BYU study: Social networking bonds parents, teens

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A recent study conducted by BYU assistant professor Sarah Coyne and associate professor Laura Padilla-Walker revealed that social networking between parents and teens can be an important bonding tool.

Syd and Brooke Jacques take photos of themselves on their smart phones. According to BYU professors Sarah Coyne and Laura Padilla-Walker, social media provides an opportunity to strengthen parent-teenager relationships. (Photo by Mark A. Philbrick/BYU)
Syd and Brooke Jacques take photos of themselves on their smartphones. According to BYU professors Sarah Coyne and Laura Padilla-Walker, social media provides an opportunity to strengthen parent-teenager relationships. (Photo by Mark A. Philbrick/BYU)

The study surveyed nearly 500 families with teens between the ages of 12 and 17 to measure social media use, parent-child connection, internalizing and delinquency, relational aggression and prosocial behavior (voluntary behavior intended to benefit another).

Results showed a greater connection between teens and parents who use social networking with each other, as well as a greater willingness among teens to help other people and fewer occurrences of aggression and depression.

On the other hand, according to the study, “Adolescent social networking use without parents was associated with negative outcomes, such as increased relational aggression, internalizing behaviors, delinquency and decreased feelings of connection.”

In a Q-and-A with BYU News, lead study author Sarah Coyne said, “Social networks give an intimate look at your teenager’s life. … It gives a nice little window into what is going on.”

Brandtly Thornton, an exercise science major from Spokane, Wash., uses Snapchat to create this window with his parents.

“It helps me keep connected with (my parents) since I’m 1,000 miles away. … I feel like we have a more open, transparent and trusting relationship than we ever did,” Thorntson said. “(Social media) helps parents gauge what’s really going on in their kids’ lives that is not necessarily what their kids tell them. … It makes (the relationship) more honest and open.”

Like any window, this one works from both sides. For Hailey Savage, a dance major from Yuma, Ariz., social networking is an insight into her parents’ lives.

“I’ve always known my dad is really funny, but he posts the funniest things on Instagram,” Savage said. “(My parents) post stuff on Instagram every day so I can see what’s going on and what they’re up to, so I definitely feel better connected. … I feel like I’m more a part of their life.”

Coyne warns against parents using social media excessively or as a crutch for a suffering relationship.

“It’s got to be used in moderation,” Coyne 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.”

Megan Clegg, an art history major from Draper, attests to this.

“I don’t feel like my relationship (with my mom) is any better or worse because she has Facebook,” Clegg said. “I agree with what Sarah Coyne says in that it’s not going to fix everything. … If you have a bad relationship in real life, a friend request or liking a status won’t change that.”

The full report of the study has been published in the journal “Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.”

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