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Helping Your Teen Manage Online Peer Pressure

It’s no secret that your teen’s friends influence his or her behavior, but did you know that the photos that those friends post on social media profiles can influence the choices your teen makes about smoking and drinking?

A recent study at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine showed that kids who see friends smoking and drinking in photos shared on social media sites are more like to smoke and drink.

"The evidence suggests that friends' online behaviors are a viable source of peer influence," said researcher and post-doctorate fellow at the National Cancer Institute, Grace Huang, PhD.

"This is important to know, given that 95 per cent of 12 to 17 year olds in the United States access the Internet every day, and 80 per cent of those youth use online social networking sites to communicate."

Although it’s common sense that a teen’s online friends could apply direct or indirect peer pressure to students, the USC study the first of its kind to study peer pressure and social networks. Thomas Valante was the study’s principal investigator:

"To our knowledge, this is the first study to apply social network analysis methods to examine how teenagers' activities on online social networking sites influence their smoking and alcohol use."

The study showed that the size of a teenager’s social network wasn’t directly associated with their likelihood to engage in risky behaviors. When teens saw online pictures of friends drinking or smoking, however, they were more likely to smoke and drink, themselves.

The study also revealed that if a teen’s close friends don’t drink, that teen is more susceptible to the pressure of seeing peers post online photos of themselves drinking.

If your teen uses social media sites like Facebook or Twitter, setting realistic rules and expectations — and having open communications with your child — can help mitigate the peer pressure your child experiences online.

Read Missouri Parent’s tips for keeping your teen safe on social media [Link to “Three Ways to Keep Your Teenager Safe on Social Media” post] for specific suggestions that can help you and your teen navigate online peer pressure together.

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