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Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility
In addition to specific community norms for drinking, several other societal factors may affect the prevalence of heavy drinking in adolescence. First, U.S. society is largely segregated by age. As adolescents get older, they spend more and more time alone or with other peers in unsupervised settings, and both age-segregation and lack of adult supervision have been related to higher levels of substance abuse and deviance, including greater alcohol consumption. “Hanging out” with friends in unstructured, unsupervised contexts is generally related to negative outcomes, while spending time with others in adult-sanctioned, structured contexts is generally related to positive outcomes (e.g., Osgood, 1998; Osgood et al., 1996).
A particularly vulnerable time for youth is the after-school period, 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. This time is especially likely to be unsupervised as adolescents get older and parents believe that it is “safe” to leave them at home unattended. Youth who participate in after-school programs, such as sports, clubs, library-based activities, and youth-serving organizations are less likely to use alcohol than nonparticipants (Eccles and Barber, 1999). The same point about age segregation and lack of supervision applies to adolescents’ attendance at unchaperoned parties and other activities. It is not uncommon for caring parents to decide to host an all-night party with alcohol for their teenage children, taking the car keys from the guests as they arrive, on the theory that it is safer to allow drinking at home rather than to forbid it and have teens drink and drive. Individuals or organizations that host and support such events are providing opportunities that enable adolescents to drink to excess. Not surprisingly, having parents who sanction alcohol use (even in “controlled” settings) is related to heavier drinking among adolescents (Barnes et al., 1995; Peterson et al., 1994).
By and large, adolescents are even segregated by age in the workplace. Adolescents who work for pay are often employed in fast-food and similar jobs in which most of their coworkers are other adolescents (Mortimer et al., 1992). It is not uncommon for a 17-year-old to be managing a fast-food establishment and supervising 15- and 16-year-olds. Given this situation, it may not be surprising that part-time work during adolescence is positively related to involvement in drugs, alcohol, and other deviant behaviors (e.g., Bachman and Schulenberg, 1993; Greenberger and Steinberg, 1986; Steinberg et al., 1993).
The place in which adolescents are most segregated is likely to be at residential colleges. Although less than one-quarter of college students are in such settings, student-segregated apartments or college residence halls provide the conditions under which binge drinking is likely to occur: cultural norms that support drinking, little supervision by any adults, and peers who are likely to be heavily involved in drinking. In a recent study, Cook and Moore (2001) found support that college students are more likely to engage in drinking, especially heavy drinking, if they live in a