American teenagers of middle and high school age are more likely to smoke, drink and use drugs if they also spend time on social networking sites, according to a new study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
The study, released Wednesday found that teens spending any time at all on social networking sites were five times more likely to smoke cigarettes, three times more likely to drink and twice as likely to smoke marijuana. It lists Facebook and Myspace specifically, though it casts a much wider net.
CASA Columbia surveyed 12-to-17 year olds asking whether they spent any time on social media sites, finding that 70 percent of the teens they surveyed do use the sites. The survey also found that 40 percent of all teens have seen pictures on those sites of kids drinking or using drugs and that half of those teens were not yet teens – they were 13 years old or younger.
Seeing pictures appears to be a real focus of the study, as exposure to such images seems to spark higher usage of alcohol and marijuana.
“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,” said Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA Columbia’s Founder and Chairman and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare.
In the report, Califano also called for social networking sites to act against this trend.
“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.”
Needless to say, not everyone agrees with the findings. Mike Males at YouthFacts.org quickly posted a response calling the study "simplistic," "sensational" and, possibly, "invalid on its face."
Males writes that the report is "typical of a genre of uncontrolled studies that make sensational claims touting media influences without assessing their importance in relation to a host of far more important family, community, and individual influences."
His biggest objection was that he saw no evidence that the study controlled for age.
It will be interesting to see how this one plays out.