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Over the past 30 years, parenting behavior and practices have changed dramatically in the U.S. For example, parents today invest more time and more money in their children’s enrichment than they did in the “family-oriented” 1960s (Kalil, Ryan, Ziol-Guest, & Markowitz, 2016; Kornrich & Furstenberg, 2015; Sayer, Bianchi, & Robinson, 2004). The rise of social media offers developmentalists an unprecedented opportunity to observe parenting behavior as it is changing and, at the same time, gain insight into how parenting beliefs might inform those changes, for three quarters of parents in the U.S. use some form of social media, and the vast majority of those use it to receive and share information and opinions on parenting (Burke, Adamic, & Marciniak, 2013; Duggan et al., 2015).
Before developmentalists can use this new data source, however, we need to identify which parenting topics are discussed on social media, how frequently those topics are discussed, and who is primarily discussing them. Our interdisciplinary team, composed of developmentalists, survey research experts, and computer scientists, are gathering a large corpus of social media content from one of the only publicly-available user-declared networks: Twitter. We collected two types of data using the Twitter Application Program Interfaces (APIs): 1) tweets associated with the 10 most popular Twitter accounts that give parenting advice, e.g. Parenting Magazine, ScaryMommy; and 2) tweets from 5,000 random followers of those accounts, both from March 2016 to February 2017. To model the topics, we began with a customized variant of Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) that only maintains words in topics with a higher probability of occurrence across sites, thereby removing some noise. Experts on our team then looked at those generated topics and aggregated meaningful ones into parenting topics.
Preliminary results indicated that parents are getting and sharing information on a number of well-researched parenting topics, in addition to topics not typically covered in surveys but that are nonetheless relevant to public health, child development, and education policy. Figure 1 lists the topics and displays their proportion across all tweets posted to Twitter accounts associated with 10 popular parenting sites (with follower counts ranging from 292,000 to 3.5 million). Excluding the “other” category, the topics account for 50% of the tweeted content of each account. The three most discussed topics tweeted about across all 10 parenting Twitter accounts are safety, school, behavior/discipline.