Why it's smart to 'just say no'

If you’re a parent of children in grade school or middle school, you’ve probably heard “but Mom and Dad, everyone has an iPhone.” And now that school is back in session, you’re probably also hearing traumatic stories from your son or daughter that he or she is absolutely horrified by being the only student in the Western Hemisphere who doesn’t have the latest and greatest gadget. 

It’s not that you don’t want your child to learn how to use technology wisely. It’s just that you have this gut feeling that when it comes to getting familiar with the gadgetry, less is more. Well, take heart and don’t give in, because now you have more reason to wait to make those purchases. 

The National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University has released a report that should make any parent take another look at how much access their kids have to the Internet, and to the media in general. Even though your kids may try to convince you that they’re going to use the gadget for homework purposes, the reality is that today’s young people are heavily involved in social networking and spend way too much time on Facebook. And that means they are more likely to smoke, drink, and use drugs, according to CASA. 

This is not to say that every tech-savvy teen or tween is going to engage in addictive behavior, but the report should serve as a red flag for families. The “National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XVI: Teens and Parents” reveals that 17 million 12- to 17-year-olds are engaged in social networking daily. Young social networkers who log on to these sites regularly are five times more likely to use tobacco, three times more likely to use alcohol, and twice as likely to use marijuana.  

Why the connection between social networking and an increased risk of substance abuse? It’s because of what’s out there on the Internet and what can be easily accessed with the click of a mouse or a quick tap of our fingertips. The CASA survey discovered that 40 percent of all teens surveyed have seen pictures on Facebook, MySpace or other social-networking sites of other kids “getting drunk, passed out, or using drugs.” Among those who saw such photos, half were first exposed to the troubling material when they were 13 or younger, and 90 percent first saw the images when they were 15 or younger. In addition, those who have seen such pictures are three times more likely to use alcohol and four times more likely to use marijuana. And that’s not all, folks. Those who have viewed other children engaging in risky behavior are four times more likely to be able to get their hands on alcohol, prescription drugs and illegal drugs. There is also a greater chance that they have friends and classmates who abuse illegal and prescription drugs. 

Those of you who are trying not to fold under the pressure of your children’s constant pleading are finding it tough to get support from other parents. It’s very sad but very true. CASA found that most parents are out of touch with reality. Among the parents surveyed, nearly 90 percent aren’t concerned about a possible connection between social networking and an increased substance abuse. So, do yourself a favor and read the report at (www.casacolumbia.org) for encouragement and some great information.  

You’ll be happy that you decided to leave that cellphone store or computer shop in your rearview mirror. You might feel like a fish out of water or an alien from outer space. That’s OK.  

You’ll survive and, in the end, your family will benefit. What matters most? 

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 160.