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The Dangerous Combo: Early-Maturing Girls, Absent Parents and Alcohol

Looks like Mom and Dad’s strict anti-booze rules may not have been in vain after all.

Teenagers who grow up in households with inadequate supervision may be at a higher risk of behavioral issues, including substance abuse, research shows. This risk may be especially high for girls who reach puberty early, a new study finds.

The Behaviors of Young Teenage Girls

Researchers at Florida Atlantic University tracked the behavior of 957 girls in a small city in Sweden for four years, between the ages of 13 to 17, the years when young people typically begin drinking. Based on the age of their first period, the participants were classified as:

  • Early maturing (before age 12)
  • On-time maturing (age 12-13)
  • Late maturing (age 14 or older)

While all of the girls consumed alcohol with increasing frequency as they got older, among those who matured late or on time, a lack of parental supervision had little-to-no impact on their drinking habits. For early maturing girls, however, a lack of parental involvement significantly impacted the likelihood of underage drinking and alcohol abuse.

The Benefits of Proactive Parenting

Because of absent parents, and alcohol an early matured girl sitting alone at a riverside So, why does parental involvement impact the drinking habits of teenage girls? Experts believe girls who mature early may be more influenced by the drinking behaviors of older peers.
“Early maturing girls are quite distinct from their age mates and often seek the company of older peers, so as not to stand out physically,” said study co-author Brett Laursen, Ph.D., professor at FAU’s Department of Psychology.
“Affiliation with older peers creates vulnerability, because influence is not equally distributed between friends, and younger partners tend to adopt the drinking habits of older partners.”
Among the group of early maturing girls, those with strict parents saw:

  • An 84 percent increase in alcohol abuse between 7th and 10th grade.
  • Those whose parents were medium-strict saw a 160% increase in alcohol abuse.
  • Those whose parents left them alone saw a 234% increase in alcohol abuse, the highest rate among the study participants.

Researchers also found that the more girls drank in their early teens, the more autonomy they were granted by their parents later on. And parents seemed to withdraw their supervision of teen girls who drank the most.

Making Involvement a Priority

In evaluating parental involvement and supervision among the group’s seventh to 10th grade girls, researchers noted the following trends:

  • A 12 percent decrease in parental supervision among teens who abused the least substances
  • An 18 percent decrease in parental supervision among teens that used an “average” amount of substances
  • A 24 percent decrease in parental supervision among teens with the highest levels of alcohol abuse

“The etiology of escalating problems with alcohol in this group can be traced, in part, to a relative absence of parent supervision during a time when peer interactions assume special significance,” explained study lead author Daniel J. Dickson, Ph.D. student at FAU.

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Additional Reading: Mental Health Awareness: Teens and Dual Diagnosis

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