Researchers at The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (Columbia University) recently released a study where they found that teens who regularly use social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are twice as likely to smoke marijuana and three times are likely to drink alcohol. As well, the study points out that cyberbullied teens are more than twice as likely to smoke, drink and use marijuana than those who weren’t bullied.
This study is yet another concerning wake-up call for parents that underscores the need for a healthier social networking experience for kids and teens, as well as parental involvement and awareness about the consequences that can occur when our children are participating in adult-intended social networks.
We at Yoursphere Media don’t agree that social networking is the enabler or facilitator of this behavior, but it is a media tool that normalizes and focuses attention on behavior that’s been around, frankly, for a long time. We do adamantly agree that when children are exposed to a free-for-all culture inside a social network, their decisions offline can be influenced based on what they see as normalized behavior. This only reinforces our foundational belief that kids need their own social network where all facets of who they are as a person (and not as a partier) are supported and encouraged.
Over the last few years, we’ve come to the conclusion that: if you give kids a positive place to hang out online, a place where they have things to do, things that keep them focused in the right direction, and incentives that follow, then they won’t feel the need to post inappropriate photos, such as one from last weekend’s party.
The basic social networking aspects inside Yoursphere.com are no different from Facebook or MySpace: kids can post photos and videos, which other members can then comment on—but the negative comments have been minimal to non-existent. Sure, we’ve had a few cases of unseemly content being posted, and we’ve handled those cases accordingly, but 98% of the time, our members simply participate in our community doing what comes natural to them: socializing, contributing to the community, playing, exploring and creating. And it helps, frankly, that we constantly remind the Yoursphere community that inappropriate behavior and content is not tolerated.
In my opinion, the issue highlighted in this study isn’t really a social networking issue; it’s an issue of social influence and parenting—both of which can have the greatest impact in shaping an adolescent’s future. However, if social networks like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter have any role here, it’s that they don’t give kids and teens anything positive to do outside of “social networking”.
In Yoursphere, kids are always presented with great content, information and questions that keep them engaged in a constructive state of mind. And if they aren’t intrigued enough to their satisfaction, then they can create the content themselves. But whether it’s a contest, like our “Your Story” contest that’s running in the site right now, or the Question of the Week, our members feed off of this, and, in a sense, build the positive online community that you’ll find in Yoursphere today. And this couldn’t ring more true than the very nice note we received from a Yoursphere mom just yesterday: