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Recent News About Teen Behavior

September 06, 2013  |  Falmouth Enterprise

By Dr. Michael Bihari

As a pediatrician I am concerned about the health and well-being of our youth. To make sure that I keep on top of the latest news, I subscribe to several newsletters from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Library of Medicine. The following have recently come across my desktop: 

Substance Use by Teens on an Average Day

On an average day in the U.S., 646,707 teenagers aged 12 to 17 smoked marijuana and 457,672 drank alcohol, according to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). SAMHSA is the federal agency that funded the Falmouth Prevention Partnership for the first five years of the program.

This data provides information about how deeply substance abuse pervades the lives of many adolescents and their families. According to a SAMHSA news release, “While other studies indicate that significant progress has been made in lowering the levels of some forms of substance use among adolescents in the past decade, this report shows that far too many young people are still at risk." 

The report also provides data on how many adolescents aged 12 to 17 used illegal substances for the first time. On an average day:

  • 7,639 drank alcohol for the first time
  • 4,594 used an illicit drug for the first time
  • 4,000 adolescents used marijuana for the first time
  • 3,701 smoked cigarettes for the first time
  • 2,151 misused prescription pain relievers for the first time 

The complete report contains many other facts about the scope and nature of adolescent substance abuse, treatment and treatment admissions patterns. 

Smartphone App Helps Teens Quit Smoking

A new smartphone app (SmokefreeTXT) designed by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) texts teens to help them quit smoking. According to the NCI, teens generally do not respond well to traditional quit-smoking messages, because they don’t see themselves as smokers and underestimate how difficult it is to quit.

Teens who sign up for the app chooses a quit date. The program checks in daily to see how the teens are doing. It responds to the teens’ texts with suggestions, advice and encouragement, providing tips about how controlling their moods and managing cravings. 

For example, one text says, “Smoking may seem like the answer but you know its not. Stay strong! Cravings fade even without smoking and you’ll be proud for staying focused.” The messages (written in “teen speak”), and their timing, are based on texts sent by the participating teens, describing their tobacco cravings and moods. The text messaging program, called, lasts about eight weeks.

The teens participating in the program have a quit rate of about 12 percent after one month, and 6 percent at six months. The rate, while low, is higher than the average teen quit rate of 2 to 3 percent. With most teens owning a cell phone, there is huge potential for mobile technologies to affect health awareness and behavior change among teens. 

Teens can sign up for the program at teen.smokefree.gov or text QUIT to iQUIT (47848).

Social Media and Peer Pressure

If your teen is a fan of Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr, be aware! In what appears to be a case of online monkey-see-monkey-do, adolescents who see friends smoking and drinking alcohol in photos online, are more likely to drink and smoke themselves.

Researchers surveyed more than 1,500 high school Sophomores starting in the fall of 2010. All were asked about their friendships — both online and off, how much time they spent on social media sites, whether they smoked or drank alcohol.

The size of a teen's online network of friends was not a significant factor in risky behavior. But exposure to a friend's online pictures of partying was significantly linked to both smoking and alcohol use.

On average, 34 percent of students had at least one friend who talked about partying online and 20 percent reported that their friends posted drinking pictures. This sort of online peer pressure is important for you to know about since more than 90 percent of 12 to 17 year olds are on the Internet or a social media site every day.

Alcohol Dominates in Pop Music Lyrics: Study

Today's popular music often celebrates excessive drinking as a fun, beneficial pastime, even highlighting select booze brands in many lyrics, according to a new study from Johns Hopkins.

Many hip-hop, rap, R&B and country songs included references to Patron tequila, Hennessy cognac, Grey Goose vodka, and Jack Daniel's whiskey. Interestingly, rock songs had no alcohol references at all. 

Since American teens spend about two and a half hours each day listening to music, song lyrics can have a particularly powerful influence and may serve as a major source of promotion of alcohol use among youth.

When drinking is mentioned in a popular song, it is almost always done so in a positive light. The downside of excessive drinking -- alcohol poisoning and violence -- is rarely portrayed.

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