Has social media changed the way parents raise children? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world..
Answer by Koyel Bandyopadhyay, Sociologist:
Do parents stop being parents on social media? Do they take on other agendas? Do they step onto slippery slope?
Questions like these often lie at heart of the debate regarding parents on social media because of the fact that parents today lie on cross-roads of boundary lines of pre-social media and post-social media days; how they engage in parenting is evaluated not only on the benchmark of traditionalist perspectives on parenting, but also on more moral and ethical compasses on whether they are doing it "right." Amidst the whirlwind of debates in which parents assertively hold their ground, and people from the other camp (non-parents and parents with contrasting worldviews) wonder what is "going wrong," reality remains that children are getting raised not far from this debate, where something as private as relationships are brought forth in the public forefront.
It was only last night that I saw a female friend of mine on Facebook ranting about other people ranting about race problems and posting kid pictures, based on which she wondered aloud: "What are they looking for? Praise?"
I thought that wouldn't end well, but it didn't go to an extreme--the fire was doused well.
Whenever we hear "social media and parents," the instant pop-up in our minds are pictures of children, information about what they drew last weekend, re-shared memories of how they have grown up from last Christmas, funny things they said, how they wash the car with you on Sunday (and did you see that picture, and why didn't you "like" it?)--in a nutshell, social media brings parenthood centre-stage, and puts the spotlight on children giggling on our carbon footprints.
But there is more to it than the giggly. There's good and there's grey.
A Digital Village to Raise a Child:
This starts from the moment anybody is carrying a child and chooses to share this news over social media. From sharing USG pictures, to participation in online mothering forums (like babycentre, natural-mothering, etc), people have a greater access to information, sharing, and having a sense of belonging to a community through social media than what used to be the case before. Moreover, this community is not dependent on the social compulsion of physical proximity, but is more organic in aligning with people you actually like, match with, and get inspired from.
Yes, our parents (of pre-social media days) had a community, but it used to be a small community based on who was available in a physical space and time. Right now, the world is your oyster. Further, by tapping onto the pools of these virtual communities, parents also get in touch with "real"-life communities by accessing information of similar people online. That is active networking and a win-win situation for parents.
Unity in Diversity:
In my doctoral research, which actually focussed on social participation and development of social networks, I came across women of different ages and ethnic backgrounds being members of certain groups only because they are "mothers."
And these mothers from different cultures and backgrounds didn't only talk about how their babies smiled or the funny things their kids said. They talked about different parenting styles from their own cultures--and sometimes this was new information for parents getting anxious about relentless thumb-sucking behaviour, for parents looking for new ideas on potty-training, for studying habits--all from other cultures. Mothers talked about the kind of foods that could be given to their children when they were sick, what to do do when their child is not listening to them, and why a "time out" is not really working. Mothers talked about what it entailed to be a "mother" in another culture. This reality was brought about by social media.
It's no longer "That's how it has always been done." It is "That's how they do it, and maybe we could try it."
You Just Need to Look in the Right Place:
Whether it is teething trouble or teenager problems, parenting these days often includes child psychology. Parents these days want to know why their children did something, by (a) asking them, as well as (b) by making sense of their actions through other kinds of information retrieved online. The most my mother ever did to understand me was probably look for my math exercise book and do a mental calculation of where I was positioned in the class percentile.
In the same culture, today, my neighbour in my hometown looks up various forums, psychology magazine articles, and news articles on parenting. Social media has taken on the role of being an overarching grandparent (of yesteryear), making advice available, but not contingent on whether you ask for it.
Parenting is a challenging task, especially in the Western world where support for it is minimal and exists only in paid forms; probably that is also the reason why parents tend to overshare or engage in narcissistic, exhibitionist behaviour like the "Facebook Motherhood Challenge" where the fact of getting nominated or not could affect one's self-esteem and consequent wondering of "did I do that right?"
Self-doubts are part of walking along any challenging, unknown territory, but in the continuous over-sharing and relentless comparisons on social media, where parents post report cards when their child scores high, when parents post the hand-painted greeting card received on Father's Day, the picture their 7-year-old took of them on their wedding anniversary--people are just wiggling open their soft spots and self-doubting capacities of whether they are doing it "perfectly" and/or "better."
These days, children also get to know that their hand-made things are going to be products on social media; they remain eager to hear the verdict on "likes" as well. Parenting becomes a competition and children try to keep up with their parents' ambitions, a lot of which could become particularly important to adults, who, in lieu of a workplace or networks that would appreciate or celebrate their individual persona, rely just on social media to receive some praise for round-the-clock work they do as parents.
Receiving affirmation works great when going through rough times. However, sometimes the boundaries are grey--are they affirmations or are they validations? Why do we need to depend on them as we raise children?
All through this, things percolate to children, who also feel they are invested in this performance of being the perfect kids. Exhibitionism brings forth appearances that must be put up, edited, and dusted well as a means of getting some validation.
Parental supervision over kids can close in more than it could have been possible in the pre-Internet days. Even with overprotective parents before, it was easy in pre-Internet and pre-cellphone days to have some space rather than have them hovering over their kids' activities.
Now all parents need to stalk their children is just a phone, some apps, and a mug of coffee.
That's not necessarily a bad thing in "dangerous-than-before" times in which we live today, but this definitely has an impact on how children are being raised, on development of trust with children, and development of self-reliance and individuality in them.
The constant ability to be in touch also puts traction in face-to-face communication, because unlike in pre-Internet days, where children had curfew times to re-enter homes and had to align their schedules with meeting parents over meals, today--being in touch through the ether often spills over into negotiations done over those boundaries. Parents have gotten more lenient in having kids enjoy themselves and have some space of their own as long as they are traceable and are safe. On the other hand, this also means face-to-face communication gets axed down, where parents and kids can not only not see each other, but also can't read body language, which is translated in communication through emojis.
There's no "right" answer to whether social media is a good thing or a bad thing. We have this love-hate, symbiotic relationship with social media that we love to condemn when it makes us unhappy, and love to eulogize in converse situations. The reality remains that social media is here to stay and it is on us to use it to our advantage and keep the tannin out of consumption.