Are Studies Skewing Data to Suggest That Social Networking Causes Teen Substance Abuse?

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA Columbia) conducted the study, and substantiated the findings on the old saying "a picture is worth a thousand words," according to a statement from Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA Columbia's Founder and Chairman and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare.

Now before parents freak out and rip the mobile device out of their kid’s hands or unplug the computer, it is important to take this information in stride because it is not the end all of how social media is influencing kids.

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA Columbia) conducted the study, and substantiated the findings on the old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words,” according to a statement from Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA Columbia’s Founder and Chairman and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare.

The study was a simple survey that asked 12- to 17-year olds whether they spend time on Facebook, Myspace or other social networking sites in a typical day. Seventy percent of teens report spending time on social networking sites in a typical day compared to 30 percent of teens who say they do not. This means that 17 million 12- to 17-year olds are social networking in a typical day.

Now that is very basic information about how much time an average teenager spends his or her time playing around with social media. It’s useful information for social media branding and marketing. However, it doesn’t tell you that kids will smoke tobacco, drink alcohol or take drugs. The CASA skews the data in the next body of information.  According to CASA, teens that spend their spare time on social networks are:

Five times likelier to use tobacco;

Three times likelier to use alcohol;

Twice as likely to use marijuana.

According to CASA, teen substance abuse photos are rampant on social networking sites. The CASA Columbia survey found that 40 percent of all teens surveyed have seen pictures on Facebook, Myspace or other social networking sites of kids getting drunk, passed out or using drugs.

Half of teens who have seen pictures of kids drunk, passed out or using drugs on Facebook and other social networking sites first saw such pictures when they were 13 years of age or younger; more than 90 percent first saw such pictures when they were 15 or younger.

Compared to teens that have never seen pictures of kids getting drunk, passed out or using drugs on social networking sites, teens that have seen these images are:

Three times likelier to use alcohol;

Four times likelier to use marijuana;

Four times likelier to be able to get marijuana, almost three times likelier to be able to get controlled prescription drugs without a prescription, and more than twice as likely to be able to get alcohol in a day or less; and are much likelier to have friends and classmates who abuse illegal and prescription drugs.

While I can agree that sure seeing such images on social media will influence a teenager, it’s ludicrous to say the pictures will send them into a life of substance abuse. There is no solid evidence that the findings are true.

Now, I agree with Mr. Califano that such images should not be on social media sites, but we cannot censure the media. We can morally educate our children and talk to them about substance abuse. If we see such pictures on their social networking pages, we can ask them why they have friends who post such pictures.

Furthermore, the CASA should endorse anti-drug campaigns that work and promote those through social media. For instance, parents with their kids can visit sites like Drug-Free World, so they can find out the truth about drugs. When teenagers see a friend post a picture of someone drunk, passed out or high on drugs, they can refer them to the Drug-Free World site.