According to a study released by the National Center on Adiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, teens between the ages of 12-17 who use social media on any given day are five times more likely to smoke cigarettes, three times more likely to drink alcohol, twice as likely to fire up a doob, and almost three times likelier to be able to get controlled prescription drugs without a prescription. They’re more than twice as likely to be able to get alcohol in a day or less and much likelier to have friends and classmates who abuse illegal and prescription drugs than teens this age who don’t use social media.
That’s because those losers have no friends.
Reality programming—called “suggestive teen programming”—is also reportedly an influencing factor (surprise!), in that one third of teens (32 percent) watch teen reality shows like Jersey Shore, Teen Mom, or 16 and Pregnant or teen dramas like Skins or Gossip Girl in a typical week. Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA Columbia’s Founder and Chairman and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, says:
“The relationship of social networking site images of kids drunk, passed out, or using drugs and of suggestive teen programming to increased teen risk of substance abuse offers grotesque confirmation of the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. The time has come for those who operate and profit from social networking sites like Facebook to deploy their technological 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. Continuing to provide the electronic vehicle for transmitting such images constitutes electronic child abuse.”
Compared to teens who do not watch such programs, they are twice as likely to use tobacco, almost twice as likely to use alcohol, more than one-and-a-half times likelier to use marijuana, twice as likely to be able to get marijuana within a day or less, and more than one-and-a-half times likelier to be able to get prescription drugs without a prescription within a day or less.
Dang. Need a pharma treat? You don’t even need to go downtown anymore, just hit up the babysitter.
This is CASA’s 16th annual Back to School survey.
But don’t put little Kaieleigh or Bentlee on lockdown just yet. Some researchers have rightly cast a side-eye as to whether online activity actually puts teens at risk for drug use, saying the link between the two behaviors doesn’t suggest social media use encourages drug or alcohol abuse use. Kids who do not use any form of social media can still be exposed to these pictures, probably because they are kids and this kind of shit happens sometimes when you’re a kid. According to a blog post on SFGate:
The research wasn’t set up to determine a cause and effect ”in part because human will – the individual’s decision to use illegal drugs, alcohol and tobacco – always comes into play,” Steve Wagner of QEV Analytics, a Washington, D.C., research firm that was affiliated with the study.
Maybe some teens who view pictures on Facebook or Twitter of their peers partying feel left out, but Time magazine questioned whether seeing a picture of someone using a controlled substance influences actual substance use.
Maia Szalavitz wrote:
“Given CASA’s purported horror at these dangerous images, I was surprised to see that the main webpage of its report shows a teen girl lying on a couch with a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other, while in the foreground a teen boy lights a joint. Maybe even CASA can’t take its own correlation-based fear-mongering seriously anymore?”
The parents CASA polled were equally skeptical of social media’s effect on teens. Nine out of ten surveyed parents said they thought social media did not make it more likely that their children would use alcohol or drugs.
Some researchers criticized the study for not focusing on the right details. Mike Males, a researcher at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco, told the Chicago Tribune that the study did not control for other factors—such as a parent’s history with substance abuse—that could more definitively account for a teenager’s foray into drug and alcohol consumption. And YouthFacts.Org, a group “that seeks to debunk the barrage of modern mistruths about youth,” tore the findings and the entire study apart, denouncing it as “yet another simplistic, sensational study on youth.”
Social network outlets are increasingly being seen as influential upon behavior. In an article earlier this year regarding “Facebook Depression” (a mental condition surprisingly not mentioned in the DSM-IV), the Associated Press wrote about how statuses and pictures can influence teens’ psyches:
“With in-your-face friends’ tallies, status updates and photos of happy-looking people having great times, Facebook pages can make some kids feel even worse if they think they don’t measure up.”
I conducted a study of my own, the results of which are surprising.
Teenagers are going to get into some shit no matter what. Facebook and Twitter weren’t around when I was a kid and I got into shit. I’m sure my mother – though of course she denies it as most parents do – got into some shit. Talk to your kid. Understand what’s out there enticing them. Remember the pressure you felt when you were their age. And chill out. If you have a great relationship with your kid, there’s probably nothing to worry about.