4 ways parents affect kids’ media usage

Parents worry about bullying, drive their kids towards educational content, and lack confidence to guide them in the social world, according to new research from the University of Sheffield.
April 5, 2019

Less than 30% of parents check the big social media sites every time kids use them, but they are driving children to watch more educational content than they would if left to their own devices, according to new research from the University of Sheffield’s School of Education, Dubit and BBC Children’s.

For the fourth and final instalment of Kidscreen’s deep dive into the Social Media, Television and Children study, we are looking at how parents monitor their children’s social media platforms, what their biggest worries are and how they are influencing the content kids watch on YouTube.

Social media monitoring

Pure curiosity and a need to keep tabs on kids social activities are the leading cause of why parents monitor their children’s social media accounts. With the exception of encrypted messaging service Wiper, “Because I want to know what my child is doing” topped the reasoning list for why parents monitored their digital activities. The top reason parents monitor the encrypted messaging service is actually listed as “because my child needs help using it.” That being said, Wiper is more frequently monitored than the other social sites, with 43% saying they check it every time kids use it.

The next most-monitored platform is CBBC Buzz: 36% of parents say they look at every time their kids use it, but 41% say they only check it sometimes. For every other site, less than 30% of parents check every time kids use it. The least monitored service is Instagram, which only 21% of parents say they check every time kids use it.

It’s worth noting that even though most social platforms require kids to be 13 before they can have their own account, the smallest percentage of parents list “because my child is too young to use it on their own” as reason to monitor any of the social media apps (less than 15% across all platforms).

Parental influences on YouTube

When it comes to the ever-popular YouTube, parents are more likely than their kids to choose educational content for their children’s viewing (at any age) and will steer them in that direction. Younger kids are more likely to pick videos featuring playing or toys like slime or Play-Doh, when left to their own devices.

Older kids gravitated towards videos of animals and funny videos featuring pranks, while parents encouraged videos related to schoolwork and whole films.

Parental skills and confidence

When it comes to their own confidence though, most parents say that while they are fine to use technology for their own purposes (79%), they are less confident in their ability to use tech to help their own child (71%). Parents of older kids are more likely to say that they are not very confident or not confident at all when it comes to help helping their child navigate the digital tech.To make the problem a little bit worse, only 60% of parents know where to help and get advice if they are worried about their child’s use of social media. It should be noted that upper and middle class parents are generally more confident using tech than their lower-income peers.

Even though social media monitoring tools are becoming increasingly common, only 42% of parents say they actually use the tools and 55% say they use existing safety features on the social platforms.

Parental concerns

So what are parents so worried about? 64% of them worry about their child is being exposed to inappropriate content on social media sites, and another 64% would prefer it if social media sites didn’t have ads. There’s a general uneasiness about content online with 49% saying they’re worried what their child is watching and another 34% are uncomfortable about things that kids could be exposed to on those sites.

A majority (59%) say that their own kids have a limited awareness, or are not aware at all, about the potential dangers of using social media sites, and 50% are worried their child will be bullied online.

Screen time continues to be a major area for concern, with 34% of parents saying their child spends too much time using social media, and 26% says their child struggles to concentrate on one screen at a time.

For the research, the University of Sheffield surveyed 3,154 families with children age zero to 16 across the UK. The group was 37.3% kids ages zero to seven and their parents, and 62.7% eight to 16 years-old and their parents. It was 43.5% female, 55.5% male, 0.4% non-conforming and 0.6% preferred not to answer. The ethnic makeup was 84.1% White, 4.9% mixed, 6% Asian or Asian-British, 3.2% Black or Black-British, and 1.9% Chinese or other ethnic group.

The research surveyed 3,154 children from birth to 16 and their use of social media and television. All week we’ve been breaking this data down, part one looks at devices and platforms that kids use to consume content, part two dives into YouTube, and part three looks at what social media platforms are pulling the most attention.

About The Author
Alexandra Whyte is Kidscreen's News & Social Media Editor. Contact her at



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