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We all use social media.
If you are reading this blog, you are using social media, and you probably found this blog page through my other social media outlets.
It can be awesome. It can also mess with your mind, specifically with your understanding of your individual children’s developmental paths.
We often start to question where our children are in their development compared to everyone else’s kids. And we then allow this comparison to determine our feelings of parental success — or failure.
How Social Media Can Negatively Affect Us as Individuals
First, let’s look at how social media can affect us as individuals in general.
Social media has been shown in several studies to be correlate to a decrease in self-esteem and an increase in depressive symptoms.
Psychologist Melissa G. Hunt published an article in the December 2018 publication of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology that even went so far as to say that there is a causal link between social media use and “decreased well-being”. Causal link!
This effect is similar to how we feel after looking at fashion and beauty magazines where we compare ourselves to a photoshopped (read: not possible) “ideal”.
I’ve always wondered how supermodels feel seeing themselves in photos looking, well, not like they actually look. It has got to be bizarre. I guess at least they know the truth while the rest of us look on in awe, putting ourselves down.
Social media is no different.
People post the best events, vacations, moments, and often don’t share the behind the scenes reality.
Can their lives really be THAT perfect?
The definitive answer is a resounding NO WAY!
No one’s life is as perfect as they make it seem.
And we know that, really.
We know that there are 20+ photos taken before “the one” is captured for someone’s fashion blog.
We know that props are purchased and arranged “just so” for someone’s food styling post.
We know that bordering the picturesque square image posted to Instagram there are piles of laundry and dirty dishes.
But it still can eat at us.
How Social Media Can Negatively Affect Us as Parents
Unfortunately our opinions of our children are not spared when it comes to social media comparisons.
It usually begins innocuously enough: we post pictures of our beautiful children, share their growth, and share our pride. And our friends and connections do the same.
Everyone is sharing the positives, which should be great, right? Well, on the one hand it is beautiful. Boast! Be proud! Applaud your little ones!
But, the other hand holds the negative reality.
We see our friends’ children sitting, crawling, walking, talking, running, singing, sleeping, toilet training sooner than ours.
We then launch into hours-long google searches of our specific comparison and concern, which prompts us to believe that our child’s supposed delay is absolutely, without a doubt, due to our excessive consumption of pizza bagels in high school.
And then the judgment turns inward.
We feel that somehow our child’s natural timeline is a reflection of our parenting.
“My child’s path means I am a success, or a failure.”
I wish we parents had that much power, but the reality is, we don’t.
Remember the age-old nature vs. nurture debate? Well it continues, but I feel that when it comes to general development, nature is quite strong. Personally, I never knew how little control I could have over another human being until I had my children. A serious lesson in humility.
Social Media is Not All That Bad
So, it looks like I just wrote an *ahem* social media post that describes *ahem* social media as a mental health monster.
I guess I kind of did, but here’s the other side of the coin: I also don’t think it’s bad all the time or to everyone.
Welcome to Christina’s world of grey. I rarely see things in black and white, as you’ll see through this and future posts.
Social media is ubiquitous in this day and age. Kids from 1 to 92 (Nat King Cole, anyone?) use the internet on the daily.
In a lot of ways, it’s wonderful.
Social media has enabled the world to become a smaller place in which living thousands of miles from family doesn’t have to mean only hearing their voice occasionally. Now you can see their faces on their pages, or even use video calling apps to have as close to in-person conversations as possible!
If your family is military and you’ve moved a lot, I am sure you can attest to the beauty of the internet and social media.
I personally love that my children know their grandparents in the UK so well through social media that when we visit them, they don’t miss a beat engaging with them.
With social media you learn about how your friends are doing, and even if you aren’t in person to be with them through life’s milestones, you are there digitally.
That can be priceless.
You will have your own opinions about social media and its effect on your life. Whatever your current relationship with the virtual world, I suggest to follow these five steps to maintain your positive sense of self and your well-deserved pride in yourself and your perfect-as-they-are children:
5 Steps to Use Social Media Without Losing Your Mind
1) Do a surface level clean of your feed.
If you love seeing your best friend’s posts because her kids are a hoot, keep checking them out.
But, if you compare yourself or your child to another friend’s posts, unfollow them (you don’t have to “unfriend” to not see their content!).
2) Find pages or groups that lift you up, or that show the real side of life, like this one!
I will post the good, the bad, and all the in between, because I know we all experience it, and I want you to know you’re not alone.
3) Remember the mantra: Their Own Path at Their Own Pace
Follow whomever you want to follow online, but remind yourself that every child is on their own path.
Some will walk at 10 months — super exciting of course — but may not show any more athletic prowess than that. Some will start to speak around then — music to a mama’s ears — but may be so shy they only speak in the home.
Some do everything late but go on to be a world leader, or famous singer, or Olympic athlete.
You never know!
And honestly it seems like most children’s skills are caught up in one way or another by the time they start school.
So remember: your child is special, and your child is perfect for himself or for herself. He or she is following THEIR OWN PATH AT THEIR OWN PACE.
The sooner we can embrace that, which is hard of course, the sooner we can see our child as they are and love them all the more.
4) Do a deep clean
If you’ve done all of the above, then maybe it really is time for the big-time, deep-cleaning social media purge.
Go through your connections and remove anyone who is bringing you down.
I know everyone is on a #KonMari kick in their homes, and why not online too? If someone is not “sparking joy”, then good riddance!
Ensure your main feeds are chock full of sources of happiness. After all, you are an amazing mama, and you deserve it.
5) If Needed, Have Your Child Assessed
If you are honest with yourself that your concern about your child’s development is deeper than social media comparisons, then please, have your children assessed! (And stop Googling!)
Most big cities have programs in place, that are often free or low cost, to evaluate your child for speech, developmental delays, occupational therapy, and behavioral therapy needs.
Here in San Diego there is First 5 San Diego for children ages 0-5: https://first5sandiego.org/healthy-development-services/.
Or you could do at home assessment. I personally like to use the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ3) as a gauge of how my children doing in terms of their communication, fine motor, gross motor, problem-solving, and personal-emotional development. Early intervention often leads to better long-term outcomes.
Have you done anything else to help you maintain good mental health while enjoying social media? How have you safeguarded yourself from unfairly judging yourself or your children?
Let me know below!
Journal Reference: Melissa G. Hunt, Rachel Marx, Courtney Lipson, Jordyn Young. No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 2018; 751 DOI: 10.1521/jscp.2018.37.10.751
Christina is the writer behind the blog Real Life Mama. She is a mom two littles, a 4-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son. Christina and her family live in San Diego, where she is a full-time mama, part-time mental health therapist (LPCC), and round-the-clock blogger, writer, and author. If she ever gets a moment to herself, she can be found singing at the top of her lungs, cooking, and crafting. Thanks for reading!