The average person spends around five years and four months on social media in a lifetime (that’s two hours a day). Social media creates fantastic ways for parents to interact with and learn from each other. New parents today have a wealth of information available to them that wasn’t available to their parents and others before them. But one negative aspect of social media is the pressure that it can create. Being ‘Pinterest perfect’ without ‘over-sharenting’ makes life even more stressful, on top of everything else. We’ve looked at some of the ways that social media can impact the lives of new parents, and some tips on how to avoid getting too overwhelmed by it all.
To sharent or not to sharent
Sharenting is the act of sharing images and/or videos of your children on social media. A report by OfCom found that 42% of parents indulge in sharenting at least once a month. But this brings up a whole host of debates over the ethics of it: are images of your children safe? Is it wrong to share a photo of someone without their permission? Will it affect them later in life? Who might have access to these photos? Could they be used in any negative way? In whose best interest is it to share the material? Etc.
Many argue that posting photos of children can be an invasion of privacy, and as children grow, they may also imitate your social media use. It’s important to teach your children about online safety, and what they should and shouldn’t share. This could begin with good role modelling by you as a parent.
The use of social media can also have other consequences for children, including negative effects on their behaviour from parents’ excessive use of mobile phones. “Technoference” is now the term being used to describe an interference between children and their parents caused by a device. It has been linked to increased behavioural problems such as sulking, hyperactivity and tantrums.
Don’t believe everything you see
We are all naturally social animals, programmed to seek social approval. It’s important to remember that many people will not be posting their failures online. They're much more likely to share tailored snapshots of their successes; they could be struggling in many of the same ways as you in reality. The virtual world is the perfect place to curate, crop and filter our lives into something that’s normally unachievable in real life. Creating ‘Pinterest perfect’ images of you and your family may be fun and come easily to some, but it’s important not to let these rose-tinted lives influence your parenting journey.
As well as images of friends, family and acquaintances, parents are bombarded with images of celebrities. These encourage things like losing baby weight at light speed, or spending an extensive amount of time with your children (while still fitting in work hours, sleep, chores, etc.).
These pressures can begin even before your baby is born. Research has found that social media can have a negative effect on pregnant women’s body image. Over half of the women they looked at said that they compared their bodies to other pregnant bodies online. Some pregnant women try to limit their weight gain during pregnancy, but this weight gain is natural, and trying to suppress it can result in complications such as low birth weight and even miscarriage.
You are what you read
Social media can influence our lives in both positive and negative ways. Being influenced by our social networks is often unavoidable. It has been found that some of the most important decisions in life can be influenced by social networks through homophily.
A study by Laura Bernardi and Andreas Klärner looked at how a person’s fertility decisions can depend partly on the fertility decisions of their social network, which now includes sparse online networks. It found that it can influence things such as when you choose to have children, and even the decision not to have children! And Katrin Tiidenbery and Nancy Baym looked at how there seems to be certain ways in which women on Instagram “do” pregnancy.
Another study by T. Dávid-Barrett et al looked at 112,000 profile pictures and found associations between life stages and profile pictures. For example, they found that “Profile pictures of heterosexual couples and of babies and children were also more likely to appear within social media networks with similar profiles.”
Do you think any of your fertility decisions have or could be influenced by your social network?
Tips on how to navigate through the jungle of social media pressures
Keep things in perspective
This survey found that over 75% of people lie on social media. So when you see a photo of a friend and their family smiling and laughing, wearing their best outfits in a spotless home, don’t compare your life to that. Instead, ask yourself what you can’t see beyond the frame of the image. Yes, social media is a great source of information, but don’t let it tell you that you’re not doing a great job when you are.
Unfriend and unfollow
Your family’s and your wellbeing is top priority, so if there are any accounts that are particularly bringing you down, nobody will blame you for unfollowing. Alternatively, you can use the mute function on Instagram, mute function on Twitter, or hide certain people’s posts on Facebook to stop posts from appearing without unfollowing.
Taking a break can do wonders. You can deactivate social accounts without deleting them, so when you feel ready to return, everything will still be where it was. Disconnecting also gives you more time to nurture your “IRL” relationships which could help elevate your mood.
Don’t share with everyone
If you’re worried about over-sharenting but want your close friends and family to see how your little one is doing, use instant messaging or private accounts to continue to share your cutest pictures with your nearest and dearest. Or you can edit your privacy settings on Twitter and Facebook.
Limit how much you post
Feeling the need to post multiple times a day can just be another added stress to your already busy life. If you want to keep friends and family updated, just try cutting down how often you post. Start with, for example, once a week, and then increase it to where you feel comfortable without feeling stressed and time constrained.
Embrace your imperfections
As discussed earlier, decisions can be contagious through your social network. If you start posting imperfect selfies, and showing your friends what parenting is really like, it could help them with their own anxieties as well as encourage them to join in.
Take inspiration from empowering accounts
There has been a fluctuations in movements that celebrate real bodies and lives. There are many online accounts that you can follow that give you a realistic reflection of parenting, such as @4thtribodies, @doulastrainingint, Empowered Birth Project, @scummymummies, and many many more.
Talk to your children
If your child is older, teach them about social media and online safety, and ask for their permission to post their photo if possible.
It’s understandable that getting out of the frame of mind that social media can put you in is difficult. Just take it one step at a time and remember that the most important things are you and your family, so don’t worry too much about what everyone else is doing (or not doing).