What the Studies Show: Researchers funded by the MacArthur Foundation published a study showing that certain types of social media usage can lead to increases in civic and political participation among young people. Leaders of the Youth Participatory Politics Survey Project (Principal Investigators Cathy Cohen, University of Chicago, and Joseph Kahne, University of California, Riverside) have been studying the way that young people engage in politics over several years, collected in waves in 2011, 2013, and 2015. Researchers associated with this project have also shown connections between “friendship-driven” and “interest-driven” uses of social media and levels of engagement in “participatory politics.” These findings are drawn primarily based on “a nationally representative panel of youth who were 15–27 years of age in 2013.”
What Parents Should Know: these methodologically-sound studies point to the ways in which moderate social media usage can lead to participation in important aspects of civic life for young people. These studies also highlight the important finding that “engagement is equitably distributed across different racial and ethnic groups.” The fear that young people coming of age today “don’t care about civic life” — and that social media are to blame, in part or in whole — is consistently shown not to be true by the data collected in rigorous studies.