While they share understandable concerns about online predators, bullying, and unwise activities like “sexting,” most parents have a mostly positive view of social media’s impact on their children’s lives, according to a new national survey by Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, MO.
Overall, some 38% of the parents surveyed think the benefits of social media to their children are greater than the risks, while 45% think the risks and benefits are equal, and just 17% think the risks outweigh the benefits. Asked about specific benefits, 72% of parents said it would help prepare them for life in a digital world; 59% said it would help them learn through collaboration and exchange of ideas; 57% said it would encourage them to be more curious, aware and open-minded; and 55% said they think it is an effective teaching tool. A somewhat smaller number, 46%, said they believe it fosters individual identity and social skills.
As noted, parents also expressed some reservations about social media. 44% said it can encourage virtual over real-world relationships, leaving kids socially stunted; 41% said it can result in social isolation and behavioral problems like depression and anxiety; and 41% also said it can negatively impact their ability to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Parents of younger children (ages 1-12) expressed more reservations about the dangers of social media than parents of older children (ages 13-19). For example, 67% of parents of children ages 1-12 said they were worried about violations of privacy, and 64% said they worried about exposure to sexting or inappropriate sexual behavior; the proportions were 64% and 49% for parents with children ages 13-19.
And of course, there may still benefits from placing some restrictions on social media use and media in general, according to doctors at Children’s Mercy. Daryl A. Lynch, M.D., section chief for adolescent medicine, advises parents to have a “no screen” rule for bedrooms, since the light from screens can interrupt sleep patterns, as well as at the kitchen table. He also advises parents to encourage non-electronic forms of play and creativity.