Social media

The family that social networks together stays together, study suggests

July 20, 2013 at 12:51 PM ET

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Duane Hoffman / NBC News

Adolescents who maintain social media connections with their parents not only tend to have better relationships with them offline, but also show fewer behavior issues, a recent study suggests.

Researchers at Brigham Young University noted this pattern after looking into the social media habits and relationships of 491 adolescents and their parents. They asked questions to assess depression, anxiety, delinquency, relational aggression and the like.

Only about half of the adolescents had social networking connections with their parents. Of those, 19 percent reported that they interacted with their parents on social media multiple times per month, while 16 percent said that they used social networking sites with their parents every single day.

The family that tweets together stays together, one might cheekily suggest after discovering that "joint use of social networking sites was associated with heightened connectivity between adolescents and parents."

By communicating via social networking sites, playing games together, showing support by making positive comments on pictures or status updates, and so on, parents and adolescents are able to "add to feelings of connection," the researchers explain in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

"All this interaction can lead to heightened feelings of connectivity, which was associated with a number of positive outcomes for adolescents, such as higher prosocial behavior toward family, and diminished relational aggression and internalizing problems," they conclude.

Adolescents who reported "a high level of social networking" in general (but didn't interact with their parents) were prone to increased delinquency, relational aggression, and poor connections with their parents. (This brings to mind all the prior studies which suggest that a great deal of social network use can leave people with a great deal of negative feelings.)

Before you rush off and send your kids friend requests on Facebook, there are some caveats to consider.

The researchers point out that "social networking is not the only activity, nor is it likely the most important activity, that parents and adolescents engage in to promote feelings of connectivity." On top of that, we should probably consider that the adolescents and parents who friend each other on Facebook or follow each other on Twitter perhaps had better relationships with each other to begin with.

Authors of "A Friend Request from Dear Old Dad: Associations Between Parent–Child Social Networking and Adolescent Outcomes" include Sarah Coyne, Laura Padilla-Walker, Randal Day, James Harper and Laura Stockdale of BYU's School of Family Life.

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