In the new digital age that has opened up before us, social media are at the forefront. They have changed in just a few years the way we are informed, the way we communicate with each other and also the way where we share moments from our personal and family life. It would not be an exaggeration to say that social media has changed even the way we raise our children today.
It might sound a little excessive but I will explain below how these changes happen, most of the time without us realizing them, as the social media they have penetrated so deeply into our daily lives to the point that they now define our sociality and our behavior as parents.
We live in pause
Social media creates pauses in our minds. There are times when while we are experiencing a beautiful and special moment with our children, we unconsciously pause and start thinking if this moment we just experienced could have value in the digital world of Instagram or Facebook.
Maybe we immediately grab the cell phone, take a picture and share it on social media, thereby missing a hug, a kiss or a funny remark from our children. But every decision we make works at the expense of someone else that we didn’t make. So, in this short moment of pause, when we choose to deal with our mobiles, we automatically choose not to interact and not be present in the moments of our children.
When you are a parent you can very easily fall into the comparison trap. “My eldest daughter walked from ten months old”, “My son wrote his first words at four years old”, “Our girl could count to a thousand in Kindergarten”. These are some of the expressions you hear at baby showers, birthday parties, and playgrounds. Fortunately, however, nowadays there is social media, so we don’t have to run from here to there to learn about other children’s achievements. Every day, the feed of our social media accounts is flooded with pictures of children dressed in the latest fashion, holding the brand new series of famous toys or having the gold medal from the chess matches hanging around their neck.
And as you press it like in the post, at the same time you start to tingle a little and think: “Am I not a good enough mom?”, “Should the kids go to more activities?”, “Maybe if we had more money I could buy them more clothes.”. So there are not a few parents who, watching other parents on social media, experience to a small or large extent a feeling of failure and the thought that “others do better than me” it creates an unnecessary stress for them.
Of course, the comparisons extend to other areas of family life as in our relationship with our spouse or housework. However, we should not forget that on the Internet the vast majority share only some moments from their daily life and mainly the most pleasant ones. The lifestyle displayed on social media is one thing and the reality behind these profiles is another. What matters is not the smiles in front of the screens but behind them.
In research published in 2015 CS Mott Children’s Hospital of the University of Michigan found that 74% of parents with social media accounts have seen other parents share embarrassing photos of their children, 56% and 27% have shared inappropriate photos of their children.
If we even consider the fact that from 2015 to today our engagement with social media has hit red, you can assume that the above percentages can have skyrocketed.
Social media has at times led many parents to overindulge and overexpose their children to the vast digital world. But somewhere here, in addition to the “predators” who circulate on the Internet and look for material depicting children, we should reflect on how well we protect the privacy of our children and to what extent we ensure their right to anonymity.
We are wasting our time
Try this: go to your mobile settings and see how much time you spent on social media today. Next I want you to think about how you would use this time if you didn’t have a cell phone. Maybe those 2 or 3 hours you wasted scrolling and watching celebrity stories could be spent on yourself doing things you love and relax you? Or maybe you could dedicate them to the children, going for a walk or playing with them?
There’s nothing wrong with spending time on social media as long as you’re always aware of the time you spend on it and what you put aside for its sake.
We are looking for the perfect
“But how cute is the little one with that hat”, “Wait a minute Nikolas, put your little hand on the hat”, No no better sit in the chair and smile”, “Can you take off the hat and hold it in your little hand yours?”, “Great, stay still so I can take a picture of you”, “It turned out great, I’ll upload it to Instagram”.
Do these monologues remind you of anything? Most of the “spontaneous” photos on social media have been preceded by the above dialogues as well as about twenty shots until we have the perfect pose, the perfect photo, the perfect result.
But what is the use of all this process? What does the child gain and how does our relationship with him grow stronger through the pursuit of the perfect image? Remember that photos and videos are about capturing moments and the best way to capture and make memories is to live them, not share them.
We leave traces
I still remember the shame I felt as a child every time my mother showed relatives and friends our family album with photos from my christening, my first birthday and our holidays at sea. I don’t want to imagine how I would feel today if this family album was digital and my mother posted these photos on her Facebook account.
Put yourself in the shoes of the children and think about how they will feel when they later see their photos on your timeline? When will they find out how many people they were exposed to without anyone asking? Think a little further and ask yourself if you wish you were in their position.
Let’s also consider why we become a digital Contorevythoulis, leaving in our wake the online traces and footprints of our child? The following paradox occurs in social media: while they are the most common space in which children’s privacy is systematically violated, at the same time, in addition to being legal, it is also considered something completely normal.
We focus on likes
You post a photo of your child and get 30 likes. You are not satisfied and upload a photo of your child eating a chocolate bar with gusto. Surely now I’ll get more likes, you think. You barely get to 20 likes and then a comment comes, a blow below the belt. “I would never let my child eat chocolate at this age.” You get hurt, you get sad, and the more you keep chasing acceptance through your posts, the more you stumble.
Social media has become an unofficial best parent competition, where whoever gets the most likes and comments wins. And if you think that what I described above are fantastic scenarios, just take a look at the hashtag #instakinds to see for yourself what someone can do for likes.
But there is another issue here. This anxious effort of some parents for the like shows the child the path on which he will walk growing up. This will create a new generation that will constantly thirst for acceptance, mistakenly thinking that the right place to find it will be social media.
The other side of them Social Media
No one can deny the fact that apart from negatives, social media also has quite a few positives if used properly and with awareness. Not a few parents use social media for information, inspiration and support.
- We stay connected to people who are far away. Social media was primarily designed to connect and share our moments with friends and family that we don’t get to see often.
- You can learn from other parents. Instead of following the social media accounts of parents who are constantly showing off, try adding value by learning from other parents who offer advice without judgment or finger-pointing.
- You can empathize and laugh. If you follow parents who are honest about how they experience parenting then you will definitely feel better, guilt free and have fun.
- You can connect with people who are far away from you. During the quarantine period, social media helped a lot of people to get in touch with other people that they could not meet and thus they managed to have the socialization that they so badly needed.
- You can find useful information. Recently, more and more experts and scientists have a dynamic presence on social media, which gives us the opportunity to learn more about parenthood, they help us with their knowledge and teach us to manage the accumulated stress we have as parents.
Use them Social Media for your benefit
Below I give you some suggestions on how to avoid the negatives of social media and take advantage of the positives.
- Be selective with the accounts you follow. Choose to follow profiles that give you value while those that make you feel guilty or inadequate you can unfollow without regret.
- Always think long term before posting photos of your children on social media and specifically the impact it will have on them and their possible future reactions to something that directly concerns them and you never asked their permission for.
- Be aware of your actions. Whenever you’re ready to share a photo or video of your child, ask yourself these questions:
“Why am I making this post?”
“Do I really have a need to upload this photo, and if so, what need is behind this desire?”
“Will this social media exposure have a future impact on my child?”
- Don’t compete or compare. Try not to push yourself or your child to become what other accounts seem to idealize you to be. Every child is special and there is no question of comparison, only acceptance and love.
- Limit yourself. Put your phone on silent when you’re all together at the dinner table, turn it off an hour before you go to bed, put it away when you’re dealing with your kids. Be the example they need by gaining valuable time with them, connect as a family without screens and devices.
- Evaluate the use of your accounts. You don’t need to delete all your social media profiles to be a better parent. What you need to do is redefine your relationship with them and how they affect your family in general.
The challenges we face every day as parents are constantly growing. One of these new challenges is the social media that have entered the lives of young and old. What we need to keep in mind is that no challenge is able to disrupt family cohesion when it is based on the cultivation of relationships of trust and respect between its members.
MSc New Technologies in Education