Tuesday, January 6, 2009

This just in: 18 year olds talk about sex!

If you want to frighten parents and educators, mention "MySpace". The social networking site has become public enemy number one in the fight against teenage vice. Now, even the medical community is getting involved. According to a study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, "54 percent of teens talk about behaviors such as sex, alcohol use, and violence on the social networking giant MySpace".

Actually, that quote is a bit misleading. A few paragraphs down, we find out:
The study looked at MySpace profiles of 500 people who identified themselves as 18-year-old males and females in the United States. References to risky behaviors included both words and photos, the authors said.
So this means that 54% of 18-year-olds on MySpace reference sex or drugs (there's no mention of "rock-n-roll" in the study) in their profiles. Let's put aside for a moment the fact that 18-year-olds are legal adults. Studies of the sexual behavior of Ameircan teens reveal that 58% of 18-year-olds in this country have had sex. If you believe these statistics, MySpace users are actually less likely to have sex than the general population.

You may be wondering why anyone would be interested in this (I know I was). Accodring to one of the authors:

Even if teens have not actually engaged in risky behaviors but merely brag about them online, this can still affect their future behavior, said study co-author Dr. Dimitri Christakis, professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington and director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children's Hospital.

Those who lie about the behaviors to show off may receive positive feedback from others -- comments such as "that's great" or "I do the same thing" -- that encourage them to actually try out the behaviors, he said.

So the danger here is not MySpace, per se, but rather peer pressure--pressure that results from essentially any contact with peers.  That means that if MySpace is dangerous, then so are cell phones, or any other communication device.  If MySpace is dangerous, so is talking.

Interestingly, one of the researchers makes this point, though it is buried in the article:
"It's really not that MySpace is bad or good. I think the lesson is that it's a tool, and how you use it determines the kinds of outcome you're going to get," Moreno said.
Technology changes, but people typically stay the same.  Teenagers--in this case, young adults--think about, and talk about, sex.  It's easier to see that now that social networking sites have gained popularity.  But just because it's more apparent, doesn't mean it's new.  

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