A few weeks ago, a mom named Alex McDaniel, wrote a seemingly benign joke on Twitter: "3-year-old for sale. $12 or best offer." Soon after the tweet, Child Protective Services showed up at her doorsteps with concerns over human trafficking. McDaniel is known for documenting the cute things her son does and says, but apparently a stranger didn't find this particular comment all that cute. There's a multitude of reasons why social media is actually ruining parenting, and McDaniel's story is just one example. Parents are using social media in seemingly harmless ways without realizing that not everyone gets their jokes or cares about everything they have to say.
Parents are berated on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram for everything from co-sleeping with their kids to losing their kids in the mall. It seems as if parents can't get anything right. And here's the thing: parents have always been co-sleeping with their kids and losing their kids in malls, there just wasn't the monster of social media around to make it easier for strangers to crucified them in public for it. Now, each documented step is a call for critique and verbal abuse.
Honestly, I long for a simpler time when parenting was mostly a private activity. Facebook came around when I was still in college, and I've been steadily addicted since 2004. As active as I am on Facebook, though, common sense has always told me to not post anything about my children that can be misconstrued. Still, I'm sure some (if not all) of the things I post still elicit some unpleasant responses, so the only way to completely free myself from all that critique is to quit social media altogether. I haven't been able to do that, yet, and who knows if I'll ever get there. Either way, I'm well aware that social media isn't just sending CPS to parents' doorsteps, it's changing the way parents raise their children and in the following ways:
The number one negative effect of social media is the parental neglect associated with so much phone and/or computer use. I'm not talking about the obvious type of neglect, either, like the kind that can get one's kids removed from one's home. I'm talking about the lack of attention given to kids. There have been times when my kids actually had to ask me to pay attention to them because I was too busy texting or checking Facebook while we were all at home. I am as guilty as anyone, to be sure, but because I've realized this is an issue for me, I've been diligently working on breaking the habit.
Dr. Jenny Radesky, a pediatrician specializing in child development, studied the behaviors of parents while they were out to dinner with their kids. She observed that as soon as parents were settled into the dinner, many of them pulled out their phones and started scrolling. Dr. Radesky says that's "a big mistake, because face-to-face interactions are the primary way children learn." If children aren't interacting with their parents, they aren't learning how to have a conversation and are "missing out on important development milestones." Furthermore, psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair, says such inattention can have "deep emotional consequences for the child" and tells "children they don't matter, they're not interesting to us, they're not as compelling as anybody, anything, any ping that may interrupt our time with them."
There will always be someone who is better, wealthier, smarter, better looking, and more talented than I am. I realize this. But on social media, almost everyone seems to be a better parent. Scrolling through Facebook I can see that one mom taught her daughter how to solve calculus at the tender age of 8. Another parent took her kid on an adventure in San Francisco. A few parents have enrolled their kids in every single activity known to man. Sometimes, these things make me feel sort of crappy as a parent.
Then, there are the real hot mess parents. The ones who make you feel that you are superior to everyone around. The kind of parents whose kids you almost feel bad for.
Either way, when parents compare themselves to others, they are risking losing gratitude for everything they have and that can only make parenting harder than it already is.
Any time parents post pictures of their kids on any social media platform, they are infringing on their kid's privacy. I don't know which photograph my child would be OK with me sharing and which she'd be embarrassed by later in life. Family photos used to be reserved for close family and friends, but now they all grace the internet like it's no big deal. Some parents go as far as posting actually embarrassing photographs of their kids (which I'm sure the parents think are benign and cute), like pictures of their kids running through the house naked or going to the bathroom. Sure, a parent may think that's adorable, but that is on the internet forever and eventually our kids will grow up and see those photos shared without their explicit consent.
I honestly believe that if it it wasn't for social media, many parents wouldn't do half of the stuff they do with their kids. Again, it's my opinion and, hey, I don't know anyone else's life, so I have no idea what goes behind closed doors and ignored phones. But I just can't help but feel like there would be way less apple picking and craft making and family costume themed photoshoots if they weren't going to eventually be posted and "liked." And I mean, talk about creating a picture that perpetuates the unrealistic expectations parents are expected to meet or surpass, right?
Pinterest-perfect moments put a ton of pressure on parents to be these picture-perfect parents. In fact, in a 2013 TODAY Moms survey of over 7,000 moms across the country, 42 percent said Pinterest was causing them anxiety.
Despite the mountains of scientific evidence to the contrary, the anti-vaccination movement keeps growing. Much of that growth is due to social media and the ease and speed with which false information is disseminated to the entire population. On any given day I see at least one anti-vax article or video on my Facebook newsfeed. Furthermore, I am constantly bombarded by claims that create an overwhelming sense of fear. Like, do I really need to read about killer sunblock and unsafe diapers and brain-eating parasites? How is a parent supposed to live a carefree parenting life when there's so much "danger" all around them?
There's a large number of parents that document every trip, every occasion, every milestone, and every step of their children's lives. Not only is this constant chronological documentation a massive time-suck, but I think it also makes parents obsessed with taking pictures and asking kids to smile and pose for the perfect shot. While everything is documented, much of the documentation isn't even a true representation of the moment.
I mean, I have so many pictures of my kids looking unbelievably happy, even though just a few minutes prior to that shot they were ripping each other's hair out and screaming like psychopaths.
Just like in the case of Alex McDaniel and her run-in with CPS for a silly joke, everyone on the internet can watch you and your kids. Even if people aren't paying attention to you every single day, they will pay attention sometimes and one of those times may land a social worker at your doorstep. The more parents share about their kids, the more of a chance they have of having a "good samaritan" get involved in the parents' business and parenting practices. And, yes, social media does have some benefits when it comes to parenting, but for me, at least, I think the cons definitely outweigh the pros.
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