We normally classify "parents" as late adopters of technology, and therefore usually out of touch. For example, a few years ago, most parents were freaked out about Facebook and had no idea what it was. Now they are active users on this platform - more so than the younger generation. Due to this lag, we often do not look at their actions as critically as we do with new adopters. Think about the fear and hype around Snapchat now versus the general acceptance of Facebook. But that younger generation, the digital natives who have grown up with technology, are now becoming parents themselves. In some ways this is unchartered territory. Anyone who is a parent knows that by default they often end up parenting the same way they were parented. They might think or hope they are different, but are more similar than they would like to admit.
The social media challenge is that there is no benchmark. Instagram for our parents was dropping off a roll of film to get developed after a vacation,sticking the photos into an album, and then storing that inside a cabinet. Their 'mommy blogs' were phone calls with friends or discussions at dinner parties. If they needed to vent about their kids, they did so relatively privately.
As with all things, social media hasn't created new parenting mistakes. It has simply magnified (sometimes exponentially) what was already there. Here are three of the major mistakes parents make in the social networking age.
1. Complaining about your kids on social media.
This should be more obvious than it is. We all cringe at the thought of our parents belittling us or talking down to us. How about when they do it in public to others? Or post it online for everyone to see - even years later?
The irony is that social media enables communication. Parents will post negative things about their children not thinking much of it. Perhaps it's venting, or maybe even something harmless. Kids do not necessarily see it like that. The more they feel slighted in this manner, the less they will communicate with their parents in the future. How can they open up when there is a fear in the back of their minds of getting embarrassed by their own parents online?
Although my children are young (under the age of 10), they are aware that we sometimes post pictures of them or things they have said. In each case though, my wife and I seek their permission before posting a photo or something they have said so they are fully aware of what is going on. There are times where they'll request something to be posted so they can see what their aunts and uncles think about it, and there have been times where they have asked us not to post certain things that we may have wanted to, and we were happy to comply.
Every parent gets frustrated with their kids sometimes and needs to vent. For many, social media is the default place to do this. That behavior needs to change - the price is simply too high. And if you see other parents venting about their kids, you need to either advise them (kindly), or mute/unfriend so that you are not constantly exposed to that kind of negativity.
2. Comparing yourself to other parents and your kids to other kids.
Comparing your kids to other kids is natural as a parent. You want to have some kind of benchmark to see how your child is developing as compared to your friends' kids.
All of us remember how much we hated even the idea that our parents may be comparing us to our friends. Even in our youth we understood that everyone's circumstances were different and it was unfair. Yet somehow, as parents, we do this. It's natural.
The problem with social media is the ease by which this is done. We see one kid making a website, and wonder why can't our kids do that? One kid makes millions with a YouTube channel and suddenly we wonder if our own kids are going to grow up in talentless mediocrity. This, of course, is a natural incubator for jealousy and envy.
There is a flip side to this as well, and that is using social media to 'one up' other parents. Similar to our tendency to document and hoard our experiences, we sometimes take to social media to boost our own parenting ego. The author Jon Acuff articulated this well in an article entitled, How to Look Good on the Internet:
I might not have vocalized it, but what was really going on in my head was this: “I bet some people think I’m never home. I post photos of my travels, but not a lot of my home life so it probably feels out of balance. If I share this photo of the American Girl Doll store, maybe people will think I’m a good dad.”
That thought in itself is ridiculous, but here’s where it gets super stupid.
I was ignoring my kids to write a caption for a photo I was sharing in order to convince people I was a good dad.
In summary, I was being a bad dad in real life in order to look like a good dad on social media.
3. Making them feel less important than your phone.
This is the most subtle, and potentially the most destructive. It is not outright ignoring your child for the phone (although that happens as well). It is the "hold on, give me two minutes" to finish a tweet while your child is vying for your attention that is the problem.
Simply put, they have to feel more valued than the other relationships you are maintaining. Don't lose sight of the most important connections to maintain the less important ones.
This is not to say there is no room for social media in parenting. It just requires the same basic rules as, well, parenting. That means open and honest communication with your kids, and showing them with action that they are the priority. It can also mean doing cute parent things in an innovative way.