UWM researchers study social media privacy among teens in lockdown

Teenagers often share information with their friends on social media that they won’t share with their parents. But if they were worried enough, most teens would notify a parent or other trusted adult if a friend had been posting “distress signals” on social media.

At least, that’s the behavior many teens exhibited before the coronavirus pandemic, said Celeste Campos-Castillo, a UWM associate professor of sociology who conducted a previous study on the topic among Milwaukee teens last year.

Linnea Laestadius

The question is, has the widespread social distancing during the pandemic altered the social media privacy behaviors of young people when it comes to mental health?

Campos-Castillo and Linnea Laestadius, associate professor of public health, have been awarded a grant from the Technology and Adolescent Mental Wellness program to investigate the question by conducting a nationally representative survey of U.S. teens ages 13-17.

In designing this survey, the researchers will build on information they found in their 2019 study that posed a variety of social media privacy questions to Milwaukee teens.

In that study, the researchers learned that close circles of friends prefer to share their mental health struggles in person, like at school, for example. When they can’t, they will use private settings on social media platforms to reach each other.

“Now that there’s social distancing,” said Campos-Castillo, “it will be interesting to see to what extent this sharing through private channels on social media is amplified and if teenagers continue to seek help for friends who might be struggling.”

The researchers also hope to document how the pandemic may have affected teens’ relationships with parents; their perceptions of whether parents are willing and able to assist; and their beliefs about how common mental health struggles are among teens in the current environment.

Working with a “parent coach,” Tia Fagan, the team will disseminate findings to parents in the Milwaukee community.

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