What the results of 32 studies tell us about parenting in the age of social media

A new study published in the academic journal Current Opinion in Psychology offers a way forward for parents looking for better ways to navigate the burgeoning world of teen social media use.

The authors argue that it is possible for parents to put safeguards in place that reduce anxiety and depression in tweens and teens resulting from social media overuse, as well as minimize the negative effects of cyberbullying. .

Here is an overview of their recommendations.

Recommendation #1: Familiarize yourself with different parenting styles on social media

It’s no surprise that parents vary widely in how they handle their children’s social media use. According to the authors, there are four general approaches parents take when monitoring their teens’ social media use. They are:

  1. Autonomy support. This approach provides a fitting rationale for developing social media rules and takes teens’ perspectives seriously.
  2. Restricted autonomy. This approach provides rules in a hard-and-fast way, with little respect for teenage perspectives.
  3. Inconsistent. This strategy, or lack thereof, occurs when parents randomly vary their restrictions, regulations, or discussions on social media.
  4. Permissive. This approach avoids advice and discussion and provides restrictions or limited rules.

There are also other styles. Some parents practice “social media monitoring”, in which they monitor teens’ media usage – for example, by using tracking software, keeping track of teens’ social media passwords, or checking profiles of teenagers on social networks. Researchers divide social media monitoring into two subcategories: “authoritative monitoring” (eg accessing teens’ social media accounts and passwords) and “non-intrusive inspection” (eg browsing their profiles).

There are also cases of “co-use”, where parents and children use social media together.

Before trying to hone your social media parenting style, it’s important to think about your current social media position and how it may be perceived by your child(ren). Are you autonomous or restrictive? Are your rules inconsistent or permissive? Do you use social media with your child? Do you practice any form of social media monitoring?

Recommendation #2: A stricter approach may be a better approach

While there’s no “right answer” to the question of how to parent in the age of social media, a preponderance of data suggests that more active approaches lead to better outcomes than passive ones.

The authors state, “Overall, studies show that adolescents report less problematic use when parents use more parental monitoring, restrictive or active mediation, or strict internet and smartphone rules.”

There is also evidence to suggest that adolescents spend less time using social media when parents implement an autonomy-promoting approach. Other evidence reveals that adolescents exhibit more anxiety and depressive symptoms when parents use a more restrictive autonomy style to restrict adolescents’ use of social media and fewer symptoms when parents implement a autonomy support style.

In other words, there is something to be said for creating a family environment in which social media dialogue between children and parents is a two-way street, but while maintaining strict rules for limiting overuse and problematic activity on social media.

Of course, there are counter-arguments to this line of thinking. A study published in Frontiers in Psychology, for example, found that a more restrictive stance on social media access was associated with an increased risk of social media addiction. What this should highlight is that while some approaches work better on average than others, individual circumstances should be considered when crafting your own social media monitoring strategy.

Recommendation #3: Stay informed. As social media evolves, so will advice.

Many big questions remain unanswered. For example, it’s still unclear whether the type of social media your child uses (whether online, on a smartphone, for games, etc.) influences how you as a parent should manage it. It’s also unclear how quickly the negative effects of social media overuse on a child’s well-being can be reversed. Can parents expect a quick turnaround in a child’s behavior after changing course, or do the negative effects linger for a while?

Further research is needed to answer these important questions.

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