Parenting Teens in the Age of Social Media

Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago recently polled nearly 3,000 current or recent parents of teenagers to better understand their most pressing concerns and challenges with social media, as well as trends in behavior exhibited by their children. They found that the demands of parenting this generation of teenagers are unique, most notably because of social media. Social media has a dramatic influence on many young people and poses unique challenges for parents. We recently polled 2,000 current or recent parents of teenagers, in order to understand their most pressing concerns and challenges with social media, as well as trends in behavior exhibited by their children.

Like so many tools, social media can be constructive or destructive, depending on how it’s used. We acknowledge the merits of social media and the many ways it can enrich a young person’s life, but we’ve focused this investigation on the concerns it raises for parents, and how it can threaten a young person’s social and psychological well-being. As it turns out, those concerns are widespread. A full 58 percent of parents say they believe social media has a net negative effect on their children.

The consequences of excessive social media use

As we see it, the consequences of social media split into two broad categories: what social media takes children away from (sleep, face-to-face interaction, schoolwork, etc.) and what social media exposes them to (hate speech, sexual content, etc.). While all register as significant consequences, parents tend to be more concerned about what gets sacrificed when by the amount of time spent on social media. The top three concerns are: not getting enough sleep, not getting enough physical activity, and not focusing on schoolwork.

While our analysis is meant to consider trends that are many months or years in the making, we are also curious to understand social media dynamics unique to the COVID-19 pandemic. In early June 2020, we asked parents whether or not their teens were using social media more during the quarantine. Not surprisingly, a majority said yes.

We also asked parents about specific platforms that concern them. The more popular platforms are the most concerning, with Instagram leading the way. The second most concerning platform is Snapchat, known for its “self-destructing” properties, meaning Snapchat messages – including pictures and videos – are only displayed temporarily and then erased by the app.

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