Tweens – kids between 10 and 12 years of age – don’t have strong feelings that are either very positive or very negative toward alcohol and cigarettes, a new survey finds.
Researchers, reporting in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, said that should drive parents, teachers, health care providers and counselors to do more to give tween-age kids good reasons to “just say no.”
The study, by Concordia University and the State University of New York at Buffalo, found that around the tween-age years kids are ambivalent toward cigarettes and alcohol – and have both positive and negative associations with them.
Because they are especially susceptible to social influences, media depictions of drug use and peer pressure can be powerful factors in these formative years, they said.
"Initiation and escalation of alcohol and cigarette use occurring during late childhood and adolescence makes this an important developmental period to examine precursors of substance use," said Roisin O'Connor of O'Connor, a psychology specialist at Concordia. "We conducted this study to have a better understanding of what puts this group at risk for initiating substance use so we can be more proactive with prevention."
For the study, nearly 400 children participated in a computer-based test that involved targeted tasks. The tweens were asked to place pictures of cigarettes and alcohol with negative or positive words.
The next step in this study is to follow the kids over a longer period of time to see if those who begin to use these substances will experience a weakening in their negative biases toward drinking and smoking.
"We would like to track kids before they use substances and follow them out into their first few years of use and see how these processes play out," said O'Connor.