Teens who friend their parents online feel closer to them in real life, study says

A Brigham Young study of nearly 500 families also finds that those students who engage with their parents online are more generous and kind to others.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
2 min read
Kids seem to benefit from connecting with their parents online. Mark Philbrick/BYU

Remember the good ol' days when parents and teenagers didn't talk the same language? That's so pre-Internet. Nowadays, kids and parents are connecting online -- a trend that's not only affording parents a window into their children's lives but that also seems to be benefiting the kids, a new study out of Brigham Young University finds.

Reporting in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, BYU professors Sarah Coyne and Laura Padilla-Walker say that their survey of nearly 500 families finds that kids who friend their parents online feel closer to them in real life, and that they actually exhibit higher rates of "pro-social" behavior, meaning they live more generously, kindly, and helpfully to others.

"Social networks give an intimate look at your teenager's life," Coyne said in a school news release. "It lets parents know what their kids are going through, what their friends think is cool or fun, and helps them feel more connected to their child. It gives a nice little window into what is going on."

According to their findings, half of the teens in the study reported being on social-networking sites with their parents, and one in five said they interact through social media with their parents every day. And the more frequently they interacted, the stronger the real-life connection they reported.

Coyne acknowledged that the chicken-and-egg phenomenon is at play: "It's bi-directional. 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. You don't want these results to get overblown to say, 'If you friend your kid on Facebook, you're suddenly going to have a great relationship.' It's just one tool in an arsenal that parents have to connect with their teens."

Interestingly, the researchers also found that -- independent of parental online interaction -- the amount of time spent on social-networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram was linked with aggression and internalizing behavior. Some of the kids in the study reported being on these sites at least 8 hours a day, and they were more likely to exhibit aggression and depression.