In decades past, peer pressure was found mostly on the bus and the hallways of school. The pattern changed recently as more of New Jersey’s youth latched on to the trend of social networking sites. According to the National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XVI: Teens and Parents, 70 percent of American teens between the ages of 12 and 17, who typically spend their time on social networking sites, are five times more likely to use tobacco, three times more likely to use alcohol and twice as likely to use marijuana.

“It’s a different type of peer pressure,” explained Steven Liga, CEO of the Middlesex County chapter of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

He said the number of exposures to alcohol and drug references on Facebook is very high.

“If you look at the pages of just a sample of young people, you’re going to see a lot of kids posing with a beer bottle, playing beer pong. The images are there all the time,” said Liga.

Why has the substance use trickled down to a younger age? Social networking sites have allowed an easy way to communicate among generations, as kids look to get associated with as many people as possible.

Liga explained, “Kids of all different ages are now mixing. You get these younger kids who are now being able to link to older kids, and there’s the pressure to grow up that much faster.”

The solution to the problem, according to Liga, is not a simple one. He advised parents to put the home computer in a public place, but recent technology upgrades have made it more difficult for parents to keep track of their kids. Social networking sites can be accessed through smart phones and other devices.

“Make sure you have access to your kid’s Facebook page,” Liga also suggested. “You have to be a friend on their page, and then that means parents have to take the time to check in with the kids on Facebook.”