Study finds parents get emotional support and useful information from social media

by Larry Magid

It should come as no surprise that parents are heavy social media users. There are some who say that parents’ flocking to Facebook has caused teens to spend less time on the service, though I’ve never seen data to back up that assertion.

A study conducted by Pew Research Center and the University of Michigan’s School of Information found that 75% of parents use social media, and that “mothers are heavily engaged on these platforms to both give and receive support from their networks.”

The researchers, who interviewed more than 2,000 U.S. adults said that  “social media have become a vital channel for Americans’ daily interactions,” and that 66% of all adults use social networking sites.


Good parenting information

Study co-author Cliff Lampe tells CBS News how social media helps support parenting

Nearly eight in ten (79%) of parents said that they get “useful information” from social networks while 59% of social media-using parents said that they have “come across useful information specifically about parenting,” Mothers are even more likely (66% vs. 48% for dads) to find helpful parenting information.

The study also found that:

  • 81% of parents who use social media (or 60% of all parents) agree that they try to respond to good news shared by others in their networks, including 45% of social-media using parents who “strongly agree” that they do so. Moms are more likely to say this than dads, with 53% of mothers say they “strongly agree,” compared with 33% of fathers.
  • 74% of parents who use social media agree that they get support from their friends on social media, including 35% who “strongly agree.” More so for moms with 45% of social media using moms saying they “strongly agree” compared with 22% of fathers who “strongly agree.”
  • 71% of all parents on social media agree that they try to respond if they know the answer to a question posed by someone in their online network. About a third (32%) of parents who use social media “strongly agree” that they try to respond to questions. Mothers are slightly more responsive with 35% who say they “strongly agree” that they make an effort to respond to questions, compared with 28% of fathers.
  • 58% of parents who use social media agree that they try to respond when a friend or acquaintance shares bad news online. Mothers are particularly likely to “strongly agree” that they try to do this – 31% compared to 21% of fathers.

Parents are also more likely to have “real friends” on Facebook than non-parents. The survey found that parents typically have about 150 Facebook friends compared to 200 friends for non-parents but, for parents a third of those were “actual friends” compared to less than a quarter for non-parents.

Multiple platforms

Like the general population, parents are most likely to use Facebook but many are also active on other platforms.

  • Facebook: 75% of online parents and 70% of non-parents, with 81% of moms and 66% of dads using the platform.
  • Pinterest: 28% of online parents use Pinterest, including 40% of mothers and 15% of fathers.
  • LinkedIn: 27% of online parents use LinkedIn. Equal between moms and dads
  • Instagram: 25% of online parents. Mothers are more likely than fathers to use the platform, 30% vs. 19%. Younger parents (those under 40) also are more likely to use Instagram than older parents, 33% vs. 18%.
  • Twitter: 23% of online parents use Twitter. Moms and dads are equally as likely to use Twitter.

Emotional support in the middle of the night

In an interview with CBS News, study co-author and University of Michigan Associate Professor Cliff Lampe said that parents use media sites to “offer emotional support to other parents and seek emotional support from other parents.”  He said that “one of the nice things about social media is that it’s always on,” so they’re useful, “if you’re having a doubt about your parenting skills in the middle of night.”

The study is based on two omnibus telephone surveys, totally 2,003 American adults, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International and fielded on September 11-14, 2014 and September 18-21, 2014.