A study from the University of Southern California (USC) claims teens are so impressionable that they can be influenced by what they see their friends doing online. Specifically, those teens who see their friends drinking and smoking in Facebook and Myspace pictures were more likely to do the same thing themselves.
The study was carried out between 2010 and 2011, accounting for the inclusion of Myspace. According to their numbers, 30 percent of the teens they surveyed had smoked while nearly 50 percent had tried alcohol. Most of these teens — four out of five — used social networks to communicate with their friends. The USC researchers have their results published in the online edition of the Journal of Adolescent Health.
“Our study shows that adolescents can be influenced by their friends’ online pictures to smoke or drink alcohol,” explained Thomas W. Valente, PhD, professor of preventative medicine and the Keck School of Medicine at USC. “To our knowledge, this is the first study to apply social network analysis methods to examine how teenagers’ activities on online social networking sites influence their smoking and alcohol use.”
Dr. Valente and Grace C. Huang, PhD, MPH, a graduate of the Keck School of Medicine of USC’s Health Behavior Research program, surveyed a group of 1,563 tenth grade teens from the El Monte Union High School in California from October 2010 to April 2011. After asking the teenagers how they spent their time online and what they liked to do after school, the USC researchers concluded that the size of a teen’s network of friends online wasn’t directly associated with use of alcohol and smoking. Rather, it was how many of these friends bragged about their risky behavior which most influenced the teens to do the same.
The study failed to draw a direct association between seeing a picture online and having a drink or smoking. Instead the study claims many teens are on social networks, twenty percent of them say they have friends who post party pictures online, and thirty to fifty percent of them have engaged in one or both of these illegal activities. Nonetheless, Dr. Huang believes these basic stats should act as a warning to teachers and parents.
“Our study suggests that it may be beneficial to teach teens about the harmful effects of posting risky behaviors online and how those displays can hurt their friends,” said Dr. Huang.