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20 June 2014

How Party Pics on Social Media Stimulate Teens’ Smoking and Drinking Behavior

Keywords: friendships, health, media, peers, smoking, substance use, teens, North America, computer, social media, survey, youth communication,

Peers such as friends and classmates have a huge influence on teens during adolescence. In order to fit in, some teens even jump into risk-taking behaviors, such as smoking and drinking. A study in the Journal of Adolescent Health investigates how friendships, both off- and online (via social networking sites), with peers who smoke or drink contribute to teens' own substance use. It turns out that peers are pretty influential. Interestingly, teens who regularly see pictures of their friends partying or drinking on social media (Facebook or Myspace) are more inclined to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol.  

Take aways

  • Teens (15-16 years) with close friends who smoke or drink are more likely to consume cigarettes and alcohol themselves as well. 
  • Online portrayals of friends’ risky behaviors relate to teens’ substance use: the more friends teens have that post pictures on social media (Facebook or Myspace) on which they are partying or drinking, the more likely they are to smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol. 
  • Teens who don’t have any close friends that drink are even more sensitive to these risky online pictures.
  • Teachers and health practitioners must put effort in educating teens on the negative influences of pictures on social media displaying peers’ risky behaviors, such as smoking and drinking. 

Study information

  • The question?

    What’s the influence of peer friendships (offline and online via social networking sites) on teens’ smoking and drinking behavior? 

  • Who?

    1,563 tenth-graders across five Southern California high schools (mean age: 15 years old; about two-third of the teens were Latino)

  • Where?

    United States, California

  • How?

    This study used data from the Social Network Study: a longitudinal study of high school adolescents. In the first two waves (October 2010, April 2011) teens answered questions about their social media use (Facebook and Myspace), cigarette and alcohol consumption, and about their (seven) best friends’ risk behaviors offline (smoking and alcohol use) and online (whether these offline friends posted pictures of themselves partying or drinking alcohol on Facebook or Myspace). 

Facts and findings

  • Teens who indicated to have at least one close friend that smokes or drinks were more likely to use these substances themselves as well. 
  • Online portrayals of friends’ risky behaviors was linked to teens’ substance use: those teens with a greater number of close friends who posted pictures of themselves partying or drinking alcohol on Facebook or Myspace were more likely to smoke or drink than teens without close friends posting such risky pictures online. 
  • Teens that did not have any close friends who drink were even more sensitive for these risky online pictures; they were more likely to consume alcohol as a result of seeing their peers’ online party pictures.
  • This implies that risky pictures posted online increase the risk of alcohol consumption among teens without close friends who drink. 
  • The number of friends on social media did not relate to teens' cigarette or alcohol consumption. 
  • Remarkable fact: Compared to Myspace-users, Facebook-users were less likely to have ever smoked cigarettes or used alcohol. 
  • Critical note: Because the study used data from tenth-graders of one school district, the results might not be representative of all teens.