The CASA Columbia unviels a study that reports teenagers are influenced by what they see on social media sites. But, is there evidence strong enough to state this claim?
When my 13-year-old nephew decided to create a Facebook account, I made sure that we were friends. Not to be a parental bug and keep watch on his life, but to continue our close relationship and stay connected with him while I was away at college.
No privacy settings have been made on both our parts: I have nothing to hide and he has nothing to hide.
However, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University disagrees. According to CASA, my Facebook friendship with my nephew is not keeping us in touch, but instead, is negatively impacting his life.
The organization recently released results from its annual survey on American teenager attitudes on drugs and alcohol. The survey asked teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 about their social networking habits. CASA Columbia found that in a typical day approximately 70 percent of teenagers in that age range are socially networking.
Or when compared to teenagers that do not use social networking sites, CASA Columbia concluded that teens who socially network on a daily basis are more at risk to abuse various drugs and alcohol. The report states, “teens that do [use social networking] are five times likelier to use tobacco, three times likelier to use alcohol and twice as likely to use marijuana.”
“The relationship of social networking site images of kids drunk, passed out, or using drugs and of suggestive teen programming to increased teen risk of substance abuse offers grotesque confirmation of the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words,” said Joseph A. Califano Jr., the founder and chairman of CASA Columbia.
According to the CASA Columbia survey, 40 percent of all teens surveyed have seen pictures on Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites of kids getting drunk, passed out or using drugs.
However, CASA Columbia does not describe how these photos shared through social networking or how social networks in general, influences or encourages teenagers to abuse substances–there is no direct correlation.
“This is the kind of report that we often use in sociology classrooms to talk about the dangers of drawing conclusions too quickly and casually,” said sociology professor Dustin Kidd. “The real issue is the difference between correlation and causation. The authors of this report can demonstrate a correlation between social media use and teen behaviors, but they have in no way shown that social media causes these behaviors.”
CASA Columbia made broad, sweeping statements about the results of the survey. They took findings just as they were and failed to do any type of deeper analysis with the data.
As shown in previous surveys conducted by CASA Columbia, teenagers have always been exposed and at risk to substance abuse. In a 2001 survey conducted by CASA Columbia, 61 percent of high school students and 31 percent of middle school students either used, kept or sold drugs at school. Facebook, however, was not founded until 2004, and it was only recently that they changed the age restriction to 13 year olds. The peak of users on MySpace began in 2006.
It is important to realize that substance abuse is something that is occurring among teenagers and CASA Columbia does a good job of bringing awareness to the issue. The behavior that CASA chose to focus on will continue whether or not social media exists. A more accurate report from Columbia’s prestigious institute would have looked at the minority of teenagers, the 30 percent who reportedly do not use social network sites: What are factors in these teenagers life that stop them from using social media? Looking even further, what about teenagers that use social media, but are not influenced by photos?
I still haven’t changed my privacy settings on Facebook and I don’t plan to, but I did talk to my nephew about social networking. The only thing on my profile he seems to be concerned with is the picture of snapbacks and sneakers that I was tagged in.
Samantha Byles can be reached at email@example.com.