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February 2017

Parenting in the age of social media

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Australians are amongst the highest users of social media in the world, averaging 22 hours per week per person according to recent data. Reflecting on how that affects us as parents doesn’t just involve the impact of screen time and disengagement with those around us at the time of use, it also involves what we are seeing and the content and people we’re engaging with.

During last year’s massive 7m seas, I took my children to our local beach in Northern NSW. They had such a great time amongst the masses of sea foam – it was bubbles galore! The kids and I had a blast running through it. I took a quick happy snap and when I got home uploaded it to share what fun we had with my family and friends (with a little side of “I’m a fun mum” – we all do it!). It didn’t take long before an acquaintance commented under my post that I was putting my children at risk of sickness as the sea foam carries a risk of ear infections. I went from the high of “I’m so fun”, to the thoughts of, “Thanks for ruining my fun, making me feel bad and publicly commenting on my parenting”.

Most parents who use social media who I’ve spoken to have had similar experiences – a peer, friend or acquaintance quick to bring an opinion, a piece of advice or criticism about their parenting. You only have to read parenting forums, join Facebook groups about parenting or even just post on your social media account to see that everyone has something to say (something they likely wouldn’t say in person).

We can’t change the behaviour of others on social media but we can change our own behaviour. If social media is affecting you, here are a few things you can think about:

  • What do you use social media for – do you use it to connect with others and build relationships with others or to give an opinion to others and drive them away?
  • What kinds of images are you viewing about parenting on social media – children are not dolls to be dressed up, we need to respect their right to say no to a selfie (as they get older, children can and do say no!) and we shouldn’t be taking them places only to nab the perfect photo but because of the experience we will have there.
  • Your perspective – keep in mind that you are viewing people’s highlight reels of their life. Family life and life in general is never peaceful bliss!
  • Your audience – do you have friends who encourage you and build you up?
  • What you are reading – if you are constantly reading negative material about parenting (or unrealistic ideology) – think about what kind of impact will that have on your own view of parenting?

The best thing about social media is that ultimately you have control over your experience. Delete the negative Nancy’s, un-like the pages that make you worried about all the XYZs of the world and save that energy and attention for enjoying your life with your children!