Drugs, Kids and the Virtual World
When I was in high school, I didn’t do drugs, but some of my peers certainly did. They took their cues from older siblings and friends who passed along their “insights” about rolling a joint and making Jello shots. Of course, some kids drank a lot, and some kids smoked a lot, but I only really knew that from seeing them at actual parties or smelling them smoking in some bush on the edge of our school’s property.
Today, kids are taking their cues from peers from around the world. A study published last week, found that of 400 randomly selected MySpace profiles, 56.3% contained references to alcohol; 49% contained explicit references to alcohol use—i.e., personal profile pictures depicting the profile owner drinking alcohol or making textual references like “I was so intoxicated last night”. Another study found that nearly one million teens viewed drug-related videos in a single month. More than a third of the teens who viewed those drug-related videos were younger than 16. Additionally, 40% of drug-related videos contain explicit use of drugs and/or intoxication, and that 85% of the comments associated with these videos contained comments that promoted substance abuse.
Today, kids can just go online and find out how to roll a joint or make a bong out of an orange. Studies of television media suggest that increased television exposure as well as exposure to alcohol cues in television advertising and music videos, have been associated with increased likelihood of initiating alcohol use. 92% of a sample of contemporary movies featured alcohol use. When I was growing up, I watched Wonder Years, Full House and then shows like Blossom when I wanted to push the limits. Today, most of the tweens and teens I talk to are watching shows like Gossip Girl, which normalize and glamorize underage drinking and drug use.
Additionally, since tweens and teens are heavy consumers of online video and media they are accessing content that is promoting not just drug use, but drug abuse, binge drinking, kids getting “stoned out of their mind”; kids drinking and then engaging in life-threatening stunts. The people who create these videos become instant YouTube celebrities. As kids watch other kids around the world engaging in and promoting this type of behavior, they engage in that same behavior and then display that behavior publicly on the web.
Which brings up a new web phenomenon, i-dosing. As yesterday’s Daily Mail highlighted, kids are getting digitally high from music they downloaded from the Internet, and then they are posting videos of themselves getting digitally “stoned” on their public spaces. (Parents: it also would probably be a good idea for you to check out the site, I-doser to see what all of the hype is about and consider blocking it, so your child cannot access it). Regardless of whether the i-dosing works or not, it’s being promoted in very public spaces across the web, and it should be a concern for parents, since a recent report found that Social Networking Site references to drugs may be a particularly potent influence on adolescents.
This is where parents step in. Kids today seem to have little qualms about posting content of their illegal use of drugs and alcohol all over the web, which means you, as a parent (aunt, uncle, grandparent, mentor, etc.) can probably find out pretty easily whether your kids, or your kids’ friends are engaging in this type of behavior.
Regardless of what you find, it’s important to talk to your kids about what they are doing offline and what they display online: remind your kids to think before they post. Often, what kids aren’t seeing on Social Networking Sites or on popular websites and TV shows are the negative effects of drug use and abuse. Remind your kids that underage drinking contributes to all three leading causes of death among people aged 12-20 years (unintentional injury, homicide and suicide).
Find out more about being an effective cyber-parent by utilizing Internet Safety 101 Rules ‘N Tools®.