Driven by parental concerns and anxiety about privacy, how often children are using social media, and what they’re doing with it, this three-year project will focus on understanding how children use and perceive social media and seek to find out how to help them establish healthy habits.
“You might compare it to how kids learn what kinds of food choices to make at a young age, or how they learn to brush their teeth after they eat and things like that,” Schoenebeck said. “There really aren’t any good models on how to bring social media into their lives, so we’re looking for ways to help families do that.”
Facing challenges and variables like socioeconomic status, upbringing and differing values, research and opinions can vary on how much social media usage is too much, or what type of use is appropriate for children. Schonebeck’s research is not trying to establish a definitive answer to these questions, but seeking to understand what parents value and help them to make suitable choices for their own children and families.
The study will also examine how parents use social media. This will factor in their attitudes toward social media, how they make privacy decisions about their own use, how they share information about their children, and how they model their own behavior toward their children. According to Schoenebeck, despite being one of the fastest growing demographics of social media users, parents have not been the focus of much research into their online behaviors.
The second strand of her research will look at what kind of technology can be developed to try to support parents and children in forming healthy habits. She is planning to build mobile phone tools like a text messaging reminder system that will prompt children to look at when they are using social media and how they are using it. A similar text alert system would be adapted to parents’ needs and would encourage them to establish dialog with their children about social media use. Such an application could also help address cyberbullying issues by encouraging kids to think about how others might receive the things they’re saying online. Once that technology is developed, as well as another trial that will leverage web browser usage among children and provide regular alerts, she will conduct controlled studies with parents and children and present them with the systems to see how they impact their attitudes and behavior.