This essay from the Center on Addiction is included in Social Media, Gaming and Mental Health, our 2019 Children’s Mental Health Report

As a parent and caregiver, it’s often tempting to pull back in terms of monitoring a teen’s social media use, especially as they get older, trying to balance privacy with signs of risky behaviors. As unpopular as it may be, it’s important to keep an eye on teens’ social media activities in order to be aware of and respond appropriately if they are frequenting sites or channels that promote substance use.

Substance use is prevalent and often glorified on social media channels frequented by teens, with tobacco, e-cigarette, alcohol and, increasingly, marijuana products directly advertised and promoted. Companies marketing these products skirt traditional media regulations prohibiting or restricting advertising to minors. They use influencers, comments, discounts, games and images of young people using their products very effectively to promote these products.

Additionally, research conducted by Center on Addiction shows that teens who frequent social media sites portraying images of “kids drunk, passed out, or using drugs,” are more likely to engage in tobacco, alcohol and marijuana use. Substance use displayed in this way normalizes its use for young people.

What can parents and caregivers do? Encourage teens to share what they’ve seen on social media related to substance use by asking open-ended questions (“What do your friends post on social media about drinking?” “How do you think vaping ads attempt to manipulate young people?”). Try to convey the message that your interest is meant only to help protect teens from harm and not to be voyeuristic or intrusive. Parents and other caregivers can adhere to this by looking only for indications of risk rather than day-to-day harmless social interactions.

Learn more at centeronaddiction.org