Ellison, Lampe co-author new Pew report

Fully 75% of parents use social media, and mothers are heavily engaged on these platforms to both give and receive support from their networks, according to a new Pew Research Center study about parents’ use of social media.

The nationally representative survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults, conducted in association with the University of Michigan’s School of Information, also finds that social media have become a vital channel for Americans’ daily interactions. Users rely on these platforms to keep in touch with family and friends, gather information and share what is important to them. Two-thirds (66%) of all adults use social networking sites. This report explores how parents who use social media turn to social media for parenting-related information and social support, and shows that mothers are generally more engaged with social media for both purposes than dads. Among the key findings:

• 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.” Once again, more mothers agree than fathers; 45% of mothers who use social media “strongly agree” that they get support from friends on social media, compared with just 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 and fathers are relatively similar in their responsiveness to questions on social media; 35% of mothers 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% say so, compared with 21% of fathers.

“The value parents find in social media echoes what we’ve found in a broader population – it’s an effective way to share information and connect with others,” said Maeve Duggan, Research Associate at the Pew Research Center and an author of the report. “Many parents may have already been social media users before having children, and they’ve adapted these advantages to their new scenarios.”

The survey also finds that while a large share of parents find value in social media as a general information resource, many say that they come across useful parenting information while using social media. One-in-four say they get support from their networks for parenting issues, and mothers who use social media are more than three times as likely as fathers to say they get support. 

• 79% of parents who use social media agree that in general they get useful information via their networks. One-in-three (32%) “strongly agree” that they get useful information. Mothers are just as likely as fathers to “strongly agree” that they find useful information through their social media networks (35% vs. 27%).

• 59% of social media-using parents have ever come across useful information specifically about parenting while looking at other social media content. Mothers are particularly likely to encounter helpful parenting information – 66% have ever done so, compared with 48% of fathers.

• 42% of these parents have ever received social or emotional support from their online networks about a parenting issue. This includes 50% of mothers, compared with 28% of fathers on social media.

• 31% of parents who use social media have ever posed parenting questions to their online networks. Mothers and fathers are equally likely to do so. 

“Social network sites like Facebook make it easier to access a broad network of people for both informational and emotional support, and parenting is often a context where we need both” said Cliff Lampe, associate professor at University of Michigan School of Information and an author of the report. “While fathers are often as likely as mothers to use social media to get information about parenting, they lag behind mothers in terms of the support they feel they get from social media use.”

The survey also finds that Facebook-using parents compose their networks a bit differently than those who do not have children. Parents on Facebook have a greater percentage of their Facebook networks that they describe as “actual friends” than non-parents. The typical parent has 150 Facebook friends in their network, compared with non-parents’ typical network of 200 friends. But a typical parent’s network is composed of about one-third “actual friends,” while non-parents typically report less than a quarter of “actual friends” in their Facebook network. 

These parents also differ in who is in their network; beyond “actual friends,” parents are more likely to be friends with their own parents and with their neighbors. Facebook users who aren’t parents are more likely to be friends with their current friends.

 “These findings reinforce themes identified in other research we’ve done on social media,” said Professor Nicole Ellison of the University of Michigan School of Information and an author of the report. “We know that asking for help on social media is important for receiving support and that many users try to respond to requests for emotional and informational support when they see them. These data also highlight the fact that, although we sometimes hear stories that assume that people only have  ‘fake’ friends online, most users are able to distinguish between those they consider ‘actual friends’ and the larger network of weaker ties they maintain via social media.” 

The findings from this report are based on data collected in two omnibus telephone surveys conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International and fielded on September 11-14, 2014 and September 18-21, 2014. The surveys interviewed a nationally representative sample of 2,003 American adults ages 18 and older. 

The main survey report is available at http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/07/16/parents-and-social-media/

Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It does not take policy positions. The center is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, its primary funder. 

Posted on July 16, 2015