Today Microsoft and AARP have released the results of a research report they conducted which sought to find out how online communications and social networking are impacting family relationships.

What they found was the use of these various communications mediums significantly improved those relationships by allowing them to more easily keep in touch and up to date on what is happening with each other.

The survey responses were from individuals ranging in age from 13 to 75. 

Some highlights from the survey include:

  • 83% considered online communications as helpful amongst family members.
  • Teenagers indicated that the quantity (70%) and quality (67%) of communications with distant family members increased using online tools. Those 39 and over agreed at 63% and 57% respectively.
  • 30% of those surveyed want their family to communicate more using social networking. The younger users wanted this more than twice as much as older respondents (52% vs 21%).
  • The opinions on which tools to use also differed significantly.  63% of those aged 13-25 preferred the use of text messages compared to only 31% in the 39-75 year old range.
  • When it comes to email 60% of those aged 59-75 prefer email, followed by those aged 39-58 (56%) and the younger generation 18-25 at 46% and 13-17 year olds at 36%. Almost a 180 degree flip between email and text messages.
  • 30% of grandparents and 29% of teens/young adults believe that connecting online has helped them understand each other better.

When it comes to security and safety all groups wish they knew more about keeping themselves and their information safe online.

  • 58% wish they knew more about how to keep personal information private
  • 50% want to know how to safeguard their devices
  • Younger Internet users want more information than older respondents about using social networks safely (38% vs 27% respectively).

As a result of this survey Microsoft and AARP offer these tips to families:

Use social networks more safely:

  • Look for Settings or Options in services like Facebook and Twitter to manage who can see your profile or photos tagged with your name, how people can search for you and make comments, and how to block people.
  • Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want to see on a billboard.
  • Be selective about accepting friends; regularly reassess who has access to your pages, and review what they post about you.

Help protect sensitive personal information

  • Before you enter sensitive data, look for signs that a webpage is secure — a web address with "https" and a closed padlock beside it.
  • Never give sensitive info (like an account number or password) or call a number in response to a request in email or IM or on a social network.
  • Think carefully before you respond to pleas for money from "family members," deals that sound too good to be true, or other scams.

Parents and grandparents should have regular conversations with kids, keeping communications open:

  • Negotiate clear guidelines for web, mobile and online game use that fit your children’s maturity level and your family values.
  • Watch your kids for signs of online bullying, such as being upset when they are online or a reluctance to go to school.
  • Be the administrator of your home computer; use age-appropriate family safety settings to help you keep track of what your kids are doing online. For example, in all editions of the Windows 7 operating system, you can create separate accounts for each family member.
  • Pay attention to what kids do and whom they meet online. Revisit regularly.

Check out more resources from Microsoft for Safer Internet Day 2012