Most teenagers would cringe at the thought of their parents being on social networks. But a new study finds that teens who are connected through platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, tend to have better relationships with their parents, even as the window to their lives has essentially been opened.
Researchers at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, surveyed 491 teens and their parents about their use of social networking, feelings about connection, and behavioral outcomes, NPR reported. They also looked into delinquency, depression, eating disorders, aggression in relationships, and positive behaviors towards others, which were measured by asking the teens if they agreed with phrases, such as "I really enjoy doing small favors for my family."
They found that teens who stayed connected felt more connected to their parents in real life. Half of the teens said they used social networking to keep in touch with their parents, with 16 percent saying that they interacted with their parents every day.
"You can do a lot on social networking sites," lead author of the study Dr. Sarah Coyne said. "Your kid might post a picture, and you might show support by liking it or making a nice comment, or a status update that does the same kind of thing. It gives more opportunities to give positive feedback or show affection."
Those teens who interacted every day were also the ones who felt the most connected to their parents. All of the teens who stayed connected were also less likely to feel depressed, delinquent, and aggressive; and more likely to be kind and thoughtful toward others.
Coyne notes that this positive interaction could all just be a result of parent-teen relationships that are already positive, and that social networks just provide another vehicle with which to show that affection.
"Parents who are more connected to their teens in general want to keep that connection elsewhere. I think it's a bit of both — it's bi-directional," 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."
Meanwhile, the researchers were surprised that overall social networking use, regardless of how connected teens were to their parents, showed a higher likeliness of the teen being aggressive in relationships, delinquency, and depression.
"That was a little surprising to me. We tend to think of social networking as relatively harmless, and for the most part it really is," Coyne said. "But kids who are using it a ton — we had some kids in the study who were using it more than eight hours a day — some of them show problems in terms of aggression."
She also cautioned that a parent who is connected to their teen through social media doesn't automatically mean that they will be closer to their child.
"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.
Source: Coyne S, Padilla-Walker L, Day R, et al. A Friend Request from Dear Old Dad: Associations Between Parent-Child Social Networking and Adolescent Outcomes. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. 2013.