Four girls holding handsLearning how to connect with others through building and maintaining friendships and relationships is an important part of the development process. Children and teens use a variety of media to connect with friends, family, and acquaintances, from social media applications such as Facebook and Twitter to texting and video chat. Research shows that children learn how to interact from the media they consume, including TV, movies and video games. While many media can help strengthen the connections children and teens have in real life, they can also prevent the formation of deep, meaningful relationships that often require shared real-life experiences.

How can media use affect social connections?

Many books, TV shows, movies, video games, and songs tell stories about how people interact with others, which can affect how children and teens believe they should behave. Additionally, media change the way we connect with others; they can help maintain and deepen relationships, or in some cases, distract us from being in the moment with the people physically with us. Currently, the link between children’s media use and their relationships is largely due to the following:

  • Video games can contribute to both prosocial and negative behaviors, depending on the content of the game being played. Non-violent games can lead to children being more helpful and prosocial in general, while violent-games can lead to children being less empathetic, less helpful, and more hurtful towards others.
  • Television can play an important role in demonstrating social interactions to young children, again depending on the content. Children who watch television shows that illustrate prosocial behavior (such as Sesame Street) can be more altruistic (caring about others), which more violent television shows can lead to hostility and aggression in youth.
  • Social media can improve family relationships. Online friendships (whether through social media, texting, or other apps) can be used to enhance offline friendships, as opposed to replacing them. Teens who overshare on social media or through texting may experience regret, and using technology for social purposes may result in them missing out on face-to-face communication opportunities.
  • Cyberbullying can affect children, teens, and their family and friends in a variety of negative ways, and can happen through social media, text, email, and many other websites and apps. See our Cyberbullying page for more information.
two young children lying in leaves holding hands

What YOU Can Do

Parents have the opportunity to help children and teens learn how to navigate social situations both online and offline. Spend time talking with your child about how they interact with their friends online, and what they learn about friendships and relationships from the media they use. Here are several suggestions to help you guide your child’s media use:

Read book summaries before checking them out at the library or buying them for your child to read. Rating systems for TV, movies, music and even video games provide minimal information about content, however you can often watch movie and game previews, listen to clips of songs and use websites such as Common Sense Media to gain more information about the types of social interactions your child will actually see and hear.
Talk to your kids about using media purposefully to connect with others, and only when appropriate (for example, using a smartphone to text a friend about an afterschool gathering can be a great use of media, but inappropriate during family meal time). Set time limits and parameters around media use with your children, and make sure that these expectations are enforced. Research shows that children are more likely to abide by media use rules when they are held accountable.
In today’s often media saturated and connected environment, teaching children to think critically about media is important. Critical thinking allows children to question the motivations behind different media depictions of relationships and how accurate they are. Encourage your children to also think critically about the relationships they have both online and offline and what it truly means to be someone’s ‘friend’. Encourage responsible and healthy use of social media.

Keep TVs, computers and video game systems out of children’s bedrooms, and make sure that all other internet connected devices such as tablets and smartphones are left in a common room or your bedroom to charge overnight. By keeping these electronics in a common area, parents can monitor their use much more easily and be aware of how much media their children are using and if the content is developmentally appropriate.