Teens Drink and Smoke if They See Their Friends Doing It, But Can You Prove It?
September 5, 2013

Teens Drink And Smoke If They See Their Friends Doing It, But Can You Prove It?

It’s just like mom used to say: “Monkey see, monkey do. Now go to your room and listen to “We Didn’t Start the Fire” ten times as punishment.”

Mother had sick ideas of punishment.

A new study from those sleuths at the University of Southern California now claims when teens see pictures of their buddies enjoying a smokey treat and tipping back a cold one online, they’ll be more inclined to do so themselves. Given what we all “know” about teens (most of us have been teens at one point in our lives, after all) we can agree this is likely true for most adolescents. The USC researchers, however, set out to turn this common knowledge into formal, documented fact by drawing a clinical association between what teens see online and what they do.

Unfortunately, they completely failed to do so.

According to a press release about the study, the researchers asked more than 1,500 kids about their online habits and their behaviors outside of school in between October 2010 and April 2011. Surprisingly, even in 2010, these California teens were still using MySpace.

And here I was assuming kids gave that nonsense up in 2009.

Specifically, these 1,500 and more tenth grade teens were asked if they used social networking, which network they preferred (Facebook or MySpace) and if they had tried lighting up or having a nip from a cold bottle or flask. They were then asked how many of their friends engage in the same activity. According to their results, 80 percent of teens are on a social network (duh) but only half of them used the two networks with direct or loose ties to Justin Timberlake.

Here’s how the rest of the study broke down:

Thirty percent of the teens interviewed said they had tried smoking at some point in their young, short lives.

Some number greater than 50 percent said they tried at least one drink.

Another third of the teens said they had a friend who had tried drinking or smoking; 20 percent of them said these friends posted pictures of themselves either smoking, drinking or both online for the world to see.

Ah, to be young again.

In other words, there are a lot of kids on social networks, a sizable number of them have tried smoking and drinking, and a good number of those who have experimented posted pictures online of their exploits. The researchers who conducted this study patted themselves on the back, saying this was the first study of its kind to use social networking to analyze why kids do what they do.

Have they never heard of YouTube?

In all my years of research for redOrbit, I’ve had to search YouTube for videos of kids licking each other’s eyeballs, smoking saliva or doing something else equally dumb.

There’s no doubt in my mind that when a kid sees another kid, especially one of their friends, doing something online, they want to do it, too.

But to claim that some commonly understood and consequential evidence is proof of a direct association is wrong, no?

So far as I can tell, these researchers didn’t ask these kids if they were inspired by what their friends were doing online, they only pointed out a few facts; kids are online and they’re drinking and smoking.

To claim that these two facts influence each other is the same as saying the Internet creates pedophiles because pedophiles use the Internet.

Of course kids are drinking and smoking because they see their friends doing it. That’s one for the “Duh” column. Just ask any five-year old boy why he’s so fascinated with karate kicking anything after watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

You can’t claim that just because two facts exist they’re somehow directly associated, however. That’s just silly.

Image Credit: Thinkstock.com

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