Facebook Posting Of Alcohol Consumption May Influence Teens In Risky Behavior
Parents may now find more reason to monitor their teen’s use of social networking sites: Teens that see social networking pictures of their buddies partying with alcohol and tobacco are much more likely to use those substances.
The study was conducted by a team from the University of Southern California (USC) Keck School of Medicine that questioned 1,563 sophomore students from a Los Angeles high school on two separate occasions — once in October 2010 and then again in April 2011. Researchers asked the teens about friendships they had online through social media and also about their face-to-face friendships. They asked teens how often they utilized social networking sites and which ones they tended to use. They also asked teens about whether or not they themselves ever smoked tobacco or drank alcohol.
The USC study, which was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, is among the first to carefully investigate the way social networking behavior affects the use of alcohol and tobacco among teens.
High School Study Participants
The student participants were equally divided between girls and boys and the average age was 15. The study population generally reflected the racial make-up of the high school with one quarter of participants being Asian and two-thirds Hispanic. Right around 50 percent of the students involved in the study said they were regular visitors to social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace.
Around 30 percent of the high school students questioned said they had smoked cigarettes and above 50 percent of them said they had tried alcohol. One-third of the students said that they had a minimum of one friend who either smoked cigarettes or drank alcohol. The baseline was important in gauging how much viewing other students’ behavior might be considered as influencing their own.
When questioned, 20 percent of the students said that they had friends who posted pictures online of smoking, drinking and partying. Another 34 percent of the students said that they had at least one friend who mentioned partying (especially drinking or smoking tobacco) in their online discussions or postings. Between October 2010 and April 2011 the student use of Facebook increased by 75 percent and use of MySpace rose by 13 percent.
Results On Teens From Alcohol Posting On Social Networks
After analyzing the data, researchers found that teens are definitely influenced by online photos of their friends’ behavior, saying it didn’t seem to matter whether a teen had many or fewer friends in their network. What did seem to matter was what kind of pictures were posted by those friends.
Even if a teen did not have close, face-to-face friendships with kids who drank or smoked, they were nevertheless at risk for being affected by more exposure to pictures of those behaviors posted online. In other words, peer pressure and peer influence definitely extends into cyberspace.
The research backed up prior findings that show a difference between users of Facebook and MySpace. Teens that were only on Facebook tended to speak more English, come from higher social strata and get better grades. They also tended to not be Hispanic and were less likely to have ever tried smoking or drinking. Users of MySpace primarily tended to drink more, and the more they used MySpace the more they tended to drink.
Since 95 percent of American teens (ages 12 to 17) are online and 80 percent stay connected through sites like Facebook, these findings are extremely relevant. It isn’t only who kids hang out with at home or on the soccer field — it matters who teens connect with online. When kids are online there are any number of friends that parents may never meet in person.