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The Influence of Parents and the Media

Project Overview

The aim of this research project was to examine how social media use is related to young people’s experience and enactment of empathy and honesty, and their identification with moral values. This project will also explore what types of regulation strategy that parents employ are most successful in mediating the effects of social media use. As a result, this research project will provide evidence-based recommendations on social media use for schools and parents will be developed.

The findings of this project will provide information to caregivers and educators on the influence of social media use on young people’s moral development. The research will also provide information on which regulation techniques might be most successful in a) impacting adolescents’ social media use, and b) mediating the impact of such social media use on their moral development.

 Read our 'Virtue Insight' blog post 'Are Facebook, the selfie and Snapchat threatening the moral character and values of young people?'

Methodology

This project will be split into three separate studies. The first study piloted measures for operationalising adolescents’ social media use and gather information on the strategies parents employ to regulate their children’s social media use. The second study explored the relationship between adolescents’ social media use, empathy, honesty and moral identity (hopefully with a comparison of ‘online’ and ‘offline’ moral identity). Finally, study three brought these two parts of the research together so that the influence of parents on adolescents’ social media use and also the influence of adolescents’ social media use on their moral identity, empathy and honesty can be looked at in concert.

Each study aims to add new insights and knowledge to the field and work towards a fuller understanding of how social media and parents can influence moral identity and two particular virtues; empathy and honesty.

Literature Review & Findings

Key findings:

  • Particular parenting styles (such as authoritative parenting) and parental behaviours (such as ‘balanced connectedness’ and inductions) are often positively related to young people’s moral functioning, including the development of moral reasoning, moral emotion and moral identity;
  • It is important to consider children’s own perceptions of parenting techniques - behaviours that are deemed fair and appropriate by young people are more likely to be accepted, thus increasing the successful growth of moral functioning;
  • Social network sites are a place where moral values are put to the test, just as they are offline. Social media can lead to both moral and immoral behaviours, depending on the context;
  • Young people’s identity is influenced via social media, in conjunction with influence from parents and from peers.

In a pilot survey of 72 adults, 75% of parents with children aged 11 -17 years old answered ‘Yes’ to ‘Do you try to regulate your child’s social media use?’

Examples of parents’ regulation techniques obtained in open-ended questions include:

  • Restricting access to technology
  • Restricting access to the internet
  • Controlling content (parental controls for example)
  • Guiding children on what is safe or unsafe online
  • Creating offline distractions
  • Monitoring usage/content Nagging

When asked ‘In general, how concerned are you about your child or children's use of social networking sites’, where 1 = not at all concerned and 9 = extremely concerned, the modal response for the same group was 6.

Parents Poll

A poll of parents found that more than half of participants think popular social media sites hamper their children’s moral development, The poll also reveals only 15% of parents think the popular sites provide a positive influence on young people’s character.

Other findings include:

  • A significant number of parents (40%) are “concerned” or “extremely concerned” about the negative and potentially harmful impact of social media;
  • Anger, arrogance and hatred are among the top negative character traits, or vices, reported by parents on social media;
  • A quarter of parents highlight a lack of forgiveness and self-control among users;
  • As an antidote to the negative findings, almost three-quarters (72%) of parents who use social media see content containing a positive moral message at least once a day;
  • The “character strengths” promoted most regularly are humour, appreciation of beauty, creativity, love, courage and kindness.

The full press release is available here. Read a longer blog piece by Dr. Blaire Morgan which discusses the findings in more detail.

The story was been covered in the Birmingham Mail, Birmingham Post, Times of Malta and Science Daily. The story was also the lead article on the BBC Education pages on 18th July 2016.

Project Milestones

  • Study 1: Testing the relationship between adolescent social media use and parental regulation strategies. Estimated timeframe: March 2016 – July 2016.
  • Study 2: Testing the relationship between adolescent social media use and adolescents’ experience and enactment of empathy and honesty as well as their formation of a moral identity. Estimated timeframe: September 2016 – February 2017.
  • Study 3: Testing the abovementioned relationships in concert. Estimated timeframe: March 2017 – June 2017.
  • Research publication: Autumn 2017.