The eternal struggle to keep young people away from bad influences has moved to a new frontier: A research organization says teenagers who regularly log onto Facebook and other social networks are considerably more likely to smoke, drink, or use marijuana than teens who don’t visit the sites.
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, at Columbia University, has found that teens who spend time on the networks are likely to see images of their peers drinking or using drugs—images that could help convince them that substance abuse is a normal, acceptable activity.
“We’re not saying [social media] causes it,” says Joseph Califano, the center’s chairman. “But we are saying that this is a characteristic that should signal to [parents] that, well, you ought to be watching.”
The findings are in keeping with a new wave of research into how social networks might affect teen decision-making. Several studies have suggested that Facebook, MySpace, and other sites have created a new form of peer pressure, exposing young people to risky behaviors they could be tempted to emulate.
But some experts warn that the research, just like social media, is still in its infancy, and that the correlation between social networking and teen substance abuse could be disguising more relevant risk factors.
A version of this article appeared in the October 19, 2011 edition of Digital Directions as Study: Teen Users of Facebook, MySpace More Likely to Drink, Use Drugs