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Social networking increases risk of teen drug abuse: study

By Molly O'Toole

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Time spent social networking increases the risk of teens smoking, drinking and using drugs, according to a national survey of American attitudes on substance abuse released on Wednesday.

On a typical day, 70 percent of teens ages 12 to 17 -- 17 million teenagers -- spend from a minute to hours on Facebook, Myspace and other social networking sites, according to The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.

But for this same age bracket, social-network-savvy teens are five times more likely to use tobacco; three times more likely to use alcohol; and twice as likely to use marijuana than teens who do not spend any of their day on social networking sites.

"The results are profoundly troubling ... the anything goes, free-for-all world of Internet expression, suggestive television programing and what-the-hell attitudes put teens at sharply increased risk of substance abuse," CASA Founder and Chairman Joseph Califano Jr said in a statement.

Knowledge Networks surveyed 1,037 teens ages 12 to 17 and 528 parents of these teens over the Internet. QEV Analytics, Ltd. conducted the annual telephone survey of 1,006 teens 12 to 17, asking questions CASA has used to track trends.

Results revealed that half of teens who spend any time social networking in a given day have seen pictures of kids "drunk, passed out, or using drugs on these sites."

But even beyond the daily teen social networkers, 14 percent of teens who reported spending no time on such sites in a given day said they have seen pictures of drunk, passed out, or drug-using kids on the sites.

Teens who had seen such pictures were four times likelier to be able to get marijuana, three times likelier to be able to get prescription drugs without a prescription, and twice as likely to be able to get alcohol in a day at most.

Teens who had seen such pictures were also more than twice as likely to think they would try drugs in the future, and much more likely to have friends who used illegal drugs.

"Especially troubling-- and alarming-- are that almost half of the teens who have seen pictures ... first saw such pictures when they were 13 years of age or younger," the report said. "These facts alone should strike Facebook fear into the hearts of parents of young children."

But the surveys, which also questioned adults, found that nine of 10 parents do not think teens spending time social networking are any more likely to drink or use drugs.

Only 64 percent of parents said they monitor their child's social networking page.

The authors of the report called for parents -- still the greatest influence on a teen's decision whether to smoke, drink, or use drugs -- to present a consistent and unified front against substance abuse.

"In the cultural seas into which we toss our teens, parents are essential to preventing their substance abuse."

The report also urged operators of social networking sites to curb such images and deny use to adolescents who post them.

"Continuing to provide the electronic vehicle for transmitting such images constitutes electronic child abuse," it said.

(Editing by Greg McCune)

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