Parents of teens are in the worrying business. It simply goes with the territory. Grades, school, friends…they’re all on our radar. So are alcoholism and drug abuse. While we might understand the need to talk with our teens about making the right decisions regarding substance abuse, there’s one factor we may not consider: social media and its impact on teen alcohol and drug use.
Did you know that teens who regularly use online social networks are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs? That’s what a survey from Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse suggests. The university’s study of adolescents found that those who visited social sites daily were at least three times more likely to drink alcohol and four times more likely to smoke marijuana . Those are pretty frightening numbers, considering that the vast majority of teens in the U.S. spend at least some – if not a lot – of their free time on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.
Digital Peer Pressure
The Center’s study also identified what’s being referred to as “digital peer pressure”. While peer relationships have always had a significant impact on teens’ behavior, the digital variety subjects teens to that same kind of pressure, potentially making them feel as though they need to do what “everyone else” is doing. In addition, digital peer pressure is present each time they access a social network. This means they can be subjected to this pressure 24/7.
The survey also found that:
- 45% of teens have seen photos on social networks of teens who were drunk, passed out, or abusing drugs
- 75% said that seeing pictures on social media sites of kids partying encourages other teens to do the same
While studies have examined sites like Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace, they have not yet considered the impact of newer social sites, such as Pinterest or Instagram, on teen alcoholism and drug addiction. Pinterest is a website that allows users to “pin” images they like onto virtual bulletin boards, and share those images with others. Users can pin anything from a smoothie recipe to a photo of their dream prom dress.
However, some users pin images that glorify substance use. For example, one message reads: “When my glass feels half empty, I just fill the rest with wine” or “Keep Calm and Have a Beer.” Seeing these kinds of messages repeatedly can make it seem as though drinking in excess is not only acceptable, but could be positive thing as well.
Photo and video sharing websites like Instagram and Vine can also normalize excessive behavior in the eyes of some teenagers. Tumblr, in particular, is a microblogging and image/video sharing site popular among teens. Users can post photos, quotes, blog entries, music, links, and videos, some of which glorify substance abuse. For example, it’s not difficult to find Tumblr pages dedicated to photos of people passed out from alcohol or drug use.
Does the use of social media guarantee that a teen will develop substance abuse problems? Absolutely not. Social networking sites, like Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr, can expose a teen to unhealthy behavior, but you, as a parent, are still the biggest influence on your makes decisions.
What Parents Can Do To Help Prevent Drug Abuse
In years past, the drug abuse and alcoholism conversation was, perhaps, simpler. We told kids not to drink or do drugs because it was bad for them or because it was illegal. Now social media websites have added some complexity to what parents need to address. Here’s how to start:
Talk about drug and alcohol use. If you haven’t had the conversation, now is the time. Avoid the urge to preach or lecture, and instead have a back-and-forth, ongoing discussion. Tell your teen how you worry about what alcohol or drug use might do to his or her life. Listen to what your teen wants to say about using substances. Remind them it’s illegal to drink underage, use illicit drugs, or use drugs not prescribed to them. Let them know there are real-world consequences for teen substance abuse, ranging from loss of a driver’s license to loss of academic scholarships. Set consequences for using substances, and follow through when they are violated.
Join the social networks your teen uses. It’s hard to talk about what you don’t understand. Create accounts for the social sites your teenager frequents. You don’t necessarily need to post or share information there, but the act of creating the account will help you learn more about privacy settings as well as what kind of content teens might be seeing. Maintaining a presence also allows you to talk to your teen with confidence.
Talk about social media use. While parents may be accustomed to the idea that we need to talk with kids about drug and alcohol use, some of us still may not realize that we need to discuss social media as well. Remind your teenager that people may be more likely to share messages or images related to outrageous behavior, like binge drinking; and, although it might seem like others are behaving this way all the time, they may actually not be.
Monitor social network use. Keep computers in public parts of the house, like the kitchen. If your teen has a tablet or smartphone set limits about where and when it can be used for online social networking. Ask him or her for their social website passwords, too. However, remember to maintain trust by never publicly posting anything onto your teen’s account without his or her permission. Friend or follow your adolescent’s account as well.
Get professional help for your teen. Seek professional treatment if your teen is already dealing with alcoholism or drug abuse. An addictions specialist or treatment team will evaluate him or her and recommend the best treatment plan. Teenagers often benefit most from inpatient drug rehab treatment, which allows them to begin the work of recovery in a drug-free, peer pressure-free environment. Substance abuse treatment will also likely include peer support groups, like a 12-step program, and family counseling. Since adolescents are especially vulnerable to peer pressure, ongoing care will be essential after the initial treatment period is over.
Social media use is one factor that can contribute to teen substance abuse, including alcoholism and drug addiction. Be proactive and regularly talk with your teenager about both substance abuse and social media. You might be surprised at how much he or she absorbs what you’re saying.