Sex, Drugs and Alcohol Permeate Teens' Online Chat, Study Says

July 7, 2008 - 7:06 PM

(CNSNews.com) - Online message boards, forums, and social networks aimed at teens frequently feature posts in which youngsters discuss drug and alcohol use and associated sexual encounters, according to a report by a drug and alcohol rehabilitation organization.

The report by Caron Treatment Centers cited a survey of 10.3 million posts made by teenagers on popular sites such as Myspace.com, teenspot.com, and ym.com. Of these, 160,000 contained keywords that matched contemporary teenage slang vocabulary, catalogued by Caron.

The report said that 80 percent of the highlighted posts refer to alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and LSD use. In posts related to marijuana use, teens frequently related destructive behavior, including self-mutilation, conducted while under the influence.

Ten percent of messages that mentioned alcohol featured teens talking about drinking at parties. Women who posted alcohol-related messages talked more about sexual encounters while inebriated, where men more often shared stories about non-sexual activities while drunk.

Some forums also include topics relating to premarital sexual encounters, shaving pubic hair and pregnancy.

Dr. Harris Stratyner, regional vice president of Caron's New York Recovery Center, told Cybercast News Service he believes such online chatter reflects both an established culture of drug use, and an incubator of further deviance.

"I hear in my practice a lot of teenagers speaking exactly in the way the study describes, but I also think that they're being inculcated by information that is oftentimes incorrect on the Internet."

Bob Walifzewski, a media specialist with Focus on the Family, said he believes many teenagers are inspired by popular music artists to consume drugs, "Many kids may say, 'I know what my parents have said about [doing drugs], but, wow, this looks really fun!"

He added that online questionnaires on teen websites asking how often respondents have used drugs or alcohol may pressure teens to engage in that behavior. "Parents would be up in arms if they knew what their children had publicly said [online]."

"It's not surprising that teens discuss among themselves subjects which they may be uncomfortable discussing with parents, or about which they disagree with the adult perspectives they've heard," said Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates removing criminal penalties for marijuana use - although not for teens - told Cybercast News Service.

Recently, law enforcement officials were reported to be monitoring photos and material posted on the discussion boards of facebook.com, in efforts to deter illegal drug and alcohol consumption.

Facebook.com is a popular website used mostly by college students and high schoolers. Registered members can place personal information in their profiles, post pictures, talk to others in discussion pages, and create common-interest groups.

Facebook members frequently post pictures of themselves consuming alcohol and encourage their friends to do likewise. Some postings encourage cannabis culture, and some users have also announced that their sexual encounters were facilitated by Facebook's networking capabilities.

Though representatives from ym, Facebook, and teenspot did not return requests for comment by press time, they do have mechanisms for monitoring and moderating user comments. "Please use good judgment and taste when posting your messages," ym asks its members. "This is a community, and you're a member of it."

Facebook provides a link for users to flag objectionable content and alert the site's administrators. Other websites and forums hire moderators to enforce the policy and standards of their administrators.

But Stratyner said that is not enough.

"We need to focus more on what teens are teaching other kids," he said. "I don't think these monitors are doing an effective enough job. I haven't seen anything in the study that would say [the efforts at topic moderation] are adequate."

Stratyner said parents are not knowledgeable enough of how their children interact with their friends and peers through technology.

The ease of Internet access has become the hallmark of the millennial generation, he said, along with "the ability to spread information to wider and wider circles with unsupervised eyes."

"Perhaps the most important thing that parents can do is to communicate with their kids honestly and make sure they have accurate information," said Mirkin. "Parents certainly have a right and duty to be concerned and to try to keep their teens safe."

Walifzewski, added, "The 'Just Say No' years of Nancy Reagan are over ... kids have always been sneaky, and will for all eternity continue to be sneaky. But parents have to be parents [and set] some very clear boundaries when it comes to 21st century technology that influences our kids."

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