Washington: Teenagers who use social networking sites like Facebook are more likely to smoke, drink, and use illegal drugs than those who aren’t on them, according to a survey published from Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.
The researchers who surveyed more than 1,000 teens and more than 500 of their parents during March and April of this year found some startling differences between teens who used Facebook, Myspace, or other social networking sites and those who didn’t. Those who logged on were five times as likely to smoke, three times as likely to drink alcohol, and twice as likely to use marijuana.
Of course, more teens are on these sites than not — 70 percent compared to 30 percent — so telling teens to log off isn’t a realistic option for most parents do.
Nor is it necessary. One recent study suggests social networking users have higher measures of social well-being and are more like to make friends offline as well as virtually.
What is vital, say the researchers, is better monitoring by parents. Some 40 percent of teens surveyed reporting seeing photos of friends getting drunk, passed out, or using drugs. Half of the teens who saw such photos were first exposed when they were 13, and more than 90 percent when they were 15 or younger.
Those who saw such photos on these sites were, not surprisingly, more likely to mimic the activities in the photos than those on the sites who never saw such photos. One obvious conclusion to be drawn, though, is that it’s not necessarily the sites to blame but the virtual friends who make up a teen’s peer group.
Hanging with drinkers, smokers, and drug users in the social networking world — as well as the real one — may mean teens are more likely to follow the habits of these friends.
The trouble is, most parents aren’t aware of what their child is seeing on these sites. More than 85 percent of those who responded in the survey said “spending time on social networking sites does not make it more likely that their child will drink alcohol” or use drugs.
“The time has come for those who operate and profit from social networking sites like Facebook to deploy their expertise to curb such images and to deny use of their sites to children and teens who post pictures of themselves and their friends drunk, passed out or using drugs,” said Joseph Califano, founder and chair of the center that conducted the survey.
Parents, he added, need to give their teens the skills to “keep their heads above the water of the corrupting cultural currents” found on these sites.