Guilt, Comparison and FOMO: How Does Social Media Affect Parenting?

A few months ago I was mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed when an article appeared. It was entitled, ‘5 Things You Should NEVER Say To Your Kids’. Oh cripes. Against my better judgement, I clicked on it. Can you guess what happened? I had said all five things to my kids on more than one occasion. I clicked away from the article feeling like a bad parent.

Recently, the subject of mum guilt has preoccupied me often. This is, in part, because I suffer from it on a daily basis. I have come to the conclusion that in order to combat it, I need to understand it.

After reading widely around the topic of parenting and social media, my theory is this: before the creation of the internet (and social media in particular), parents relied heavily on their instincts. They weren’t bombarded from all quarters by parenting advice, opinion and information. Yes they had books, family and friends to turn to if they had parenting questions or dilemmas. But they only tapped into this stream of advice when their instinct told them they needed guidance.

Today things are very different. We receive so much information on a wide array of subjects. We digest this information, often without questioning the author’s authority, and then begin to question ourselves and our parenting skills. Have I been doing it wrong? Should I be doing it that way? Have I damaged my kids? Such self-doubt inevitably manifests itself into guilt.

We see picture-perfect images of our friends’ children (I use the term friends loosely because, when it comes to Facebook friends, what percentage are actually real life friends?) and it’s easy to think, ‘Should I be taking my child there? Why doesn’t my child behave like that? Why can’t my child achieve that? What have I done wrong?’

With one in four people worldwide using social media sites regularly, it’s fair to say that social media has become a substantial part of modern life. But is this predominately a good thing? While recent studies unveil the addictive nature of social media, there are plenty more (see below) to suggest sites such as Facebook and Twitter adversely affect our mental health. And Instagram? Apparently that’s the worst of the lot.

GUILT BAITING

When I came across that article about things you should never say to your kids, this subject wasn’t something that I had previously considered to be an issue. My instinct told me that the conversations I have with my kids are mostly fine, albeit blighted sometimes by frustration and exasperation. Find me a parent who doesn’t, at times, lose their temper with their kids (well actually, you probably can on Facebook but I guarantee they’re not being honest). On the whole, I know what I should be saying to my kids.

That article was designed to grip my conscience in return for a click. I had to find out if I was doing it right. I knew all this when I clicked on it, yet I read it anyway. Now I’m not saying it wasn’t useful for me to re-examine some of the things I say to my kids, but it could have been managed in a better way.

The purpose of the article wasn’t to help me; it was to invite me in under the pretence of guidance when really, as long as I saw the pop up advert on the screen, it didn’t matter how helpful the content was. Now obviously the website needs to make money and I get that. But reading a list of things I should ‘NEVER’ do written by an expert I have no connection with did nothing to help my mental state.

And, at the risk of sounding like Michael Gove (which believe me, I really don’t want to do) who is this ‘expert’? How can I trust her? I’m all for receiving advice and guidance from people I know I can trust, but the problem today is there are so many experts giving their opinions on parenting and often their opinions are conflicting.

Another article that popped up recently entitled ‘5 chores your kids NEED to be doing around the house.’ Really?  Surely I can judge for myself which chores I think my children should do. Suggestions would be welcome, of course, but the word ‘need’ in the title put me off reading it entirely. I don’t need something else to feel guilty about thank you very much.

Instinct finds itself crushed, broken and useless under the weight of it all like a butterfly with damaged wings.

Perhaps if the title of these articles were less brutal and the content offered more understanding coupled with proactive suggestions they would be more appealing. But understanding and suggestions don’t lead to clicks at the same rate as SHOUTING does.

Ultimately, when I need advice, I know where to look and I know who to ask. Beyond that, I want to read articles that are genuinely written to help. The rest is just background noise.

COMPARISON

Social media’s other dark side is displayed in the comparison it provokes. Researchers at the University of Houston found that Facebook usage can cause ‘feelings of depression’ among users because of the social comparison it provokes.

In another study, entitled ‘The Facebook Experiment: Quitting Facebook Leads to Higher Levels of Well-Being’, researchers took two groups of people and asked one group to refrain from using Facebook for a week, while the other group carried on using it. Those who abstained from Facebook reported increased feelings of life-satisfaction and well-being in comparison to those who didn’t.

While these studies weren’t directed at parents, the results probably apply to us as a group. When all our feeds are cluttered with posts about the wonderful things people are doing with their kids, we may begin to question whether what we’re doing is enough. If I have a peek at Pinterest and see all these nutritious meals I should be preparing and crafts I could be making I just come away feeling lousy.

Parents in the 80s and before didn’t have this to contend with. Yes, they could compare their parenting to that of their friends (and I’m sure they did) but the comparison wasn’t on the same scale as it is today. The average person has 200 Facebook ‘friends’. In real life it would be impossible to keep up with the lives of that many people. Yet today, thanks to social media, we can manage it effortlessly.

THE HIGHLIGHT REEL

As well as the guilt social media use can invoke, jealousy and fear of missing out (FOMO) are other major detriments to social media use. One study found Facebook use corresponded with falling levels or happiness and life satisfaction. These negative effects correlated directly with how much time a person spends on the site.

The deeper understanding that it’s pointless to compare your own life and your own parenting journey to the pictures and words other people choose to display about theirs has helped me greatly. This understanding began with Steve Furtick’s thought provoking quote:

The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel

Social media is the ultimate highlight reel. We rarely offer a glimpse of our behind-the-scenes. The understanding that what we’re seeing is not real, just the edited highlights of a person’s life, is key when it comes to scrolling through our newsfeeds and comparing our lives to all the pictures, check-ins and status updates.

When it comes to parenting, the dark side of social media can be even more prevalent. We see pictures of other children being taken on expensive holidays, partaking in educational activities or receiving awards for sporting or academic achievements and we may feel guilty for not providing our children with the same. Yet, very few parents post images of the mundane and everyday aspects of life with children. All parents stick on the TV so they can get a few jobs done and have days when the children do nothing, achieve nothing and are badly behaved. We just don’t see that side of their lives on social media.

All parents over the course of time have felt guilt about something or the other. It’s only natural to do so. But was this guilt as far reaching and prevalent in years gone by as it is for many parents today? Have we lost our parenting instincts to social media and is it causing us to feel worse? I’d guess that the answer to all those questions is yes.

 

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