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Parents can use networking to detect harmful behavior

SONYA COLBERG Published: August 23, 2009
Self-described "bad girl” and aspiring bikini model Terri Rehm shared her thoughts on MySpace. Before being charged with murder in connection with a June 25 slaying in Oklahoma City, she wrote that drugs set her life awry.

"If I had not been where I was buying drugs then I would not be involved at all,” she wrote in reference to the murder investigation.

In describing who she’d like to meet, she wrote that she wants a guy who respects her and her daughter. And continued, "I can’t have the whole goody goody thing going on, I’m a bad girl myself.”

Can parents point to social networking stories like Rehm’s to help steer teens away from drugs and negative influences?

The key is to expose teens to peers who initially went down the wrong path but changed course after a catastrophic event, said Patrick Schwerdtfeger, a Walnut Creek, Calif.-based author and speaker.

"The trend is clear. Trust for establishment-related advice is dropping while trust for peer advice is rising,” he said. "Social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook are helping teens find peers with similar views. And that often reinforces their beliefs, good or bad.”

Experimenting early
It doesn’t hurt for parents to share dramatic Internet stories about drugs destroying people’s lives, said Jo Ann Pearce, executive director of the Oklahoma-based A Chance to Change Foundation. But the stories aren’t always effective deterrents.

"Many people seem to react with ‘That would never happen to me,’ because they don’t understand the lack of control that comes with the disease of addiction,” Pearce said.

Oklahoma children typically start experimenting with drugs and alcohol in seventh grade.


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