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Has Social Media Changed our Ability to Talk to Our Kids about Drugs?

Social media can never fully replace the importance of connecting one on one with your child—being able to sit across from your child to minister freely without a device between you and them is a needed interaction. However, many parents ask if they are trading their social interaction with their children for social media, texting, […]

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Social media can never fully replace the importance of connecting one on one with your child—being able to sit across from your child to minister freely without a device between you and them is a needed interaction. However, many parents ask if they are trading their social interaction with their children for social media, texting, and chatting. It even seems a simple phone call has become an extinct method to connect with our kids. Has social media changed our ability to talk to our kids about drugs, or are some parents becoming less inclined to have the conversation? Perhaps we as parents are relying too much on social media to teach our kids about the dangers of drugs—taking away from the personal connection needed between parent and child.

Social Media Facts and Substance Use

Approximately 96% of Americans now have a cell phone of some kind, per the Pew Research Center. The percentage of Americans who own a smartphone is now 81%, up from 35% in 2011. Americans own a range of devices along with mobile phones. Close to three-quarters of adults in the United States own a desktop or laptop computer, and roughly half own a tablet or e-reader device. Most Americans are cell phone owners, and SMS is the most used data service in the world. Approximately 81% of Americans text regularly, and 97% of adults text weekly. Over six billion SMS messages are sent each day in the US, and over 180 billion each month. Over the last decade, the number of SMS messages sent monthly increased by more than 7,700%. Social media is an integrated part of everyone’s life, some more than others. 

Per the Journal of Adolescent Health Editorial, around 91% of teens aged 13 to 17 years reported going online daily, while approximately 24% were constantly online. At the time of this journal article, close to 71% of teens had more than one social networking account. The use of drugs and alcohol is rampant and even glorified by some on social media, along with integrated marketing strategies fully accessible to teens. Even with direct marketing to minors being against the law, our kids are the future consumers. The Journal of Adolescent Health Editorial indicated that teens who use social medial were more likely to use tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana. Fast forward to 2020, there is 2.23 billion monthly active users on Facebook, 1.9 billion monthly on YouTube, 1.5 billion monthly on WhatsApp, one billion monthly on Instagram, and there are more than 100 plus social media sites available on the internet.

Per the National Institute on Substance Abuse and Monitoring the Future Survey, overall, the use of illegal drugs other than marijuana and inhalants continues to decrease among teens in grades 8, 10, and 12. It is now the lowest in the history of the survey within these three grades. Teens are misusing pain medication less than they did ten years ago, but teen binge drinking as remained at similar levels yet has declined significantly since 2000.  Teens are perhaps making more informed decisions because of social media. Yet, is the endless cycle of information on social media overshadowed our ability to talk to our kids about drugs, and do they trust our input.  

The Importance of Parental Involvement

According to a 2013 Attitude Tracking Study, put together by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, parental monitoring is related to adolescent drug abuse. The report states, “data continues to support this, as teens who report that their parents show concern for them and are monitoring their behaviors are less likely to engage in substance abuse” (27). Much of the data at the time of this report indicated that teens were less likely to start using drugs if they learned about the risks from their parents or school. The information should be coming from the parents, and parents should educate themselves if they are unfamiliar. Unfortunately, one-third of parents believe there is nothing they can do to prevent their kids from using drugs or alcohol. Also, one in four parents feels uncomfortable telling their kids about their drug use, and one in five parents had not intervened when they suspected their child had used drugs or alcohol.

So much of the communication done with our children is through social media, whether tagging photos, commenting on pictures or stories, and sharing videos—it is still worlds apart from face-to-face interaction. As a parent, it is our responsibility that our children are raised with our morals and values, which includes the way we communicate. It is far too easy to justify sending a text message or any type of social media message to convey information. The impact of addiction is severe and long-lasting—there is endless information, some based in fact, and some not so much. The responsibility falls onto us to ensure the information they receive is based on facts, has context, and is effectively communicated. Two-way verbal communication is and will continue always to be the most effective—here are some tips.

The Practical Non-Social Media Approach to Communicating with Your Kids  

Listen and do not interrupt and allow the flow of communication. Kids are more likely to be open with their parents if they do not feel pressured. Validate their feelings for what they are; kids are not always looking for a solution, but rather someone they can give communication to. Be prepared to answer questions about drugs and alcohol. Show trust and be open about your past and experiences with drugs and alcohol. Do not be a dictator but explain the consequences of actions and the progression of events when drugs and alcohol are used, which is why sharing personal experience is important. Do things together as much as possible without social media. Sharing a meal together encourages face-to-face communication. Finally, be observant, control your emotions, and stay educated on the current information about drugs—preferably not from a meme on Instagram.

Social media has its benefits and place in the world of communication. Still, there is nothing that can fully replace connecting one on one with your child freely without a device, especially when talking about drugs.

Works Cited:

Pew Research Center. Social Media Fact Sheet. 2020. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/social-media/

SMS Eagle. Daily SMS Mobile Usage Statistics. 2017. https://www.smseagle.eu/2017/03/06/daily-sms-mobile-statistics/

Journal of Adolescent Health Editorial. Social Media and Substance Use: What Should We Be Recommending to Teens and Their Parents? 2017. https://www.jahonline.org/article/S1054-139X(17)30158-1/pdf

National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. Teens’ Drug Use Is Lower Than Ever (Mostly). 2018. https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/teens-drug-use-lower-ever-mostly

Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, Teens and Parents. 2013. https://drugfree.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/PATS-2013-FULL-REPORT.pdf

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