Eight hours. That’s the average time kids spend in front of a screen for entertainment each day. From watching TV to scrolling through social media and playing video games, in the course of a year our kids spend 114 full days watching screens for fun[1]. Social media consumption, in particular, has increased since the onset of COVID-19, with 63% of parents in a recent survey reporting that their teens are using social media more than they did pre-pandemic[2].

It’s hard to stay on top of what our kids are watching on TV or seeing on social media, but instituting parameters around usage may benefit them in the long run. Here’s why.

Teenagers are very impressionable, and seeing celebrities, friends, and family using drugs and alcohol on social media or TV encourages them to experiment in the same way. “Recent research suggests that teens who see social media posts about alcohol are more likely to feel positive about drinking, especially when those posts come from their close friends,” said James Alex Bonus, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at The Ohio State University.

A survey by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that teenagers who regularly use social media are more likely to drink and use drugs than adolescents who do not use social media or use it less frequently[3]. And 90% of kids surveyed under the age of 16 have already seen photos on social media of their peers engaging in drug or alcohol use.

“Research suggests that both content and experience sharing, in addition to discussion relative to drug related content, is commonplace on social media networks such as Twitter. We also know based on research that media processes such as narrative engagement and identification with characters may influence the viewer’s attitudes and behaviors,” said Parul Jain, PhD., an associate professor in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. “Therefore, responsible media consumption, along with media literacy, may be crucial in preventing drug misuse behaviors in this population.”

Movie and television portrayal of drug and alcohol can also influence adolescent behavior. According to a survey by the U.S. Department of Justice of 200 popular movies, 93% included alcohol references and 22% included illicit drug use[4]. Because adolescents are still forming their own identities, they’re more likely to experiment and model behaviors that they see on TV, social media and in real life.

One of the best ways parents can help counter what their children are seeing in the media is by fostering open communication in the household and talking to kids about the dangers of drug misuse. Parental media monitoring and familial support and engagement also have a protective effect for substance use[5]. Additionally, there is strong evidence that parental restriction of R-rated media content can help protect against youth alcohol and substance use[6].

For tips on how to talk to your kids about drugs or to learn about effective parental monitoring techniques, visit dontliveindenial.org.



[1] Screen Time vs. Lean Time. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

[2] 63% of parents say teens’ social media use has increased during COVID-19. Tech Republic. 7 September 2020.

[3] Hilliard, Jena. The Influence of Social Media on Teen Drug Use. Addiction Center. 16 July 2019.

[4] Substance Abuse: The Nation’s Number One Health Problem. U.S. Department of Justice. 2001 May.

[5] Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Centers for Disease Control.

[6] Jackson, K., Janssen, T., et. al. Media/Marketing Influences on Adolescent and Young Adult Substance Abuse. 25 April 2018.

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