The internet can be an amazing source of information or community, like with trying-to-conceive support groups. But it’s also true that too much of a good thing can be, well, bad. We get it: When the news is scary, it can be hard to look away. And when your baby comes down with a cold, your first step is to probably start googling their symptoms. Or when your kiddo has an issue at daycare, you might queue up every Instagram Reel from your favorite parenting expert. But could your constant searching and scrolling be causing *you* harm?
It’s possible. Recent studies have shown a correlation between doomscrolling (never-ending consumption of the internet or social media) and an increased level of anxiety, both in adults and children. And you've probably felt the effects firsthand of how constantly looking up symptoms online can be linked to increased anxiety and stress.
Historically, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, data has shown that year over year, close to 48 million people struggle with anxiety in the US.
It’s easy for worried, loving parents to lose sleep because they fell down the rabbit hole of googling every developmental milestone or that new symptom that cropped up overnight—or got drawn into the comparison game of watching how other parents care for their children. It’s less easy to stop those patterns.
Vanessa Funfsinn, LMFT, therapist at Alma, offers tips for parents who struggle with cutting themselves off from the internet.
Her most foundational tip:
“Remember that all experts and bloggers have also struggled figuring out how to parent,” shares Funfsinn. “Everyone is different and there’s no straight answer. It’s all trial and error. Their guidance can be useful, but in the end, you have to figure out what works best for you and your child.”
How to manage those late-night doomscrolling sessions
Whenever you do decide to turn to the internet, Funfsinn offers four helpful tips to make sure you still get the best sleep possible—and avoid those never-ending rabbit holes—on any given night.
1. Choose just a couple trustworthy sources when searching for answers
“If you do decide to go online, go to one or two sources that you trust,” suggests Funfsinn. “Doing a broad search leads you to multiple sources, which is confusing because the information you find can become contradictory.”
Taking the time beforehand to vet your sources can make it easier for you to know who to trust and who not to trust, especially during times of panic.
Most importantly though, Funfsinn suggests that you learn to trust your own instincts as a parent. You may not have all the answers, but you do know your child—and what’s normal and what seems off.
2. Implement regular news and social media breaks
Getting ahead of the spiral is possible, especially if you implement breaks. “Make a conscious effort to take breaks from your phone and computer,” suggests Funfsinn.
“If that’s hard to do, plan an activity to do elsewhere without your phone or bring it with notifications disabled. During a bout of anxiety, my partner was constantly doomscrolling and I made him lock his phone in a safe for the weekend. We learned that taking a break can really shift your perspective and help you recognize unhealthy habits.”
3. Set healthy boundaries
In addition to taking breaks, there are other healthy boundaries you can take that can make parenting in the age of the internet a little easier to navigate.
“Checking to see if their children are hitting developmental milestones on time, sleep and feeding challenges are really common,” explains Funfsinn. “I work with a lot of new parents who turn to the internet because they are trying to figure out how to be a parent.”
The warning comes if you’re going beyond what makes you feel good or supported as a parent.
“If you find that you are spending a majority of your day and/or night using Google to search things regarding your child, that’s a red flag,” notes Funfsinn. “This behavior can lead to increased anxiety, irritability, insomnia and panic attacks. Sometimes it’s difficult to recognize just how much time you are spending searching for things, so pay attention to your weekly screen time reports.” You can also set time limits for certain apps to help you stay on top of your internet use.
4. Know when to go to a professional
“It’s a difficult distinction to make because the internet is a bottomless pit,” Funfsinn adds. “If looking up something online is going to be time consuming and stressful, it’s probably best to go to a professional. Going directly to an expert to answer questions certainly preserves your sanity.”
A note from Motherly
Finding the balance between using the internet as a tool to support your parenting or as a trigger to your anxiety is difficult. Patience, setting good boundaries and finding the right communities for support can help.
“There is this pressure we feel that we should be able to do everything on our own, which is impossible,” notes Funfsinn. “Being able to connect with other parents going through the same thing protects us and our children in so many different ways. It really does take a village to raise a child.”
Anand N, Sharma MK, Thakur PC, et al. Doomsurfing and doomscrolling mediate psychological distress in COVID-19 lockdown: Implications for awareness of cognitive biases. Perspect Psychiatr Care. 2022;58(1):170-172. doi:10.1111/ppc.12803
Vismara M, Caricasole V, Starcevic V, Cinosi E, Dell'Osso B, Martinotti G, Fineberg NA. Is cyberchondria a new transdiagnostic digital compulsive syndrome? A systematic review of the evidence. Comprehensive Psychiatry. 2020 May 1;99:152167.
Vanessa Funfsinn, LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist and endorsed as an infant mental health specialist. At Alma, she specializes in relationships, trauma, parenting, stress, and life transitions.