From the University of Wisconsin

Parents have long believed — and research bears out — that teenagers are more apt to pursue risky behavior if they believe “everybody’s doing it.”

Now, in a first-of-its-kind study, a University of Wisconsin-Madison research team found that young adolescents believe depictions of underage drinking on social-networking sites such as MySpace or Facebook are real. Seeing dozens of on-line profiles boasting of drinking or sex, says the study’s author, makes risky behavior seem normal among all teens — a belief that might influence them to pursue the same activities.

Dr. Megan Moreno, assistant professor of pediatrics at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, conducted focus groups involving adolescents, ages 11-18.

 “We now have this first step of hearing teens say, ‘If we see our peers displaying this behavior on a social-networking website, we believe it is real,” said Moreno.

“If you learn that three of your best friends smoke, then you are more than likely to adopt that behavior,” she said. “This has been happening for decades. The concern with social-networking websites is that these behaviors are now published and accessible to a much larger network of adolescents than a teen’s typical peer group.”

According to Moreno, younger adolescents (those under 16 years old) were especially intrigued by depictions of alcohol use, and were more likely to believe what they saw.

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