A New Breed of Peer Pressure Strikes Teens

If you haven’t heard about “digital peer pressure,” you may be missing something that could have a serious impact on your teen. In its 17th annual back-to-school survey, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University found that social media is playing a role in teens’ decision to use drugs and alcohol. Similar to last year’s survey, the researchers found:

  • 75 percent of teens said seeing pictures of teens partying with alcohol or marijuana on social networking sites encouraged them to do the same.
  • 45 percent of teens said they have seen these party-promoting pictures online, 47 percent of whom said that it seems like the kids in the pictures were having a good time.
  • Teens who saw images of partying were four times more likely to have used marijuana, more than three times likelier to have used alcohol and almost three times more likely to have used tobacco.

“Seeing teens partying with alcohol or marijuana on Facebook and other sites encourages other teens to want to party like that,” said Emily Feinstein, a senior policy analyst with CASA. “Clearly, parents really need to help children navigate that world safely.”

The Pluses and Minuses of Social Media

Studies show that three-quarters of teens have social networking accounts. Chances are your teen is not about to give up social networking, nor should they. There are both pluses and minuses to consider before deciding how much social media is too much.

Here are a few of the advantages of today’s teens’ hyperconnectivity:

  • Social media helps teens communicate with extended family and friends.
  • In surveys, teens report feeling that social networks help them to be more confident and less shy and depressed.
  • Teens who would ordinarily isolate themselves socially have opportunities to make friends online.

And the inevitable drawbacks:

  • Bullying has entered the cyber world. In fact, online cruelty can be even worse than face-to-face menacing because teens have a sense of anonymity and tend to minimize the potential consequences.
  • Social networking can become a type of compulsion. In some studies, nearly half of teens report feeling “addicted” to their phones and about 20 percent feel addicted to social media.
  • Some teens feel overwhelmed by the hyperconnectivity offered by the Internet. In studies, one-third of teens have reported wishing “they could go back to a time when there was no Facebook.”
  • Online predators may prey on tech-savvy, but otherwise naïve teens.
  • Too much time online may impact teens’ emotional development and real-world social skills.
  • Oversharing online can lead to lost job opportunities and embarrassing moments.

Navigating the Internet – Together

It would be simple to expect your teen to use common sense online. But an experienced adult’s interpretation of common sense may be dramatically different from a teenager’s. So what can parents do to capitalize on the benefits of social media and minimize the risks?

  • Know who your teen’s friends are, both at school and online – and become one of them by friending your teen on Facebook.
  • Set limits on “screen time” and enforce them by keeping the computer in a common area of the home, such as the living room or kitchen.
  • Encourage your teen to get involved in real-world extracurricular activities such as sports, clubs and volunteer work.

On their own, your teen may not understand the risks of social media or know how to set reasonable limits for themselves. But together, you can successfully navigate the complexities of life both on and off-line.

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