Social media harms moral development, parents say

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Parents are concerned about the effects of social media on their children’s character

A majority of parents in the UK believe social media harms their children’s moral development, a survey has suggested.

Just over half (55%) of 1,700 people with children aged 11 to 17 strongly agreed that social media hinders or undermines moral development.

The poll was part of a project by the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at Birmingham University.

Researcher Blaire Morgan said some of the findings were surprising.

“Not least [of these is] the low level of agreement that social media can enhance or support a young person’s character or moral development.

“Whilst parents acknowledged that positive character strengths, including moral virtues such as love, courage and kindness, are promoted through social networking sites, they were reluctant to agree that these sites could have a positive impact on their child’s character.”

BBC Newsround research earlier this year suggested that children as young as 10 have social media accounts despite being below the age limit, which is usually 13.

The new poll highlights parents’ concerns about the trend.

Of those questioned, 93% were themselves regular social media users but:

  • only 15% thought sites such as Facebook had a positive influence on a young person’s character
  • 40% said they were concerned or extremely concerned about social media having a potentially damaging impact on children

The survey, which also questioned parents about their own use of social media, asked which negative traits or vices they saw online at least once a month.

  • 60% said they had seen anger and hostility
  • 51% had seen arrogance
  • 43% cited ignorance
  • 41% mentioned bad judgement
  • 36% said hatred
  • 30% said vanity

They were also asked to name character strengths they believed were lacking on social media:

  • 24% said there was too little forgiveness and self-control
  • 21% said too little honesty
  • 20% said fairness
  • 18% said humility.

But almost three-quarters (72%) said they saw content containing a positive message at least once a day.

And asked to identify character strengths they saw at least once a month on social media, the respondents replied:

  • humour (52%)
  • appreciation of beauty (51%)
  • creativity (44%)
  • love (39%)
  • courage (39%)

Ms Morgan said: “The Jubilee Centre’s parents and media project seeks to explore the relationship between social media and virtues in more depth, and hopefully offer a more constructive outlook on how social media might impact on a person’s character and moral values.

“Social media is not going away, so by learning more about this relationship we should be able to maximise the benefits of social media use and avoid the pitfalls.”

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