Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Parenting in a Social Media Age

This article is long overdue!

Last summer, I said that I would write a blog post of whatever topic (provided it didn't promote hate in any way) to whoever would make the highest bid to the Mario Marathon through my blog within a certain time frame.  Someone I got to know through the marathon and Twitter won the bid, but I have been exceedingly and embarrassingly negligent in my payout.  My apologies!

The topic requested is, as the post title says, about parenting in a social media age.  There are plenty of ways to approach this topic and as a parent I do have a vested interest in topics such as these, especially as my kid gets older and as parents, my partner and I have to start thinking about how we are going to approach our kid's introduction/involvement in social media.

People have plenty of opinions on when they will allow their child/ren on the internet, whether or not they will supervise their internet usage, if they should get NetNanny or something to that degree, or what have you.  I'm not going to go into that tonight.  I don't know that there's one right or wrong way to handle that whole can of worms; I'm pretty positive there isn't.  Every child is different, I figure the way a parent should approach the topic of internet usage ought to depend on the child themselves.

What I am going to talk about it using social media as a parenting tool.  Just a quick qualifier, since I really only use Facebook and Twitter as social media tools, I'm really only going to speak to those two specific social media devices.  I know there's Google+, Reddit, Tumblr, StumbleUpon, et al - but I don't use them, so I can't speak to them with any great "authority".  So when I say social media, it's shorthand for Facebook and Twitter, mkay?

We've all heard the saying that is takes a village to raise a child, and I really think that social media has made that more true now than it has in a really long time leading up to this.  It has enabled parents to build a larger network of parents who we feel comfortable enough to lean on for advice, for a sounding board, or for someone we can commiserate with.  From the excitement of announcing that you're going to have/adopt a child and going through the journey of waiting for your new family member to come home, to welcoming the child home, to praying for the day they leave, you have more than just your parents, siblings who are also parents, and Mommy-and-Me friends to lean on.

Not only is your network larger (potentially), but you wind up (potentially) getting a broader range of parenting methods that you wind up being exposed to that you may not have been introduced to before social media blew into town.  How many parents these days go to Facebook when their kid has some weird sounding cough, or is having issues with potty training before they go to WebMD or a clinic?  I know I have on many occasions (perhaps to the chagrin of my partner on more than one occasion), and I know I will do so in the future.

Like with any form of advice, expert or otherwise, you definitely need to take it with a grain of salt.  Understand that what works for your evangelical Christian, public schooling, 3 child friend is likely to be vastly different than what works for your Sikh, Khalsa schooling, 2 child friend and either may or may not work for you, you single child, pantheistic, home schooling, crunchy parent, you.  The trick is to use the suggestions given to you by your friends/colleagues/family members as more of an aid to bolster your own ideas on how to deal with your kid yanking on the cat's tail (Pro Tip: Don't do what these parents did).  Don't take the advice given as gospel.  Even the good advice.  Especially the advice that calls itself gospel.

The thing I enjoy the most about asking for/giving parenting advice on social media is that it really helps me to feel like I'm not alone; I suspect I'm not alone in this opinion either.  It really goes back to the saying I mentioned earlier about it taking a village.  I like that I get to share in my parenting “aha!” moments and frustrations with my friends in Maine equally with my friends here that I actually get to see.  I like that we all get to watch our children grow up together, and I like that my friends in California are almost as excited as I am when my child hits some milestone in life, even though they've never actually met my kid.

That last sentence may cause some people to worry about security, and I don't entirely blame them; it's a scary world out there, and you have to be ultra vigilant as a parent.  That shouldn't prevent you from seeing social media for the valuable parenting tool it is.  It's also entirely possible to keep your child 100% anonymous on the internet, while still reaping the benefits of the social village parenting.  I see it being done all the time.  Sure, it takes a concerted effort, but it's totally doable.  You can seek advice/brag about your child without giving any pertinent details except for possibly a ballparked age and still having people rallying behind you and your child.  Try a gender neutral nickname and refer to your child only by that nickname and/or gender neutral pronouns.  Frankly, it's probably not a bad idea even if you're not going to go all out in making your kid the next Blanket on the internet.  Your kid's accomplishments ought not be determined by what's between their legs, but that's a whole different topic that I will probably talk about at a later date.

Since I'm not going to great lengths to making my kid anonymous on the internet (not on Facebook, at any rate.  Here and on Twitter is a different story) I won't try to come up with tips on how to Blanket your child/ren, but I'm sure a few well thought out keywords on a Google search will lead you to a blog somewhere that talks about exactly that.  Or, if you'd prefer, ask your friends on Facebook.


  1. The whole taking a village thing is so true! I have a friends son as a friend on FB. He was posting one day when he was supposed to be at school. Found out that he was class. Lectured him. Now he either doesn't post from class or is smart enough to hide the posts from us! lol However, when he posts something good, like defending girls against a "who are the 5 prettiest girls in the school" poll, I (and another friend) were able to praise him for his maturity & intelligence in doing that.

    I've been able to watch pics of another friends daughter who is doing some not good things. I've helped another friend watch for signs of depression in her daughter.

    And yes, it is nice to see people get excited about your child's accomplishments, to be proud of them for things they do. :) And to laugh and be proud of other people's kids.

  2. Worth the wait, Mindi. Thank you. It's been interesting striking a balance when talking about Baby Fiasco. My wife is less social than I and tends to lean toward sharing as little as possible. I'm more comfortable with some degree of sharing.

  3. @*~*Zann*~* - I really hope the latter of the examples with the boy will apply to my kid. Not so much the rest :P (except for the laughter and pride)

    @Ben - Glad it gets your seal of approval. I think Mr. Moo and I are in a similar boat. We talk about our kid on Facebook because it's people we know and trust (enough to let them peak into our lives at any rate), but I'm probably more chatty about MiniMoo on places like Twitter and my blog than the Mr is. Hitting the balance where you're not feeling like you're going to get reamed out for talking about your kid or feeling bad for negating your partners feelings about the subject can be difficult, but that's where trust and communication is key. I have no doubt that if the Mr isn't comfortable with something I shared about MiniMoo online, he'd tell me. If it's not that big of a deal for me, I'll just remove that bit. If I'd like to keep some of what I've shared out there, I might modify it to a degree that the Mr's comfort level is brought up. There are so many things couples can sweat these days, this doesn't need to be one of them :)