New Spins on Social Media Research

Brad M. Griffin | May 19, 2010

According to an LA Times article yesterday entitled Teenage social media butterflies may not be such a bad idea, we shouldnt be very concerned about those kids who spend lots of time compulsively checking Facebook and texting their friends. As it turns out, they may be the more socially well-adjusted ones of the lot. Citing a recent study of 13-14-year-olds by the University of Virginia, the article suggests that research affirms children most likely to spend lots of time on social media sites are not the least well-adjusted but the healthiest psychologically. Further, electronics appear to be the path by which children today develop emotional bonds, their own identities, and an ability to communicate and work with others.

I havent read the study, and to be fair the article goes on to give more of a balance, including summarizing current studies on the actual amount of time were talking about7.5 hours a day using digital media plus texting (one third of U.S. teens text more than 100 times per day). I also think this study could offer a helpful corrective to the wild fears about online activity that assume every teen will get sucked into risky practices.

Yet I think were missing a bigger point if we just sum up that all this increased tech and social media use is just the new normal. As author/pastor Shane Hipps has pointed out in books and an interview on our site, the medium always, always changes the message. Its never just a change in technology, but an adaptation of the content itself into something altogether different. To quote Shane, We are distracted by the content and miss the power of the medium itself, regardless of content, to alter our very patterns of perception. So Im wondering when it comes to social media use among teens (and adults), how can we offer a more thoughtful response than, Oh, theyre doing okay after all. I guess its not that big of a deal? To make a blanket affirmation that electronics are the new pathway to identity formation is missing the massive implications that has for what identity is and how it is formed.

As a positive side note, the article cites another study that adds to the mass of research affirming the critical importance of parents nurturing relationships with their kids that foster openness to sharing struggles. Cornell University researcher Sahara Byrne reinforces (according to her research as reported in the Times article), children who think they can go to a parent with a problem any problem are more willing to accept parental limits on their media use and appear to be less likely to seek out trouble online. That belief, added Byrne, was a more powerful predictor of a child’s healthy Internet use than a family’s income, education, church attendance or political leaning.

All really interesting stuff to chew on this week in our ministry teams and families

Brad M. Griffin

Brad M. Griffin is the Senior Director of Content for the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), where he develops research-based training for youth workers and parents. A speaker, blogger, and volunteer youth pastor, Brad is the coauthor of Faith in an Anxious World, Growing Young, several Sticky Faith books, Every Parent’s Guide to Navigating Our Digital World, and the series Can I Ask That?: 8 Hard Questions about God and Faith. Brad and his family live in Southern California.


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