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The average teenager spends nearly eight hours a day on a phone or computer. This is more time than spent daily in a classroom, and often more time than is spent sleeping. Much of this time is spent interacting with others through social media.

Social media refers to internet sites and applications which allow for information to be shared rapidly, and with a wide audience. Popular social media sites with teens include Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. There is also much information that is shared through video posts on Youtube, where the concept of the internet influencer was born.

As with most other things, the advancement of social media has both positive and negative consequences for our youth. For the teen who is susceptible to mental health disorder and is looking to the online peer group for direction, the messages portrayed within social media may prove to be a destructive mix.

The Role of Peer Influence on Teen Drug Use and Decision-Making Skills

Teenagers are particularly susceptible to the suggestions provided by those who are admired, popular, or trending. The teen years are a period of time when children make their greatest strides toward adulthood. As part of this journey, there is a tendency for the influence of parents to decrease, and the importance of peer opinion to increase.

As much as it might tear at a parent’s heartstrings, the substitution of parental guidance by peer suggestion is a normal, healthy, part of maturation. Breaking away from parents in order to form an identity as an independent adult is an important stage toward establishing a successful life. A parent’s best hope during this time is that the decisions made by their fledgling adult will be healthy ones.

For most people, peer friendships are formed based on what the individuals have in common. Common interests and perspectives can provide a starting point for forming more concrete bonds. In modern times, these friendships are often formed virtually. The numerous social media sites that are available means that a teen is never far off from finding a social group by which to receive support in exploring his or her individuality and interconnectedness.

Shared interest in healthy or neutral things – such as fashion, video games, sports, art, computers, and the like – can provide a teen with a social group by which he or she can be encouraged to progress in personal interests and future goals. When the shared interest in in unhealthy activities, however, a teen can be encouraged to progress along a destructive path.

In a quest to be an independent adult, such a teen is prone to view the rebellious behaviors of peers as part of the quest for liberation from parental restraint. A teen with a peer group who promotes substance abuse is continually exposed to temptation to engage in similar behaviors.

Establishment of Cultural Norms

While the United States has overarching cultural standards which guide the behaviors of the majority, there are also subcultures within it. Factors such as academic and personal interests, sexual orientation, political ideology, and race can all play a role in which social subgroup a person is drawn to. Age is also a factor in determining a subculture, with both older and younger people tending to identify with the ideals of their particular generation.

Just as the ideas of Hollywood and marketing influenced the first generation to have a television in their homes, social media influences the generation of today. However, while the content of television was controlled by a small group of people, social media outlets know no such bounds. Any person with charisma, an idea, and access to technology can gain a devoted following.

As implied by the term, “influencer,” there are certain internet personalities who hold a large amount of sway over their fanbase. Popular internet influencers are rewarded with endorsement contracts, as businesses recognize their ability to market and promote new ideas and products. If an influencer recommends it, their fans are likely to try it out.

Many of the popular trend setters are well aware of the malleable state of identity that a teenager is operating in. If the ideas of the influencer are implanted early enough, these ideas can become a solidified part of the teen’s adult perspectives. Once these ideas have been internalized by a large enough group of young people, a new cultural norm is established. Any older person who has uttered the phrase “back in my day” is already aware of how these norms can shift.

Some of the notable shifts in teen culture which have been promoted through social media are positive ones. Teens are encouraged to practice tolerance and acceptance for various social groups, and are encouraged to think about the world on a global scale. On the other end of the spectrum, ideas such as excessive drinking and daily use of marijuana have also been integrated. The concepts of tolerance include acceptance of substance use as a normal behavior.

Social Media Influence on Teen Drug Use and Mental Health

Direct influence from social media in regards to promoting teen drug use is worrisome enough. When the suggestion to engage in teen drug use or alcohol use is presented to someone in a state of poor mental health, the effect can be exponential. Researchers have long determined that those with existing mental health disorders are more at risk of teen drug use and abuse. In the mental health field, this connection is known as co-occurring disorder and self-medication.

There are some studies which have suggested that excessive social media use is a key factor in the development of mental health disorder. Increases in depression, anxiety, low self esteem have all been linked to the self conception that a teenager conceives from the messages delivered within social media. The temptation to compare oneself to others and to react to public opinion is present within all human beings.

For teenagers, it is doubly so. Their developing personas will be busy integrating the delivered information into a cohesive mental conception of themselves, and of the young adult world.