July 16, 2015

Parents and Social Media

Concerns about children, social media and technology use

One-in-three parents say they have had concerns or questions about their child’s technology use in the last year.

Previous research about teenagers and technology shows that parents of teens are both supportive and wary of their child’s use of the internet, social media, and cell phones.22 Many also take an active role in monitoring their teen’s online behavior and engaging in conversations about what is and is not appropriate to share online.23

In this survey, 33% of parents24 said they have had concerns or questions about their child’s technology use in the past 12 months. Mothers and fathers are equally likely to have had concerns and questions. Parents who have children over the age of 5 are significantly more likely than parents who only have children under age 5 to say they have had questions or concerns of this type over the past year (36% vs. 21%).

Most parents say they have not felt uncomfortable about the information posted about their child by others online; few have requested content be removed.

Parents show relatively low levels of concern about what others have posted about their child online. Just 12% of parents say they have ever felt uncomfortable about something a spouse, family member, or friend posted about their child on social media. Fully 88% say they have not felt this way.

Parents of younger children tend to be a bit more sensitive about the content that is posted about their child. Among parents who only have children age 11 or younger, 14% say they have ever felt uncomfortable about something a spouse, family member, or friend posted about their child on social media. This compares with 3% of parents who only have children age 12 and older. There were no other significant differences by demographic group.

However, when parents do feel uncomfortable, many are likely to ask the poster to remove the offending content. Overall, 11% of parents have ever asked a family member, caregiver, or friend to take something about their child down from social media.

Parents and their Facebook Networks

Given the ubiquity of Facebook and its status as the most popular social networking site, this survey took a deeper dive into the interactions and characteristics that make up users’ networks, revealing where parents’ networks are similar and different compared with non-parents.

The typical parent has 150 Facebook friends.

Parents 25 on Facebook have a median of 150 friends, while non-parents typically have 200 Facebook friends. Digging into the data, the largest group of parents on Facebook (42%) has between 0 and 100 friends on the network. Another 20% of parents say they have between 101 and 250 friends, while 23% have between 251 and 500 friends. There are no statistically significant differences between parents and non-parents at these levels.

When looking at those with more than 500 Facebook friends, however, non-parents are more likely to have the largest networks. Some 16% of non-parents on Facebook say they have more than 500 Facebook friends, compared with 11% of parents on Facebook. There are no statistically significant differences in the size of Facebook networks between parent demographic groups like age, gender, income, and education level.

Parents Have Similar Network Sizes to Non-Parents

One-third of parents’ Facebook friends are “actual” friends; less than a quarter of non-parents’ Facebook friends are actual friends.

Facebook networks are composed of a variety of people, not all of whom are necessarily considered close. Facebook users were asked how many of their friends on the platform they considered “actual friends.”

The typical parent says they have 50 “actual” friends on Facebook, while the typical non-parent counts 40 of their Facebook friends as “actual” friends.26 As noted above, parents typically have 150 Facebook friends, and non-parents typically have 200 Facebook friends. Thus, a typical parent’s Facebook network is about one-third “actual” friends, while non-parents typically report that less than a quarter of their network is made up of actual friends.

There were no demographic differences in the number of “actual” friends on Facebook between parents by age, gender, income, or education level.

A Few Good Friends

Mothers are more likely than fathers to share, post or comment on Facebook

Mothers More Likely to Interact With Their Facebook NetworksOverall, 94% of parents who use Facebook ever post, share or comment on the platform. And parents are relatively active sharers of content. Fully 70% of parents on Facebook say they “frequently” or “sometimes” share, post, or comment on Facebook as opposed to simply reading or viewing content, including 30% who do so “frequently.” Parents, as a whole, are not different from non-parents in their likelihood or frequency of posting to Facebook, but, among parents, mothers and fathers do differ in their frequency of sharing.

Mothers are significantly more likely than fathers to engage with others on Facebook – 76% do so “frequently” or “sometimes” compared with 61% of fathers who say the same. Some 37% of mothers share, post, or comment “frequently,” which is substantially higher than the 20% of fathers who do so. Fathers are more likely to “hardly ever” or “never” share content – 39% report this compared with 24% of mothers.

Parents are more likely to connect digitally with neighbors and their own parents; non-parents are more connected to current friends.

Family and friends new and old are the most common types of connections in users’ Facebook networks. Fully 93% of parents on Facebook say they are friends with family members other than their parents and children, while 88% each say they are connected with current friends and friends from the past, such as high school or college classmates. Six-in-ten parents on Facebook are friends with their work colleagues.

Other types of family connections are also common in parents’ Facebook networks. Some 53% of parents on Facebook are friends with their parents, and 47% are friends with their children. 27 Some 41% of parents are friends with their neighbors, and another 41% are friends with people on Facebook who they have never met in person.

Parents More Likely to Be Friends With Their Parents and Neighbors, Non-Parents More Likely to Connect With Current Friends

Parents and non-parents have largely similar network compositions, although there are a few differences. Parents are more likely to be Facebook friends with their own parents than are non-parents, 53% vs. 40%. They are also more likely to be friends with their neighbors on the network (41% vs. 34% of non-parents).

Younger parents on Facebook (those under age 40) are more likely to be connected with friends from the past on Facebook (93% vs. 83% of parents ages 40 and older). This is likely because Facebook users and social media users in general tend to be younger, so connections may be easier to find. Younger parents also are more likely to be Facebook friends with their own parents (71% vs. 35%), again likely a factor of age.

In a similar vein, parents with relatively young children are more likely to be friends with their own parents on Facebook. Among Facebook-using parents who only have children ages 11 or younger, 63% are friends with their own parents, compared with 44% of all other parents.

Among older parents on Facebook (ages 40 and older), 65% are friends with their children on Facebook, compared with 30% of parents under 40. As older parents are more likely to have children old enough to have their own Facebook accounts (Facebook only permits users ages 13 and older), this is not surprising.

Parents who have at least one older child are more likely to be friends with their children on Facebook. Three-quarters of Facebook-using parents who have at least one child age 12 or older are friends with their children on Facebook. This compares with 18% of parents who only have children age 11 or younger. While Facebook requires users to be at least 13 years old, respondents may be referring to children who are over 18. This survey defines “parents” as those who have at least one child under 18.

  1. “.” Pew Research Center, Nov. 09, 2011. http://www.pewinternet.org/2011/11/09/part-5-parents-and-online-social-spaces-tech-tool-ownership-and-attitudes-towards-social-media/
  2. Lenhart et al. “Teens, Kindness and Cruelty on Social Network Sites: Part 4.” Pew Research Center, Nov. 09, 2011. http://www.pewinternet.org/2011/11/09/part-4-the-role-of-parents-in-digital-safekeeping-and-advice-giving/
  3. This series of questions was asked among a smaller sample of parents (N=336 vs. N=494 for the full sample of parents). Demographically, the smaller subset of parents is similar to the total sample. For more demographic information on the parents in this survey, please see Appendix A at the end of this report.
  4. For the “typical parent,” the median value is reported.
  5. The term “typical parent” or “typical non-parent” refers to the median.
  6. While parents were defined in this survey as those having at least one child under age 18, parents answering this question also may be referring to their Facebook friendships with children who are 18 or older.