So it appears that, rather than alienate, social media can help foster healthy relationships, which includes the relationship between your teenager and you.
A study conducted by Brigham Young University reveals that teens who reported connecting with their parents via Facebook and other social media outlets were more likely to have a close bond with them in real life. Not only that, these same youths were also more likely to have positive social behavior and thinking than their peers who had no social media contact with their parents.
The study involved 491 randomly selected Seattle families with teens between the ages of 12 and 17. About half of the teens polled in the study reported communicating with their parents on social media sites, and 16% reported communicating with their parents in this way every day. Interestingly, this study also had the teens participate in a series of behavioral tests and questions to try to measure the bond between their parents and them. Some things researchers looked at included the presence of depression, eating disorders and delinquency, as well as the teen’s relationship with their parents and family in general.
Correlation vs. Causation
Critics claim that the study’s association between a healthy parent-teen relationship and a parent’s connection with their child on social media does not in any way reflect a direct cause. In fact, a huge weakness in this study, as pointed out by lead author Sarah Coyne, is that the study does not address how those social parents were virtually interacting with their teenager. Were they actively “liking” status updates, or sending private messages (or worse, posting embarrassing baby photos to their teen’s wall)? Or were these parents simply lurking, using social media as a way to keep an eye out for trouble? Since a parent acting overbearing or embarrassing on Facebook or Twitter is just about every teen’s worst nightmare, it’s probably safe to assume that at least some of these parents showed restraint and a level of respect for their teen’s feelings.
Study author and psychologist at BYU, Coyne concludes that this study illustrates the importance of parents using social media and other newer technologies to better parent their children. “If you really want to stay involved with your kid, you can’t be afraid to learn new technology, to learn new websites and to know where your teen is.” Not only does a careful online presence help parents monitor their teens’ actions on and offline, it can also help strengthen a bond of trust and open communication. It can be the simple little actions, such as “liking” a status update or sharing a big achievement that allows parents to show their love and support in a different venue.
As much as your teen may feel like you monitoring their social media profiles is spying, it is still important to do, at least sometimes. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy for a teen to forget that the world can see what they’re posting online, whether it’s an impassioned rant that they’ll regret later or a series of inappropriate photos. In fact, a recent survey conducted by Kaplan Test Prep reports that college admissions officers are now finding negative online material on applications at a greater rate than previous years. Potential employers have been doing this, too. A bit of social parenting every now and then could help prevent your teen from posting something they later regret.
For some parents, using social media is sometimes one of the easiest ways to keep in touch with their teen. When I went on a school trip to Edinburgh, Scotland, during my junior year, Facebook messaging and posting was one of the easiest ways to keep in touch with my family. It was simple to upload and post photos from the Internet café of my day with a quick note or two. It was cheaper than making international phone calls daily, and it took much less time than writing a long email. My parents seemed to enjoy it, too – it gave them some peace of mind and kept them up-to-date on what I was up to, despite being thousands of miles away.
Building Trust Online
Coyne stresses that parents need to be completely open with their teen about their intentions with social media. It isn’t healthy to lie, for example, and say that you won’t monitor your child’s actions on social media sites when you have every intention of doing so. Before linking online, even if your teen is still only 12 or 13 years old, it’s a good idea to sit down and discuss your intentions with your teenager. Ask about their concerns and feelings about you connecting online, and what their limits are. Address these concerns, be upfront, and stick with what you say you’ll do. Conversations like this will help avoid a rocky virtual connection later on, and show your willingness to respect your teen’s boundaries and build trust.
There was another interesting find in this study. Apparently, teens who used social media heavily, whether connected to their parents or not, were more likely to report depression, eating disorders, and negative attitudes toward their families.
If nothing else, fostering a healthy virtual relationship, whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, certainly can’t hurt the parent-teen relationship in the physical world. And perhaps all this study shows is that a healthy parent-teen connection easily translates to social media. If a teen is close to his or her parents, then they’re much more likely to “friend” online. While some may view social media as just another way they could “mess up” with their teen, others may find that it’s beneficial, and worth the effort of learning a new technology.