A few months ago I was browsing Facebook and came across a post by a friend of mine who recently had a baby, her first child. At the time the little boy was not more than a few weeks old, and my friend was still learning how to take care of him. In her post, she was asking for advice from other mothers on how to soothe a colicky baby, since her child had been crying for hours and nothing she did seemed to work. Well, she got several replies because her friends had A LOT of opinions about how to treat colic. Which is perfectly fine – knowledge is power and so on – but a few of the commentators attacked other moms because their methods were not “the right ones.” My friend inadvertently started a “mommy war” on her Facebook page, because apparently there are many controversies when it comes to soothing a baby with colic.
This anecdote illustrates a very common trend seen in social media today: parents are increasingly using these platforms to seek advice and support from fellow parents, just like my friend did. However, it has also become common for debates to pop up on social media over several parenting-related topics: breastfeeding vs. formula, cloth vs. disposable diapers, and, of course, vaccinating vs. not vaccinating, just to name a few. What was supposed to be a fun place to stay connected to friends and family suddenly becomes a battleground, with parents fighting each other over personal choices that, in the grand scheme of things, probably won’t make too much of a difference in the future.
This recent Similac ad pokes fun at the so-called “mommy wars”
Thus, social media, especially Facebook, might not be the best place for parents with questions. However, that does not mean the Internet as a whole is useless for when it comes to parenting help. Online spaces such as messaging boards and blogs offer anonymity and privacy for parents facing challenges such as raising a child with behavioral issues, mental illness or disabilities. Additionally, parents who suffered the loss of a child or a miscarriage are very likely to benefit from discussing the issue with their peers who had a similar experience. Therefore, when used appropriately, the Internet offers great resources to parents that were not available before.
This quote from my first source, Bartholomew et al. (2012) could help me ground my argument that, even though Facebook is most likely not the best platform for parents needing help and support, the Internet can still be a great tool for those parents who are facing serious issues with their children:
When mothers were more frequent visitors to their Facebook accounts and managed their accounts more frequently, however, they reported higher levels of parenting stress.
As exemplified by my anecdote above, Facebook discussions can get personal very quickly just because of its nature: you can learn a lot about a person just by looking at his or her profile. But parents using forums and blogs don’t need to share personal information to be able to discuss ideas with other parents. They can just use a random username, or even stay anonymous, and join in. That makes it less likely that parents will be personally attacked for their opinions. Another important characteristic of forums and blogs is that parents can discuss sensitive issues without fear of someone finding out about, which can easily happen on Facebook. For example, a parent can discuss their child’s ADHD diagnosis without fearing that a potential employee in the future will read about it online. For parents who want to discuss losing a child to death or miscarriage, blogs and forums can be great for receiving support and “normalizing” their experience, that is, seeing that they’re not alone and it’s ok to discuss what happened.