MySpace Study Reveals Correlation Between Parenting Styles and Teen Use of Website
Larry Rosen, professor of psychology, and Nancy Cheever, assistant professor of communications, led a symposium on “The MySpace Generation: Adolescents Living in a Virtual World” at the annual conference of the Western Psychological Association in Vancouver in May. Along with their research team of California State University, Dominguez Hills students, they presented topics such as the influence of online interaction on adolescent socialization, the perception of sexual predators on MySpace, and the effect of parenting styles on teens' use of the Website.
As a father of four children, Rosen is glad that his teenagers have access to a safe venue to socialize, albeit a virtual one.
“My generation used to go hang out in places like a hobby shop or bowling alley,” he says. “Kids today can’t do that, so they hang out on MySpace. I look at it as a venue to do what all teenagers are trying to do, figure out who they are. They get a lot of their adolescent needs met online, such as socialization, and they get a way to test the world, which is a lot easier on MySpace. They can be someone different if they want, they can post something controversial and see how people react. So they get a lot of socialization experience that they don’t necessarily get any place else.”
Cheever points out, however, that the researchers found a correlation between the behavior of some teens who used MySpace frequently and a lack of socialization.
“I think it might be a matter of being on the computer for a long period of time, maybe not just necessarily MySpace use,” she says. “We did find out that people who tend to use it a lot also tend to experience more social isolation, depression and other issues.”
In relation to teens using MySpace to discover and invent themselves, Rosen points out that a lot of teens use the site to carefully test the waters in announcing their homosexuality or bisexuality.
“Being on MySpace lets you practice things that you’re not sure how to present in person, so that when you do see your friends face-to-face, you’ve already tried it out on them,” he says. “The literature shows that kids are coming out much younger than ever before and they will make allusions to homosexuality or bisexuality online and see how people react, rather than doing it in person.”
The researchers gathered data by surveying teens and parents in pairs. Cheever says that this has never been done before, and afforded the team the opportunity to compare the subjects’ responses to the same questions. Interestingly, the teen/parent answers agreed for the most part, especially in the area of parenting styles. Authoritative parenting was indicated by high warmth and high strictness; indulgent parenting included high warmth and low strictness; neglectful parenting was characterized by low warmth and low strictness; and authoritarian parenting was indicated by low warmth and high strictness. Rosen notes however, that despite the range of parenting styles, most parents were clueless as to the frequency of their teens’ MySpace usage.
Another aspect they examined was the perceived abundance of sexual predators online. According to Cheever, only 15 percent of the entire teen sample had ever been contacted by someone with an unwanted sexual motive and 90 percent of them dealt with it appropriately.
“The perception of rampant sexual predators is such a hot topic in the media right now,” she notes. “With the way the media portrays it, it seems like predators are rampant on the Internet and all the kids are being stalked. While it happened to a few people, they told their parents about it, they blocked the person from their page; they told the person to go away or simply ignored them. The kids know how to deal with it, which is really encouraging.”
Rosen comments on the capacity with which the younger generation adapts to the cyberworld – even down to its hazards.
“If you think about it, the changes that have happened in our world in the last several decades are dramatic,” he says. “Look at the penetration rate of different technologies and consumer goods, and how long it takes to reach 50 million people. Television took 29 years to reach 50 million people, the PC took 16 years, the Internet took four, MySpace took two years, and YouTube took one year. And it’s getting faster and faster.
“One of the things that is important to note is that you could do none of this without the Internet, which has morphed into a kind of vehicle that everybody treats as part of their lives,” Rosen continues. “And for the kids growing up now, it’s not part of their lives, it is their lives.”
Cheever and Rosen also worked together on a study of online dating. Their next research project will be an examination of the dependence of consumers on peer reviews on the Internet.
“People seem to trust their peers more,” says Rosen. “They don’t trust experts because they think they are biased or written by somebody with a vested interest as opposed to somebody like them.
“Recent polls have shown that the public in general does not trust the media and does not think it presents objective news anymore,” adds Cheever. “That makes it tough for them to trust so-called experts or media who are being paid to review products or services and discern between the ones who are unbiased and the ones who are being objective. So they want to know what the average person’s experience was.”
Cheever’s research has included studies of television’s effect on women’s self-perception and on the development of children. She is currently taking an unprecedented look at the influence of mixed martial arts on its predominantly male audience.
A widely quoted commentator on the effects of technology on the human psyche, Rosen has co-authored TechnoStress: Coping with Technology @Work @Home @Play and The Mental Health Technology Bible (New York: Wiley, Jan.1997 and Sept. 1997) with clinical psychologist Michelle Weil. His upcoming book Me, MySpace and I: Parenting the Net Generation (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2007) is scheduled for release this December.
- Joanie Harmon-Whetmore