Many people in Philadelphia were stunned by a recent report that students in one community had been depicted on YouTube drinking and taking other drugs.
It’s not entirely clear what people were most shocked by – the realization that kids abuse drugs and alcohol, that videos glorifying the use of drugs and alcohol appear on the Internet or simply the fact that this was done by local students.
The fact that kids abuse dangerous substances is definitely not new. Findings from the Monitoring the Future Study (2010) indicated that in the prior year alone, 1.8 million kids under the age of 18 reported using drugs for the first time – that’s almost 5,000 kids each day. In addition, 48 percent used illicit drugs. What’s more staggering is that these estimates do not include alcohol.
The existence of online media that promote drug and alcohol use is also not a recent phenomenon. Research conducted by our team at the Treatment Research Institute has catalogued hundreds of YouTube videos, chat rooms, social networking venues and other online sites that extol the virtues of drugs, provide information about how to use drugs “safely” and even teach kids how to manufacture and sell drugs.
Although most of us are aware of the influence that friends, peers, television and movies may have on our children’s perceptions of drug and alcohol use, many people are not aware of the incredible prevalence of pro-drug use propaganda and misinformation available on the Internet.
The fact that this happened in someone’s backyard may have been the thing that caught local attention, but the prevalence of these online drug threats are the issues – at the local level and nationally – that we should be most concerned about. Similar to strategies taken to safeguard our children against online predation, there are many ways to protect them from these pro-drug and alcohol use influences.
The Treatment Research Institute has developed a training program for parents that provides practical recommendations to help them defend their children from these online drug threats. Some of the most basic recommendations include:
• Setting limits on Internet use and availability depending on the age and maturity of the child. (These limits need to be discussed with the child – see below.)
• Monitoring your child’s Internet use and making use of commercially available parent controls. Placing the computer in a central area of your home can make this easier.
• Having a formal or informal contract with children about the proper use of the Internet and making clear the consequences for misuse. (Be sure to follow through with those consequences when misuse occurs.)
• Having children walk parents through the places they go online, and who they communicate with (their contacts).
• Discussing your house rules related to Internet use with the parents of the friends your child visits. Make sure that your child is not able to engage in unmonitored or inappropriate Internet use while at their friends’ homes.
• Remaining calm and having a plan as to what to do if you discover inappropriate use. (Keep in mind that children are naturally curious and there can be many reasons why they happen upon a particular website. Don’t overreact!)
Technology has made many things possible. While the Internet serves as an amazing tool that can greatly benefit our children, we must also be conscious of its potential dangers.
The writer is a Senior Scientist at the Treatment Research Institute, an independent, nonprofit research and development organization dedicated to science-driven transformation of treatment, other practice and policy in substance use and abuse.
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