UW-Madison Study: Social Media Influences Adolescent Behavior
Madison, Wisconsin — Parents have long believed — and research bears out — that teenagers are more apt to pursue risky behavior if they believe "everybody's doing it."
Now, in a first-of-its-kind study, a University of Wisconsin-Madison research team found that young adolescents believe depictions of underage drinking on social networking sites such as MySpace or Facebook are real.
Seeing dozens of online profiles boasting of drinking or sex, says the study's author, makes risky behavior seem normal among all teens — a belief that might influence them to pursue the same activities.
Megan Moreno, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, conducted focus groups involving adolescents ages 11-18. Her research is published in the October issue of Journal of Adolescent Health.
"We now have this first step of hearing teens say, 'If we see our peers displaying this behavior on a social networking Web site, we believe it is real,'" said Moreno.
Previous research studies have illustrated that adolescents are more likely to engage in behaviors such as alcohol use if they believe their peers are doing so.
"If you learn that three of your best friends smoke, then you are more than likely to adopt that behavior," she says. "This has been happening for decades. The concern with social networking Web sites is that these behaviors are now published and accessible to a much larger network of adolescents than a teen's typical peer group."
Focus groups were conducted with adolescents at recreational centers in Seattle while Moreno was serving a fellowship at Seattle Children's Hospital. Co-investigators included an alcohol counselor and social worker, both with experience with adolescents who use alcohol.
According to Moreno, younger adolescents (those under 16 years old) were especially intrigued by depictions of alcohol use, and were more likely to believe what they saw.
"The younger teens were more impressionable and convinced that what they saw was real," said Moreno. "They would say, 'Wow, they put that on Facebook?' If they saw someone holding a beer can, they believed they must be drinking. If someone said they got drunk, they believed they got drunk."
Earlier this year, Moreno released another study on social networking sites that indicated more than half of adolescent MySpace users mentioned risky behavior such as sex, violence, smoking, alcohol consumption or drug abuse on their Web profiles.
Date Published: 10/14/2009