WEDNESDAY, Aug. 24, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. teens who use social networking sites and watch "suggestive" TV shows are more likely to use drugs and alcohol than teens with little exposure to such media, a new survey found.
The survey included more than 1,000 youths from around the nation aged 12 to 17 and about half of their parents. On a typical day, about 70 percent of teens said they used social networking sites.
Social network users were five times more likely to report using tobacco (10 percent versus 2 percent), three times more likely to say they used alcohol (26 percent versus 9 percent) and twice as likely to admit using marijuana (13 percent versus 7 percent).
Researchers said the association held even when accounting for the age of the teens. For example, about 20 percent of 16- and 17-year-olds who regularly used social networking sites reported trying marijuana compared to 11 percent of kids who did not use social networking sites regularly.
About one-third of teens also said they regularly watch teen TV shows such as "Jersey Shore," "16 and Pregnant," "Skins" and "Gossip Girl."
Regular viewers of any of those programs were about twice as likely to use tobacco or alcohol, according to the survey, commissioned by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University in New York City.
"The results are profoundly troubling," the authors wrote in the report, released Aug. 24. "This year's survey reveals how the anything goes, free-for-all world of Internet expression [and] suggestive television programming ... put teens at sharply increased risk of substance abuse."
But the survey doesn't prove that watching "Jersey Shore" or spending time on Facebook leads to substance abuse, only that kids who watch those shows and use social networking sites are more likely to report smoking or alcohol use, said Michael Gilbert, a senior fellow at University of Southern California's Center for the Digital Future.
And yet, that's not to say that what kids see on TV or on the Internet doesn't affect them, Gilbert said.
About half of teens who regularly use social networking sites said they've seen pictures of kids drunk, passed out or using drugs on these sites, according to the survey. Seeing those images may reinforce the idea that "everybody's doing it," he said.
"There is no question the Web makes information available to youngsters. They know how to get information on drugs. There is also no question that through social media like Facebook they can see what other students are doing," Gilbert said. "If they see that, in fact, others are smoking dope, it makes it seem to be a rite of passage."
There also may be other reasons why the 30 percent of kids who don't use social networking are abstaining, including the possibility that they're growing up in very religious families or in homes where ethnic traditions dictate that children be highly supervised, Gilbert added.
The survey also found that nine in 10 parents don't think that spending time on social networking sites increases the likelihood kids will drink or use drugs, and only 64 percent of parents whose kids use social networking sites monitor their use.
"Parents should be looking at what their kids are watching on television and, secondly, what they are watching on social networks," said Joseph Califano Jr., founder and chairman of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.
In other findings:
- Nearly one in five children reported being cyber-bullied, meaning someone had posted mean or embarrassing things about them on a social networking site. Teens who have been cyber-bullied are more than twice as likely to use tobacco, alcohol and marijuana.
- Teens whose parents don't "agree completely" with each other on what to say to their teen about drug use are more than three times more likely to use marijuana than teens whose parents agree completely on what to say about drug use.
- Teens whose parents do not agree completely with each other on what to say to their teen about drinking alcohol are twice as likely to use alcohol than teens whose parents agree.
Teens were also asked if they agreed with any of these statements: "If a friend of mine uses illegal drugs, it's none of my business," "I should be able to do what I want with my own body" or "It's not a big deal to have sex with someone you don't care that much about." Teens who supported any of those beliefs were three times more likely to use marijuana, twice as likely to drink alcohol and much more likely to smoke cigarettes than teens who disagreed with the statements.
The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has information for teens about drugs and addiction.