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Teens who spend time online not dorks after all – study

Get more sex, drink more. Don't wear seatbelts either

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News today which upsets the stereotype of teenagers who spend a lot of time online or otherwise fooling with computers: rather than being lonely dorks with poor social skills who seldom leave their bedrooms, such kids are in fact more likely to get squiffy, have sex and even to take drugs than their less tech-savvy peers.

The revelations come in research conducted lately in Canada among 10 to 16-year-olds by epidemiology PhD candidate Valerie Carson.

"This research is based on social cognitive theory, which suggests that seeing people engaged in a behaviour is a way of learning that behaviour," explains Carson. "Since adolescents are exposed to considerable screen time – over 4.5 hours on average each day – they're constantly seeing images of behaviours they can then potentially adopt."

Apparently the study found that high computer use was associated with approximately 50 per cent increased engagement with "smoking, drunkenness, non-use of seatbelts, cannabis and illicit drug use, and unprotected sex". High television use was also associated with a modestly increased engagement in these activities.

According to Ms Carson this is because TV is much more effectively controlled and censored in order to prevent impressionable youths seeing people puffing tabs or jazz cigarettes while indulging in unprotected sex etc. The driving without seatbelts thing seems a bit odd until one reflects that old episodes of the The Professionals, the Rockford Files etc are no doubt torrent favourites.

"TV and video games have more established protocols in terms of censorship, but internet protocols aren't as established," says Ms Carson. "Parents can make use of programs that control access to the internet, but adolescents in this age group are quite savvy about technology and the internet. It's possible that these types of controls aren't effective in blocking all undesirable websites."

If you want to you can read Carson and her colleagues' paper here, courtesy of the journal Preventive Medicine. ®

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