“I began drinking alcohol at the age of thirteen and gave it up in my fifty sixth year; it was like going straight from puberty to a mid-life crisis.” –George Montgomery
Cuddling a newborn is the same as holding a bundle of pure potential–a human destiny embodied in flesh. Most parents, when envisioning their child’s journey through adulthood, cling to the vision of a happy future; they optimistically tackle the challenges of parenthood by making endless sacrifices to ensure that opportunities for health, success, happiness and love in life are optimized once their presence is no longer essential. Parents believe they are (and always will be) their child’s primary social influence, an inherited go-to guide for life’s moral quandaries. However, as evidenced in numerous publications, the debate over who holds the greatest sway over a child’s development– parents or peers–is one that remains somewhat unanswerable and opaque. It is, in all respects, a question of relativity.
Studies have been conducted to attempt an answer, and a conclusion such as this is common: “Parents are considered more vital in decisions concerning vocation or money, and peers are considered more important in decisions about clothes, social activities, and entertainment.” (www.aifs.gov.au) The social arena is an area where it is often agreed upon that parents, unfortunately, exercise little control. A child’s home life and family situation might shape a child’s behavior, but his or her personality is an unwitting attractor in establishing friendships away from the home, relationships that form under various conditions–organically–with compatibility as the ultimate glue.
An important component of person-to-person or group compatibility is a shared interest or activity, with attention to true harmonious interaction a secondary concern. But sometimes commonalities aren’t inherent or displayed, which can lead to the adoption of imitative behavior. A learned, chameleon-esque response to the pressures of social heterogeneity is crucial in avoiding the death toll of potential popularity: being publicly shunned by a group one identifies with or wants to identify with. Kids, and adults for that matter, like looking cool. This usually means that a child has to abandon certain values and likes in order to “fit in” and often spells an aberrant attraction to experimentation with alcohol and drug use.
This can be linked to Batesian Mimicry, nature’s evolutionary answer to an animal’s defensive deficiencies. Typically seen only in insects, it involves taking on the appearance of a harmful or poisonous species in order to stay alive–scaring away potential predators by parroting a threat. Adopted behaviors are not genetic, but are an instantaneous, almost instinctual response that develops to defend a child from the greatest social ill: not being liked or accepted by a particular peer group. But the poison, in the case of recreational alcohol use by adolescents and teens, rests in the cure.