This 16th annual “back-to-school survey” continues the unique effort of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA Columbia) to track attitudes of teens and those, like parents, who influence them. For more than a decade and a half, through this survey we have identified factors related to an increase or decrease in the likelihood of teen substance abuse. Armed with this knowledge, parents, teachers, clergy, coaches and other responsible adults are better able to help our nation’s teens grow up drug free.
We regard this as a work in progress as we try each year to improve our ability to identify those situations, characteristics and conduct that influence the risk that a teen will smoke, drink, get drunk, use illegal drugs, or abuse controlled prescription drugs.
Over the past 17 years we have surveyed thousands of American teens and their parents. We have learned how teen attitudes — and the attitudes of their parents — influence teen behavior. And through surrogate questions for drug use — such as, “If you wanted to get marijuana right now, how long would it take you to get it?” — we have gained insights into America’s teen culture.
Perhaps our most important finding from so many years of surveying teens and other research is this: A child who gets through age 21 without smoking, using illegal drugs or abusing alcohol is virtually certain never to do so. And, for better or worse, no one has greater power to influence a teen’s decision whether to smoke, drink or use drugs than that teen’s parents.
As we did last year, this year we conducted two nationally representative surveys – one over the Internet, and as we have done in all past years, the other by telephone.
Over the Internet, Knowledge Networks surveyed 1,037 teens, ages 12 to 17 (546 boys and 491 girls) and 528 parents of these teens. It used a combination of address-based and random digit dial sampling that is likelier to pick up individuals in cell-phone only households, as well as those in land line households.
In order to continue tracking trends from prior years, QEV Analytics conducted our usual telephone survey of 1,006 teens ages 12 to 17 (478 boys and 528 girls). In this survey, we asked teens questions that we have used to measure trends over time. These trend results are contained in Chapter IV of this report. Both surveys are attached to this report.
In focus groups we conducted earlier this year to prepare the survey questions, teens discussed the influence of social networking activity and its relationship to substance abuse. So for the first time in any of our CASA Columbia surveys, in order to explore that relationship, this year we asked teens questions about social networking.
There are two other Firsts in this year’s survey:
- We examined the relationship between viewing suggestive teen television programming and the risk of teen substance abuse, and
- We explored the relationship between certain attitudes attributed to many teens and the risk of teen substance abuse.
The results are profoundly troubling. This year’s survey reveals how the anything goes, free-for-all world of Internet expression, suggestive television programming and what-the-hell attitudes put teens at sharply increased risk of substance abuse. And the survey results drive home the need for parents to better appreciate their power to give their children the will and skill to keep their heads above the water of corrupting cultural currents that their children must navigate.
Social Networking Signals Increased Risk of Teen Substance Abuse
In a typical day, 70 percent of 12- to 17-year olds spend anywhere from a minute or two to hours on such sites; only 30 percent of teens spend no time on such sites in a typical day.
This survey provides what every parent should know about teen social networking: For 12- to 17-year olds, time spent on Facebook, Myspace and other social networking sites puts them at increased risk of smoking, drinking and drug use.
Compared to teens who in a typical day do not spend any time on a social networking site, those who do are:
- Five times likelier to use tobacco (10 percent vs. two percent).
- Three times likelier to use alcohol (26 percent vs. nine percent).
- Twice as likely to use marijuana (13 percent vs. seven percent).
No wonder – with what’s on Facebook and other social networking sites for teens to see:
- Half of the teens who spend any time on social networking sites in a typical day have seen pictures of kids drunk, passed out, or using drugs on these sites.
- Even 14 percent of those teens who spend no time on social networking sites in a typical day have seen pictures of kids drunk, passed out, or using drugs on these sites.
Compared to teens who have not seen such pictures, teens who have seen pictures of kids drunk, passed out, or using drugs on Facebook or other social networking sites are:
- Three times likelier to use alcohol.
- Four times likelier to use marijuana.
- More than twice as likely to think they’ll try drugs in the future.
- Four times likelier to be able to get marijuana, almost three times likelier to be able to get controlled prescription drugs without a prescription and more than twice as likely to be able to get alcohol in a day or less.
- Much likelier to have friends and classmates who use illegal drugs and abuse controlled prescription drugs.
Especially troubling — and alarming — are that almost half of the teens who have seen pictures of kids drunk, passed out, or using drugs on Facebook and other social networking sites first saw such pictures when they were 13 years of age or younger; more than 90 percent first saw such pictures when they were 15 or younger. These facts alone should strike Facebook fear into the hearts of parents of young children.
Unfortunately, most parents do not appreciate the risks of their teen social networking. Nine of 10 parents do not think teens spending time on social networking sites like Facebook are likelier to drink or use drugs. Only 64 percent of parents who say their teen has a social networking page also say they monitor it.
The time has come for those who operate and profit from social networking sites like Facebook to deploy their technological expertise to curb such images and to deny use of their sites to children and teens who post pictures of themselves and their friends drunk, passed out or using drugs. Continuing to provide the electronic vehicle for transmitting such images constitutes electronic child abuse.
Suggestive Teen Programming
For the first time in survey history we asked teens whether in a typical week they watched “reality shows like Jersey Shore, Teen Mom, or 16 and Pregnant or any teen dramas like Skins and Gossip Girl.” In our report we call these shows suggestive teen programming. A third of all teens — including 46 percent of girls and 19 percent of boys — watch suggestive teen programming.
Compared to those who do not watch such programming, teens who do watch suggestive programming in a typical week are likelier to use tobacco, alcohol and marijuana.
The relationship of social networking site images of kids drunk, passed out, or using drugs and of suggestive teen programming to increased teen risk of substance abuse offers grotesque confirmation of the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words.
Teens who have been cyber bullied — that is, have “had someone write or post mean or embarrassing things about [them] online, like on Facebook, Myspace or other social networking sites” — are at higher risk of substance abuse.
Almost one in five 12- to 17-year olds — more than four-and-a-half million kids — have been cyber bullied. The more time teens spend on social networking sites, the likelier they are to be cyber bullied. Only three percent of teens who in a typical day spend no time on such sites have been cyber bullied, while 20 percent of those who spend up to an hour and 33 percent of those who spend more than an hour on such sites in a typical day have been cyber bullied.
The survey reveals that cyber bullied teens are more than twice as likely to smoke, drink and use marijuana.
In our cutting edge effort this year to test the associations between cultural attitudes and teen substance abuse, for the first time we asked teens whether they agreed with each of three statements:
- “If a friend of mine uses illegal drugs, it’s none of my business.”
- “I should be able to do what I want with my own body.”
- “It’s not a big deal to have sex with someone you don’t care that much about.”
In each case, teens who agreed with the statement were about three times likelier to use marijuana, about twice as likely to drink alcohol, and many times likelier to smoke.
In the cultural seas into which we toss our teens, parents are essential to preventing their substance abuse. Once again our survey findings underscore the points made in my book, How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid: The Straight Dope for Parents. For better or worse, parents have more influence over their teen’s risk of substance abuse than anyone else.
This year’s survey highlights the importance of parents sending a consistent and unified message to their teens about drugs and alcohol:
- Teens whose parents don’t agree completely with each other on what to say to their teen about drug use are more than three times likelier to use marijuana and three-and-a-half times likelier to expect to try drugs in the future than teens whose parents are in complete agreement.
- Teens whose parents do not agree completely with each other on what to say to their teen about drinking are twice as likely to use alcohol as teens whose parents are in complete agreement.
Tobacco and Marijuana
For teens, tobacco use is closely tied to marijuana use. Teens who have smoked nicotine cigarettes are 11 times likelier to use marijuana than teens who have never smoked (68 percent vs. six percent), reinforcing the same connection the survey uncovered last year (61 percent vs. five percent). This consistent relationship deserves more attention from scientists exploring tobacco as a gateway drug and greater emphasis on the part of those who are dedicated to preventing smoking by children and teens.
A Word of Appreciation
I want to express CASA Columbia’s appreciation to Steve Wagner, President of QEV Analytics, Ltd., for administering the telephone survey and especially for his insightful work in developing the survey and analyzing all the data as he has done for many years, and to the staff at Knowledge Networks, including Jordon Peugh, Poom Nukulkij and Jeffrey Shand-Lubbers, for administering the Internet-based survey.
We much appreciate the counsel of our survey advisory group members: Timothy Johnson, PhD, Director of the Survey Research Laboratory, University of Illinois, Chicago, Professor of Public Administration, School of Public Health, University of Illinois, Chicago; Robert Shapiro, PhD, Professor, Department of Political Science, Columbia University; and Roger Tourangeau, PhD, Research Professor, Survey Research Center and Director, Joint Program in Survey Methodology, University of Maryland.
On CASA Columbia’s staff, Cathleen Woods-King managed this undertaking, worked with Steve Wagner in analyzing all the survey data and wrote the report. Sarah Tsai of CASA’s Substance Abuse and Data Analysis Center (SADACSM) assisted with the data analysis. Emily Feinstein, Associate Director of the Joseph A. Califano, Jr. Institute for Applied Policy, assisted in the survey design and reviewed drafts of the report. Jane Carlson efficiently handled the administrative aspects.
All these individuals helped, but CASA Columbia and QEV Analytics, Ltd. are responsible for this report.