While many believe social networking sites and teen-based reality TV are harmless, these popular forms of entertainment may have a profound negative effect, increasing alcohol and drug use amongst teens.
The popularity of reality television shows like Jersey Shore and 16 and Pregnant, and social networking sites like Facebook are Twitter, are reaching new heights. Although many parents see them as pure entertainment, new research is suggesting otherwise.
According to a survey conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University in New York City, regular viewers of reality television programs are almost twice as likely to use alcohol and tobacco.
The survey, which included more than a thousand 12- to 17-year-old youths from around the nation, determined that on a typical day, about 70 percent used social networking sites. Users of these sites were five times more likely to report using tobacco, three times more likely to report using alcohol, and twice as likely to admit to using marijuana.
Researchers reported that the association was consistent regardless of the age of the teen. For example, almost 20 percent of 16 and 17 year olds who reported regular use of social network sites also reported that they have tried marijuana in comparison to 11 percent of kids who reported that they do not regularly use social networking sites.
The survey also determined that peer pressure has a significant role in choices that teens are making, with 40 percent of whom reported seeing pictures on sites like Facebook and Twitter of friends getting drunk. Half of the youngsters reported that they have watched pictures of people being drunk, passing out or using drugs when they were 13 or, in some cases, even younger.
Former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Joseph Califano, said "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.”Although the survey does not prove that watching Jersey Shore or using Facebook leads to substance abuse, it shows that kids that engage in these behaviors are more likely to report smoking or alcohol use. It is suggested that teens who use social media are lured into drinking and smoking, but is also likely that the teens who are less likely to engage in these behaviors are also less likely to use social media.