The Influence, a collaborative group of community members from Windham and Raymond, Maine whose mission, like mine, is to promote healthy choices and help reduce teenage alcohol and other drug use. Be The Influence sends an interesting message: What is an influencer?
An influencer, as defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, is a person who impacts or changes the way other people behave.
Those of us in the field of prevention are trying to do just that— impact the decisions teenagers make when it comes to substance use. Social media is full of influencers. They are people who have built a reputation for their knowledge on a particular subject. They post regularly and create a following of people who pay attention to them.
More than half of the world’s population is using social media and therefore subject to media influence. But there is another place in the world where social influencers thrive. They are in the halls of middle and high schools around the world. They are teens who influence others with what they wear, how they act, what they say and what they believe in. It’s called peer pressure.
Peer pressure is often thought of in terms of negative peer pressure but there is also much to say about positive peer pressure. Peer pressure is about perspective. Most teens assume that teenage substance use from middle to high school is much higher than it really is. My job, as a prevention specialist, is to change their perspective. I offer them the facts.
Monitoring the Future, a yearly study done by the University of Michigan, surveys use of alcohol and all other drugs by teens across the United States.
According to the 2020 survey results, only 20.5 percent of eighth graders in the US have used alcohol in the past year which means 79.5 percent of eighth graders have not. Alcohol use increases for high schoolers; 55.3 percent of seniors used alcohol this past year but nearly half, 44.7 percent, made the healthy choice not to drink.
The data shows that substance use in middle school through high school is lower than teens perceive.
Letting teens know that many of their peers across America choose not to drink or use drugs can help influence their decisions on substance use. It tells them they are not alone in wanting to make healthy lifestyle choices.
Teens can be “social influencers” when they say “No” to alcohol or other drug use, when they take the keys from a friend who should not drive home from a party, when they work hard to get good grades, demonstrate having fun with healthy highs and practice daily self-care.
Positive peer pressure is influencing others to make good decisions.
Ask your teen who those positive influencers are in their schools and what they are doing to influence healthy choices.
We can all Be The Influence by practicing healthy habits and encouraging positive decision making with our children and those people we hope to influence in our lives.