Teen Health

Teen Drinking Linked to Recreational Computer Use

Teens who spend more time using computers for recreational purposes such as social networking, and downloading/listening to music are more likely to drink alcoholic beverages compared to those who don’t.

 Teens are spending more time on computers and the Internet than ever before. Yet little is known about the impact of computer use. It is generally assumed to be positive, particularly when used for school and other activities of an educational nature. But, extensive  computer use and involvement with activities on the Internet may be more negative than many realize. In short, computer and Internet use may serve as a distraction, time-waster, or worse.

According the results of a new study published in Addictive Behaviors, a scientific journal, there is a link between the amount of time teens spend engaged in recreational computer use and drinking. The study anonymously surveyed 264 teenagers concerning their alcohol consumption and computer use. Dr. Jennifer Epstein, an assistant professor of public health at Cornell University’s Weill Medical College, conducted the research.

"While the specific factors linking teenage drinking and computer use are not yet established, it seems likely that adolescents are experimenting with drinking and activities on the Internet. In turn, exposure to online material such as alcohol advertising or alcohol-using peers on social networking sites could reinforce teens' drinking," says Dr. Epstein. "Children are being exposed to computers and the Internet at younger ages. For this reason it's important that parents are actively involved in monitoring their children's computer usage, as well as alcohol use.”

"According to a national study conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, more than half of parents of teenagers had filters installed on the computers their child uses to block content parents find objectionable, yet many parents do not use any form of parental monitoring, particularly for older teens," continues Dr. Epstein.

The Cornell study surveyed American teens who were between 13 and 17 years of age. The results showed that teens who reported drinking in the last month used a computer more total hours per week for recreational activities. However, the study did not find any link between drinking and computer use for school work. Drinking was also linked to more frequent social networking and listening to and downloading music. There was no strong link between video games and drinking or online shopping and drinking.

"Going forward, we would like to collect more detailed and longer-term data on adolescent alcohol and computer use, including the degree and duration of their drinking habit," says Dr. Epstein.

Teenagers typically first experiment with alcohol at age 12 or 13. Family risk factors include lax parental supervision and poor communication, family conflicts, inconsistent or harsh discipline and a family history of alcohol or drug abuse.

"Parents may also need to reinforce their family ground rules on alcohol use and computer use," Dr. Epstein says.

"This is an innovative study that is an important first step to understanding the potential impact that the Internet and new media may have on today's youth," says Dr. Gil Botvin, professor of public health and chief of the Division of Prevention and Health Behavior at Weill Cornell Medical College. "The Internet offers a wealth of information and opportunities for intellectual and social enrichment. However, it is becoming clear that there may also be a downside to Internet use. More systematic research is needed to better understand the potential dangers and how to combat them." 

The Weill Cornell research was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation and published in the May 2011 print edition of the journal Addictive Behaviors.

Source: New York- Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center/Weill Cornell Medical College (May 2011)

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