The impulse-driven and wild-West environment of social networking sites encourages pre-adolescents and adolescents to “publicly display references to behaviors that are both personal and associated with health risks, such as sexual behaviors.” This article, Reducing At-Risk Adolescents’ Display of Risk Behavior on a Social Networking Web Site, published in the January 2009 Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine is a riveting journal article.
Of interest to parents, the article reports how a physician researched at-risk behavior concerning sex or substance abuse openly posted by teenagers on social networking sites. Although it contains some complex statistics and research language, the article is available free for downloading and worth the time it takes to read.
A pediatrician, at the time of the research from the University of Washington Medical School, Megan A. Moreno, MD, M.S.Ed, MPH (Dr. Meg), identified public adolescent social networking profiles that featured risky behavior. She wondered whether hearing directly from a physician via e-mail about risky behaviors depicted on the social networking sites might influence how the young people represented themselves on-line and might perhaps encourage them to make healthy changes in their profiles.
Dr. Meg divided the profiles into a control group and a group that she tested to see if the intervention e-mail message would encourage them to change their public online behavior. After she monitored the sites for a while, Dr. Meg contacted the adolescents in the intervention group via email.
In her message (the script is in the article) Dr. Meg identified herself as a physician, named her institution, and provided a link to her web site for students to check. Next she identified the risky health behaviors on the adolescent’s public site, explaining how these behaviors might cause various problems. Finally she offered to answer questions about risky behavior and potential negative outcomes. After Dr. Meg contacted the students in the intervention group, she monitored all of the web sites (intervention and control) to see if any of the students made changes.
Dr. Meg found that a number of the students with whom she interacted made changes so that fewer at risk behaviors were depicted on their online profiles. She concluded that “the brief e-mail intervention using social networking sites shows promise in reducing sexual references in the online profiles.” An editorial accompanying the article urged parents to learn how to use social networking sites.