Pubertal Timing and Adolescent Alcohol Use: The Mediating Role of Parental and Peer Influences
Using intergenerational, prospective data at ages 9 months, 7, 11, and 14 years from the nationally representative United Kingdom Millennium Cohort Study, this interdisciplinary study unpacks why 14‐year‐old adolescents with early perceived pubertal timing (PT) were more likely to consume alcohol (ever, frequent, and binge alcohol use) compared to those whose PT was on‐time or late (5,757 girls, 5,799 boys; 80% White, 10% Asian, 3% Black, and 7% Other British).
Parents allowed alcohol use among 22% (18%) of early PT girls (boys) compared to 11% of late PT adolescents; formal mediation models showed differences by PT in parent permissiveness and gains in alcohol‐using friends primarily explained age 14 PT‐alcohol use associations. Parental alcohol permissiveness should be a key prevention target for early PT adolescents.
Research in context
This study aimed to discover why adolescents who go through puberty early are more likely than their peers to have alcohol.
The researchers used data from more than 11,000 adolescents in the Millennium Cohort Study – a nationally representative sample of children in the United Kingdom. Data was collected at various checkpoints throughout the children’s lives and included information on their alcohol use behaviors. They also gathered information about whether the parents permitted alcohol use, as well as the adolescents’ “perceived pubertal timing.”
The study found that,
- Girls who went through puberty early were 29% more likely to have ever had alcohol and 55% more likely to frequently have alcohol.
- Among boys, the results were 22% and 61% more likely, respectively. Boys who developed early were also 78% more likely to have binged on alcohol compared to boys who went through puberty on time.
- Adolescents who experienced earlier puberty were more likely to be allowed to have alcohol by their parents. They were more likely to have friends who had alcohol and more likely to be allowed to hang out without parental supervision.
A surprising proportion of parents in our study allowed their early-developing children to [have] alcohol at the age of 14 – in fact, one in seven,” said Rebecca Bucci, study co-author and a PhD candidate in criminology at Pennsylvania State University, as per EurekAlert.
It is important to remember that early puberty does not mean the child is more advanced in cognitive or brain development. They are not older in years or more socially mature. So allowing them freedoms common for young adults is risky.”Rebecca Bucci, study co-author, PhD candidate in criminology, Pennsylvania State University
This further instills the idea that parents should consider not allowing their child to [have] alcohol, even if they appear more physically mature,” said Jeremy Staff, study co-author, professor of sociology, criminology, and demography at Pennsylvania State University as per EurekAlert.
Even if their child starts to look like a teenager or adult at a young age, parents should maintain the level of support and structure that matches their child’s actual age and developmental maturity level.”Jeremy Staff, study co-author, professor of sociology, criminology, and demography, Pennsylvania State University