A new opinion poll created by researchers at the University of Birmingham has revealed that parents worry greatly about the effects of social media on their children’s moral development. More than half of parents thought it impeded their child’s development, and noted many negative traits that they saw often on popular social media sites.
The poll aimed to gauge the perceptions of the impact of social media among parents. It is the first survey of its type in the UK and it provides an idea about the types of moral values that circulate on social media sites. It showed that parental anxieties about the influence of social media on young children was common, especially the effect it could have on children aged 11, as although they are too young to use most popular social media sites, they still manage to do so.
The poll asked 1,700 parents who had children aged between 11 and 17 about their thoughts on how social media affects character. 15% thought that social media had a negative influence and 40% were ‘concerned’ or ‘extremely concerned’ about this impact. Parents thought that there were a number of character strengths missing from social media; 24% thought the main one was forgiveness and self-control, followed by honesty (21%) and fairness (20%). They also noted the negative traits they most often saw on social media, those being: anger and hostility (60%), arrogance (51%) and ignorance (43%).
Is social media all bad?
However, although it seems like this shows social media sites are a completely negative environment, the survey also found that over two-thirds of parents saw positive content at least once per day, a higher percentage than those who saw negative moral messages regularly. Also over 50% of parents saw strengths like humour and appreciation of beauty being promoted.
Overall, this survey seems to paint quite a bleak picture about social media usage, but is it really so disastrous? It is important to remember that this is just an opinion poll and not thorough research. It is to be used as a jumping point for studying the relationship between social media and children’s moral development, and of other traits such as empathy. This poll only investigates what the parents see on social media, and it is not certain that their children will be exposed to the same content as it is unlikely that they will be following the same things on their news-feeds.
There is some research that shows the benefits of social media. Some studies have found that the more children used social media, the better their ‘virtual’ and ‘real-world’ empathy was, probably as they will experience more perspectives and circumstances (such as other cultures and religions), making them more tolerant. It can help shy children gain confidence in initiating new relationships, and allows them to practice social skills in what they perceive as a safe space. Social media use has also been shown to reduce stress as children can use it to distance themselves and also gain social support.
Is there an easy solution?
Cutting off children from social media probably isn’t the answer, mainly because it is a big part of most people’s lives now, especially as parents could be part of the reason children use social media so much. Research has found that there is a correlation between parent’s usage of social media sites and their children’s usage, and in the opinion poll 93% of parents said they regularly used social media. It is therefore more important to educate children on social media and teach them how to navigate it safely, especially as you can often tailor what you see by unfollowing specific people. As we learn more about the impacts of social media, we can better understand the best way to educate children on its use and work out how to introduce them to it while reducing its potentially negative impacts.