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Study: Go Ahead and Monitor Your Kids' Social Media

Photograph by Twenty20

Teens love their smartphones. We didn't really need research to prove that.

Still, the results of CNN's study of 13-year-olds' social media and phone use found some alarming habits, and not just the number of times they pick up their phones or the amount of time they spend on them. What's disturbing for parents who remember an analog world is how these kids feel about the bright little screens that light up their young, little faces from the moment they wake up until they finally drift off at night.

More than 200 eighth-graders around the U.S. agreed to let CNN, along with child development experts, study their social media feeds.

"We see a lot of evidence of, if not out-right addiction to social media, a heavy dependence on it," said sociologist Robert Faris, a school bullying and youth aggression researcher who co-authored the study. "There's a lot of anxiety about what's going on online, when they're not actually online, so that leads to compulsive checking."

Indeed, teens often said they'd "literally die" without their phones and that they'd feel naked without it.

What's the attraction? Actually, it might sound familiar to the adults in these teens' lives.

  • 61 percent of teens said they wanted to see if their online posts are getting likes and comments.
  • 36 percent of teens said they wanted to see if their friends are doing things without them.

Of deeper concern, however, might be this response, which aligns with what we know about how teens bully and get bullied in the age of social media.

  • 21 percent of teens said they wanted to make sure no one was saying mean things about them.

For the study, researchers got permission from the parents of 200 eighth-graders at eight schools in six states around the U.S. The students registered their Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts with Smarsh, an electronic archiving company that the news agency contracted with. More than 150,000 posts, which had been collected over six months, were analyzed. The teens also answer survey questions periodically sent out.

The #Being13 study found that these teens no longer distinguished between their real lives and their online lives but that there are still things they'd only post online and not say in real life. The reported, and it was demonstrated through Smarsh, that the teens were also sending and receiving inappropriate content and what the teens called "revenge porn."

#Being13 reported the teens were "exposed to the sexualized side of the Internet. Fifteen percent of teens in this study reported receiving inappropriate photos, and those that did were nearly 50 percent more distressed than the rest of the students in this study."

And in great news for overbearing parents everywhere, those teens whose parents did monitor their social media activity reported 50 percent less distress from the inappropriate—or combative—content than teens whose parents did not check in to the social media accounts.

"Parent monitoring effectively erased the negative effects of online conflicts," Faris said.

For a deeper look at what the researchers found, check out CNNgo's #Being13 series.

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