Adolescents who see their friends partying or drinking on social networking sites are more likely to smoke and use alcohol, according to a Sep. 3, 2013 peer-reviewed study in the Journal of Adolescent Health. While viewing friends’ online pictures of smoking or drinking “significantly contributed” to adolescent smoking and drinking, the frequency of social media use and the number of online friendships were not associated with those behaviors.
The National Institutes of Health-sponsored study, “Peer Influences: The Impact of Online and Offline Friendship Networks on Adolescent Smoking and Alcohol Use,” surveyed 1,563 10th-grade students across five Southern California high schools. Researchers coded smoking and alcohol use into 5-point scores ranging from “not susceptible” to “daily smoker/drinker.” Students were asked about the frequency of their own social media use, and asked to name seven best friends and describe their smoking, drinking, and social media behavior.
34% of students have at least one friend who talks about partying online and 20% report that their friends post party/drinking pictures online.
“Exposure to risky online content had a direct impact on adolescents’ risk behaviors and significantly interacted with risk behaviors of their friends,” according to the study’s authors. “These results provide evidence that friends’ online behaviors should be considered a viable source of peer influence and that increased efforts should focus on educating adolescents on the negative effects of risky online displays.”
The study concludes that Facebook use is not associated with either smoking or drinking behaviors, while higher levels of Myspace use are associated with drinking. Facebook-only users had higher grades (64% A’s and B’s vs. 26% for Myspace-only users) and were less likely ever to have smoked (8% vs. 41%) or to have drunk alcohol (35% vs. 69%). The study’s authors said that the difference could be attributed to “influences from [Myspace’s] eclectic user base… or because of the expectation that Facebook was related to ‘growing up’ and a college audience,” where students may have less favorable views on posting pictures about drinking.
47% of American adults used social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Classmates.com in 2011, up from 26% in 2008. In July 2012 Americans spent 74.0 billion minutes on social media via a home computer, 40.8 billion minutes via apps, and 5.7 billion minutes via mobile web browsers, a total of 121.1 billion minutes on social networking sites. Social networking sites are the top news source for 27.8% of Americans, ranking below newspapers (28.8%) and above radio (18.8%) and print publications (6%).
Grace C. Huang et al., “Peer Influences: The Impact of Online and Offline Friendship Networks on Adolescent Smoking and Alcohol Use,” Journal of Adolescent Health, Sep. 3, 2013
Julia Lynn Rubin, “How Influential Is Facebook and Social Media on Teen Drinking and Smoking? The Psychology of Online Peer Pressure,” hngn.com, Sep. 3, 2013