Families Who Connect Through Social Media Feel Closer

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online

Teenagers who are connected to their parents on social media feel closer to them in real life, according to new research from Brigham Young University.

The study of nearly 500 families also found teens that interact with their parents on social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are more likely to be generous, kind and helpful to others.

Lead study author Sarah Coyne said one of the reasons social media helps families feel more connected is because it provides people with opportunities to give positive feedback and show affection.

“Social networks give an intimate look at your teenager’s life. It lets parents know what their kids are going through, what their friends think is cool or fun, and helps them feel more connected to their child. It gives a nice little window into what is going on,” she said.

Coyne said half of the teens in the study reported being on social networking sites with their parents, while 16 percent interacted with parents every day through social media.

More frequent interactions were linked to more family closeness, she added.

“The more frequently parents used social media to interact with teens, the stronger the connection.”

However, parents need to be mindful not to take things too far with social media, she said.

“Parents need to be smart about how they use it. I think it is a really great tool to connect with your kids. But just like everything else, it’s got to be used in moderation. You don’t want to be the parent who posts embarrassing pictures of your kid all the time or makes snarky comments. You have to keep it at the level that’s appropriate and respectful of what the teen wants as well.”

Coyne acknowledged some of the improved closeness between teens and parents who interact through social media is a “chicken and egg” phenomenon.

“Parents who are more connected to their teens in general want to keep that connection elsewhere,” she said.

“As we have experiences in new media, it strengthens bonds that are already there. It’s kind of a rich get richer type of thing and cementing what’s already there.

“You don’t want these results to get overblown to say, ‘If you friend your kid on Facebook, you’re suddenly going to have a great relationship.’ It’s just one tool in an arsenal that parents have to connect with their teens. This is what teens are doing – they are on social media already, so it’s a nice tool to use,” she said.

The study also revealed overall social networking use, independent of parental use, was associated with certain negative outcomes for teenagers, such as higher rates of aggressiveness and internalizing behavior.

“That was a little surprising to me,” Coyne said.

“We tend to think of social networking as relatively harmless, and for the most part it really is. But kids who are using it a ton – we had some kids in the study who were using it more than 8 hours a day – some of them show problems in terms of aggression and depression.”

Coyne advised parents to be media savvy and stay up to date on social networking trends.

“If you really want to stay involved with your kid, you can’t be afraid to learn new technology, to learn new web sites and to know where your teen is.”

The study was published online July 11 in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.