There was an interesting study recently done by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University regarding social media and its influence on adolescents. I asked Patrick Winters, one of The Right Step’s top adolescent addiction counselors, to comment on the study and here is his response: “I believe that when most of us hear about teens using social networking sites, the first thought is “Facebook” and the second thought is “MySpace.” While Facebook is a site that teens typically use as intended (because parents and other family members can view status updates, photos, and so on), MySpace is a little different.The thousands of applications allow teens to be creative and make profiles that say more about who they really are.” “Teens typically post images and status updates on MySpace that they wouldn’t share on Facebook. These two social networking sites are the most well known, but they are not the most notorious for exposing adolescents to drugs. “If you look at which social networking sites adolescents use to seek out or sell drugs, then you have to look at myyearbook.com, and mocospace.com– which are certainly very different than Facebook and MySpace. “On these two sites, teens openly talk about buying, selling, and using drugs. They post photos of themselves using, and they talk about parties (pill parties, drink parties, smoking parties) that are going on locally. The chat rooms allow users to make up screen names and post what they have for sale, what they have for trade, or what they are willing to do for drugs and tattoos. When teens find someone who is looking to buy, sell, or trade drugs, they then change to private messages (Inbox or Instant Messages) and trade contact information. “It’s really pretty shocking to hear about or see just how easy it is for adolescents to get whatever they want on a social networking site. A kid can move into a new area with his family, and within hours he can be online (from a cell phone or iPad) in a mocospace.com chat room planning to buy drugs. It’s like an open marketplace. “Facebook seems to be used as a front to keep parents and friends of the family seeing one thing, but teens have other websites that they use to hide what they don’t want the adults to know. The stats are interesting in the Columbia report, but, I think if the research were done on mocospace.com and myyearbook.com, it would present a clearer picture of what many parents are just not seeing. “Sometimes we don’t really know a lot about some of these other sites, which are far more harmful to adolescents than Facebook or MySpace. It would be interesting to see the comparative data on the different sites.” For better or worse, we live in a world of amazing technology. For adolescents who are typically savvier than most of us, social media and the Internet can be curses, if not used properly. Parents must do a better job of monitoring their teens’ usage at home and on smart phones. The fear of accountability is still the best way to help influence kids to make positive choices. The earlier in life this structure and accountability is started, the better. The later in the game a parent tries to hold their adolescent accountable and get him or her help for substance use, the worse the volatility and push back can sometimes be. The bottom line is that parents need to be alert about what their children are seeing and doing on computers, smart phones, tablets, and technology in general.