Social media has become an extension of the school hallway for the vast majority of American students, with all the flirting, drama, occasional cruelty and flashes of maturity, according to a survey released today by Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.
The report also shows that electronic behavior has become a new frontier of parenting. Our own behavior may be changing as fast as our kids. We’re watching them more closely, talking to them more about online connections and understanding that social media has become part of growing up.
According to “Teens, Kindness and Cruelty on Social Network Sites: How American teens navigate the new world of ‘digital citizenship’, ” 95 percent of 12- to-17-year-olds are online and 80 percent of them belong to social media sites. The 80-page-report, a result of interviews, focus groups and a phone survey, offers interesting insights into how teens interact on sites like Facebook and MySpace. (It offers evidence that bullying and harassment is part of teen electronic life.)
On the heartening front, it turns out most teens do follow our advice Close to 60 percent of teen internet and cell phone users cited their parents as their biggest influence when it comes to their connected behavior.
“One of the most surprising takeaways from this research is that parents matter,” wrote Amanda Lenhart, a primary author of the study who discussed the results with me, fittingly, in an electronic exchange.
Parents also watch. Researchers found that parents are getting less shy about ”friending.” Eighty percent of parents who use social media and whose children use social media said they had friended their child.
Close to the same percentage, 77 percent, said they have checked to see which Web sites their children had visited. That’s up from 65 percent in 2006. And 66 percent of parents have checked to see what information is available online about their child. Half of the parents reported using parental controls on the child’s media.
There are significant minorities who are not embracing the trend to monitor. Lenhart said those parents tend to fall into one of two camps.
There are parents who are consciously avoiding monitoring to allow them privacy. A survey recently done by the Family Online Safety Institute [pdf], which partnered with Pew for the study released today, found that most parents who do not use electronic controls say it’s because they trust their children.
The other camp is home to parents who do not have the access, time or means to monitor their children.
“I think it’s important to remember that not all parents of teens are computer or technology savvy. Not all of them use social media, or have the Internet skills to know how to do even some of these actions described in the survey.
“Think about parents for whom English isn’t a first language, or who work multiple jobs, or who don’t work with the Internet or computers in their workplace. There are many different barriers that might keep a parent or guardian from monitoring their teens’ Internet use,” Lenhart wrote.
The overwhelming majority of parents, whether connected or not, do talk to their children about life online. “This research shows us that parents are a major source of general online safety advice for teens, and perhaps more importantly, that parents also serve as the biggest source of influence on what teens think is appropriate and inappropriate behavior online and on cell phones,” Lenhart said.
As for the sizeable minority who did not cite their parents? Eighteeen percent said someone else was their biggest influence and another 18% said “no one” was.
“It isn’t all entirely up to parents. Teens are actually learning about online safety and responsibility from a wide variety of sources — teachers, family, friends, librarians, youth pastors, Web sites, Internet and cell phone service providers — all of these people and places have a role in teaching kids how to be responsible users of digital technology,” she said.
Do you monitor your child’s social media activities? Do you use parental controls? Why or why not?