It may be a teen’s worst nightmare: discovering that their parents have joined Facebook. But a new study shows that social networking with parents may actually strengthen the parent-child bond, which may in turn lead to more positive results for teens.

The study was conducted by researchers from Brigham Young University, led by Dr. Sarah Coyne of the School of Family Life.

The team gave questionnaires to 491 adolescents and their parents, who answered queries about social networking use, feelings of connection and behavioral effects.

The results show that kids who engage with their parents through social media feel more connected and had higher “prosocial behavior” and lower incidence of aggression and depression.

According to Dr. Coyne, half of the teens in the study reported engaging with their parents on social networking sites. There were even 16% who reported interacting every day through social media with their parents.

Dr. Coyne says:

You can do a lot on social networking sites.

Your kid might post a picture, and you might show support by liking it or making a nice comment, or a status update that does the same kind of thing.

It gives more opportunities to give positive feedback or show affection.”

When asked how much these results mirror a “chicken-and-egg phenomenon,” Dr. Coyne responds: “We make that point in the paper. Parents who are more connected to their teens in general want to keep that connection elsewhere. I think it’s a bit of both – it’s bi-directional. As we have experiences in new media, it strengthens bonds that are already there. It’s kind of a rich get richer type of thing and cementing what’s already there.”

She cautions, however, that she does not want these results to “get overblown.” Social media relationships with adolescents is just one way for parents to connect. Dr. Coyne recommends using it as a tool to strengthen the relationship, but there are also several other ways to connect with teens.

Though social media can encourage positive interactions, there is also a downside.

A surprising finding from the study was that teen social networking done without parental interaction was linked to more negative outcomes, like delinquency, lower feelings of connection, behaviors that were more inwardly focused, and increased aggression in relationships.

Some adolescents in the study used social networking more than 8 hours a day, which can result in feelings of alienation and depression.

Dr. Coyne says the important thing for parents to note is that they should teach themselves to be “media savvy and to know where their kids are,” whether it’s on Twitter, Facebook or some other new social networking site.

The study concludes that while the results show high levels of social networking may be harmful for some, engaging with parents via social networking sites may be a good way to strengthen the parent-child relationship.

A recent story reported on the benefits and risks of social media for kids.