It is not surprising to hear that social media use is massive right now, with more than 35 million people in the UK having a Facebook account alone.
Social media comes with many benefits such as being able to connect, stay in touch with people easily and many people being able to turn to online groups to help with issues they find hard to discuss outside of the internet (myself included).
However, it is worrying to hear that 1 in 5 children worldwide now experience mental health problems, with rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal tenancies increasing into the 21st Century (Bor and colleagues, 2014). One argument is that higher rates of anxiety in particular could be down to technology use. This post is a brief reflection on parent’s use of social media to share children’s success.
When I am scrolling idly through Facebook at around September time, my feed is often flooded with ‘First day back at school’ pictures of children in their brand new school uniforms, clutching their backpack, with an apprehensive grin on their little faces. These often being accompanied with captions from parents exclaiming how smart they look and that they grow up so fast! This is one example of how from a young age, even sometimes before birth, parents can document their child’s entire lives on social media.
Although it is understandable that we would want to show family and friends our children reaching big milestones and succeeding, perhaps it is important to consider the implications of doing this.
Firstly, if another parent is viewing the success of a child of a Facebook contact, it is natural to compare the success of that child to their own. For example, if a parent posts about how their baby has started to walk at the age of 10 months and your own child started walking at 13 months, it could make you believe that you could have done more to get your child walking earlier. Documenting success online could therefore become a bit of a competition between parents. This isn’t to say that we cannot be truly happy for the success of other children and their parents, but we also cannot help but to compare our lives to those we see online (Vogel and colleagues, 2014; 2015).
Parents can also post about how proud they are that their child achieved good grades or their end of year report was really good, followed by commenters congratulating them or saying how clever their child is. If their child is old enough to use social media themselves and reads these posts, they might feel proud of themselves, but they may also feel pressured to keep achieving (Luthar and colleagues, 2018). This added stress to their already stressful experience of school could be detrimental to their mental health, be a major cause of anxiety or feeling depressive symptoms if they do not live up to their parent’s standard. As stated in my previous post, Perceived parental pressures on girls from wealthy families and the effect this has on their mental health and wellbeing, parents can have a profound effect on their children’s mental health. Children can often perceive parents to be pressuring them to succeed. Whether this is true, intentional or not, if a child sees parents posting about their success online, it makes sense to believe that this can contribute towards this perceived parental pressure.
While it is good to celebrate successes of children and to be proud of them, it is important to think about how documenting parts of their life can affect them. There is a lot more research needed in this area to see how posting about the successes of a child can affect their mental health. It is possible that only children from high achieving families would be affected by parents documenting their success, or perhaps there are gender or age differences. All of which are something to look into in future research.
This post is not intended to criticise parents in the slightest, these are just topics that keep me up at night!
Have a good weekend, friends!