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Health & Parenting

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Social Networking Tied to Teen Drug, Alcohol Use

Survey Shows Parents Underestimate How Social Networks Affect Teens' Risk of Using Drugs or Alcohol

Reality TV, Cyberbullying Also an Issue

It is not just what they see on the Internet that influences these decisions. Teens who watch “suggestive teen programming” such as reality TV shows like Jersey Shore, Teen Mom, 16 and Pregnant, and teen dramas such as Skins or Gossip Girl are also more likely to use tobacco, alcohol, or marijuana, CASA's survey shows.

“It is a phenomenal assault on public health that we subject teens to pictures of drugs, alcohol, or teens being drunk or passed out on the Internet, in films, and on TV shows that are suggestive and glorify drinking and drugging,” Califano says.

Cyberbullying also plays a role. In CASA's survey, teens who reported that someone had posted nasty or embarrassing things about them online are at greater risk for substance abuse. One in five teens aged 12 to 17 have been cyberbullied, the survey showed.

Teens have always been subject to peer pressure, and virtual peer pressure via social networking sites is no exception, says Andres Huberman, MD, the medical director of Project Outreach in West Hempstead, N.Y., which is part of Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y.

“They see these images and there are no moral or educational statements accompanying them, so teens may be left with the impression that this is what the real world is about and that everybody is doing it, so it is OK,” Huberman says.

Parents should keep an eye on what is happening, but social networks can make it difficult to do so, says Huberman, who is a parent of teens. Parents need to find a way to “meet” their teen’s virtual friends in the same way that they would their actual friends, he says.

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