There is enough to worry about as a parent, without considering social media. But Facebook, Instagram and comment sections are a part of our lives now, like it or not.
And it’s not all bad. There are many benefits to social media for parents. It offers a place to ask advice on which gadgets are necessary, food suggestions for your finicky toddler, and what the going rate is for a babysitter. Crowdsourcing parenting wisdom is a hallmark of using social media as a mom or dad.
Also, it’s great for keeping in touch with friends and family. Grandma and Grandpa who live a thousand miles away are always the first to like (or now, “love”), the short videos of Junior running through the sprinkler for the first time. Unfortunately, not every interaction on social media is a positive one for parents. In fact, a herd mentality can develop pretty quickly, and one negative comment emboldens five other parents to chime in with their own judgement du jour.
But isn’t the parenting gig hard enough? Isn’t it busy enough? Isn’t it important enough? Are we models of what we want our children to become IRL, but not online?
Here is a look at how to model the behavior we teach our kids, including kindness, gratitude and patience, to name a few — online as well as in real life.
1. When in Doubt, Send Love (or a Heart Emoji)
We’ve seen negativity flare up surrounding recently stories that range from scary to heartbreaking. There was a little one who fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo and a small boy who was killed by an alligator in Orlando. There are also many stories about kids being forgotten in cars on hot summer days. To say these events caused online firestorms would be an understatement — and it wasn’t a firestorm of kindness. Commenters were quick to question the parenting. Why weren’t they watching their kids?
In reality, anyone who is honest about life with a little one knows that they are quick, squirmy and curious little buggers. We love them for it, but it means they can sometimes escape our grasp.
If your reaction to these tragedies is to immediately question the parenting, you should keep it to yourself. Take some time to evaluate why you might be so quick to judge. Instead of fueling the fire, consider posting a heart emoji or an encouraging message.
2. Never Start a Fight or Get Political
When was the last time you changed a personal belief because of someone getting grumpy in your Facebook feed? You aren’t alone. A Pew research study shows that only 9% of couples were able to resolve conflicts via text or social media. Conflicts are best handled face-to-face, not online. Also, I’m looking at you vaguebookers, too. Don’t post something that begs for inquisitive comments and drama. You can’t control what other people post on social media, but you have total control over your fingers on the keyboard.
3. Resist the Urge for TMI
Beyond the parent shaming, another common mistake parents make on social media is to over-share. I’ve seen parents post about potty training success — complete with graphic photos — and posts lamenting their accident prone youngest child with bloody descriptions that would be censored from most media.
Also, you might not know what the people you care about are experiencing. Your daily posts about your pregnancy, complete with photos of your bump, ultrasounds and detailed morning sickness descriptions might be quite difficult for your friend to read — the friend who is struggling with infertility or who recently experienced a miscarriage. Don’t hide your joy, but always write in a tone that respects those you love. Don’t be boastful — and don’t overshare. No one likes to see their newsfeed clogged with multiple posts from the same individual, about the same topic, day after day.
4. Think Before You Post
Perhaps my advice can be summed up with one simple mantra: Think before you post. Would you want to read your nasty comment out loud to your grandma? If not, don’t post it. If someone you’re connected to has gone negative in their posts or comments, resist the urge to join the herd. Let your manners and good sense come with you to the online world.
And go easy on yourself! Everyone’s picture-perfect Instagram lives aren’t actually perfect. There are thousands of other moments of hair-pulling-out and raised voices that never get recorded for Facebook live.
Parenting is the greatest joy in the world, but it’s also epically difficult. Social media can be a place to find support and love, or it can be a place that brings out the worst in us. Follow these simple steps, and you can be a positive parent in the age of social media.
Jennifer Landis is a 27-year-old healthy living blogger who loves yoga, running, and dancing it out with her toddler! You can find more from Jennifer at her blog, Mindfulness Mama, or by following her on Twitter: @jenniferelandis.