Survey finds friends have greatest power when it comes to substance use
Teenagers can experience peer pressure in varying degrees – and we know it’s natural for them to seek approval.
Now a study has found that this can be negative when it comes to social media – because adolescents are more likely to drink alcohol and use marijuana if their friends posted online about it.
The survey of 260 first year and second year high school students found friends have the greatest power when it comes to decisions about substance use —over influencers, celebrities and other people on social media.
The American research – by Florida International University’s Center for Children and Families – was published in Drug and Alcohol Review and involved looking at behaviour by users of Instagram and Snapchat.
“Likes and comments – what we call quantifiable reinforcement – from these popular social media platforms suggest approval of risk behaviours,” said lead author Julie Cristello, a doctoral candidate in the university’s clinical science programme in child and adolescent psychology.
“Adolescent substance use often occurs in the context of peers or friends, which is why we think content shared by friends was more influential than content shared by influencers.”
Noting that past research on the topic often only focused on Facebook, a platform which is declining in popularity among teens, the researchers discovered that many youngsters are being exposed to content about drinking and weed usage on Instagram and Snapchat.
They report that almost a third of Instagram users questioned say they see alcohol-content posted by peers and four in ten reported seeing it posted by influential figures occasionally, often or almost always. With Snapchat users, three in ten see alcohol-content posted by peers, and just over two in ten reported seeing it posted by influential figures occasionally, often or almost always.
Similarly, when it comes to marijuana-content, on Instagram four in ten reported seeing it posted by peers and 34 per cent said they view it shared by influential figures occasionally, often or almost always.
On Snapchat, almost four in ten see marijuana-content posted by peers and almost a quarter say they see influential figures share it occasionally, often or almost always.
“In future work, we need to identify which social media features may be contributing to perceptions of approval among teens,” Cristello said.