Chicago Tribune | National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse
American teens who in a typical day spend any time on social networking sites are at increased risk of smoking, drinking and drug use, according to a back-to-school survey [PDF] by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. It found:

Compared to teens that spend no time on social networking sites in a typical day, teens that do are:

* Five times likelier to use tobacco;
* Three times likelier to use alcohol; and
* Twice as likely to use marijuana.

The study's conclusion rings true to some teens and parents interviewed by the Chicago Tribune. "The Internet puts it in your head," said 16-year-old Dana Cichon. "You think everyone else is having more fun than you." A similar observation came from high school senior Michael DeGrace: "When someone constantly sees photos of parties, they sort of feel they're missing out. It sort of glorifies the whole thing. Especially if you haven't done it before, it could be a gateway to make them think it's all right." The Chicago Tribune's reporters note:

Some experts warn that the research, like social media itself, is still in its infancy, and that the correlation between social networking and teen substance abuse could be disguising more relevant risk factors. Others contend that bad influences in the real world are much more potent.

What many experts agree on, though, is the importance of parents keeping tabs on their children's Internet activities.