More than half of parents in the U.K. believe that popular social media sites, such as Facebook and Instagram, are hindering their children’s moral development, according to a poll commissioned by researchers at the University of Birmingham.
The survey points to widespread parental anxieties regarding the influence of online networks on children as young as 11, who are often using the sites despite age limits.
The findings show that only 15 percent of parents think that popular social media sites offer a positive influence on young people’s character. In contrast, 40 percent of parents said they were “concerned” or “extremely concerned” about the negative and potentially harmful impact of social media.
The U.K.-wide poll questioned over 1,700 parents of children aged 11 to 17. Researchers carried out this poll to investigate parents’ perceptions around the influence of social media on children’s character.
“There are some surprising findings in the poll, not the least the low level of agreement that social media can enhance or support a young person’s character or moral development,” said Dr. Blaire Morgan at the University of Birmingham.
Respondents pointed out a number of character strengths that they believed were lacking on social media: 24 percent said forgiveness and self-control was least present, followed by honesty (21 percent), fairness (20 percent), and humility (18 percent).
However, a bleaker picture emerged when parents were asked to name the negative character traits, or vices, they saw on social media at least once a month: 60 percent of parents named anger and hostility as the most negative trait displayed, followed by arrogance (51 percent); ignorance (43 percent); bad judgment (41 percent); and hatred (36 percent).
Vanity, commonly perceived to be a major negative character trait in the “selfie” generation, came further down at ninth place in the league table of social media vices, comprising of 30 percent of respondents.
“Social media is not going away, so by learning more about this relationship we should be able to maximise the benefits of its use and avoid the pitfalls,” said Morgan.
Although the negative aspects of social media got the most attention, the poll findings suggest some cause for optimism: 72 percent of responding parents said they saw content with a positive moral message at least once a day. (Of all responding parents, 93 percent said they were regular social media users.)
This figure is higher than the percentage of respondents who said they regularly saw negative moral messages, suggesting social media is not purely an environment for moral misconduct.
The top five character strengths promoted at least once a month on social media sites were identified as the following: humor (52 percent), appreciation of beauty (51 percent), creativity (44 percent), love (39 percent), and courage (39 percent).
Source: University of Birmingham