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Social networking sites Facebook and MySpace could be used to screen at-risk children.

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A significant number of teenagers make frequent references to sex, drugs and other risky behaviours on social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, latest study findings suggest.

Researchers from the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute studied the content of 500 publicly available profiles posted by 18 year-olds.

They found that more than half of the profiles contained references to risky behaviours, with 24% mentioning sex and 41% referring to drug use. Alcohol use was mentioned in 37% of the profiles, and violence in 14%.

Displaying such information is a cause for concern because it may attract unwanted attention from sexual predators or jeopardise future employment prospects, the researchers said.

But they added that social networking sites, such as MySpace or Facebook, could provide a new way to detect teenagers at risk of engaging in unhealthy behaviours.

‘Given the popularity of social networking sites among teens and the high prevalence of risk behaviours displayed there, social networking sites can be explored as an innovative venue to identify, screen and ultimately intervene with adolescents who display risk behaviour information,’ they said.

Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine (2009) 163: 27-34

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