A new study is suggesting a link between social networking sites and using tobacco, alcohol and marijuana among youths between the ages of 12 and 17.
More than 1,000 youths and about half of their parents were interviewed. In all, about 70 percent of youth said they used social networking sites.
Those youths were five times more likely to report using tobacco (10 percent versus 2 percent), three times more likely to admit alcohol use (26 percent versus 9 percent) and twice as likely to say they used marijuana (13 percent versus 7 percent).
Regardless of the respondents' ages, alcohol and drug use was higher amongst social network users. For 16- and 17-year-olds, about 20 percent of social network users reported trying marijuana, compared to 11 percent for their non-networking counterparts.
Furthermore, one-third of teens said they regularly watch TV shows such as "Jersey Shore," "16 and Pregnant," "Skins" and "Gossip Girl," and those teens were twice as likely to use tobacco or alcohol.
Considering the study commissioned by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University in New York City, it seems legit.
But, what is it actually saying?
The authors of the report called the results "profoundly troubling" and went on to say, "This year's survey reveals how the anything goes, free-for-all world of Internet expression (and) suggestive television programming ... puts teens at sharply increased risk of substance abuse."
It could be an example of "monkey see, monkey do," as about half of the social networking teens said they've seen pictures of kids drunk, passed out or using drugs on these sites. Seeing others partaking in such activities adds another whole layer of peer pressure.
Young people can show off their exploits, which can make others who were not there feel like they're missing out. With increased privacy filters, individuals can tout their rebellious ways with little fear of recourse from parents or school officials.
Another theory is that social network users are more open about what they say. If they're bragging about getting smashed on the weekends, why wouldn't they tell a researcher about that activity? After all, they seem quite proud of themselves, especially if they don't think their parents will find out or care.
Even if parents don't see what their kids are posting online, they can make a difference.
Parents who don't "agree completely" with each other on what to say to their teen about drug use have teens who are three times more likely to use marijuana, than agreeing parents, the study said. In the same way, parents who disagree on what to say about alcohol are twice as likely to have teens who drink.
This finding is far more significant than any supposed link between pop culture and the use of drugs and alcohol.
Parents are the first people to influence their children, and must make that influence count from an early age. Decide how to approach these issues long before they become an issue. Don't assume that your children are avoiding temptations. Most importantly, keep the lines of communication open.
While social networking may make kids more susceptible to becoming users of alcohol and drugs, out-of-touch parents definitely do so.