Parenting in the Internet age has its pros and cons, without a doubt. On the one hand, you've got perks like simple searches for local parenting groups, schools and activities, quick ways of sharing adorable photos of your kids with loved ones far away (and video chatting, of course), and thanks to COVID, even a tele-call for some doctor's appointments for your child instead of hauling out to a crammed waiting room can be a godsend. And….then there's the cons.
One of the trickier categories of "cons" when it comes to parenting and the Internet is social media.
I was an early Facebook user as it essentially debuted when I started college, so I remember Ye Olde Days when writing on someone's "wall" was truly that: a blank virtual rectangular wall, where your friends entered anonymous blocks of text. When I first got pregnant, it seemed to be particularly useful. I used it to join local (or international) due date groups and parenting groups, find secondhand baby and pregnancy items to buy, and share a bit of our joy and excitement about our new phase in life with friends and acquaintances in a matter of seconds. Some of the helpful bits were genuinely practical, and joining a local expectant mothers' group on Facebook allowed me to make some real-life connections to some wonderful women with whom I am still great friends.
But there was a dark side, and to be frank, I think it's darker than many parents want to contemplate. Social media is scientifically proven to be an addictive activity. When I had a free moment to do something productive, enriching, or even mindlessly fun, it was often just too tempting to go on social media instead and fritter away minute after minute. I can't imagine how many hours over the past several years I essentially wasted.
Plus, social media is built to make you compare yourself with others. It's incredibly hard to avoid if you use any form of social media, whether it's flipping through picture-perfect Montessori nurseries on Instagram or hearing other parents' tales of their little ones' development in parenting Facebook groups, and you start doubting and second-guessing yourself and your parenting, especially if you're ensconced in a virtual social media bubble for several hours daily. Particularly when I was in the early stages of parenthood for the first time, with all the emotion and vulnerability that came along with it, I found myself more easily lured into blatant consumerism (oh man, my kid should really have that sort of toy) or feeling guilty for something insignificant, or even absolutely fine and normal (we ended up co-sleeping for so long, I guess that makes me a bad mom).
But the main reason I decided to finally opt out for the most part, is privacy and safety. Over the last few years, I got the occasional weird private message from some Internet stranger I didn't actually know, and sometimes these messages were incredibly problematic and even scary. In one Facebook due date group I was in, it turned out that someone in the group faked an entire pregnancy, birth and NICU stay by using a fake belly insert for pregnancy photos and stealing a celebrity's baby pictures. That is without question a wild story, but likely not as rare as one would imagine. I realized that I don't want photos of my kids, who mean the world to me, to be circulating the Internet without their consent. Who knows? Someone out there could be using my pictures to build a fake life online, too.
And so, I deactivated my Facebook account some weeks back, and aside from a check-in once or twice to make sure no one sent me some urgent message, I haven't been back since.
I haven't missed it for a second. My brain feels clear; no more bizarre serotonin rushes from "likes," reading obnoxious comments, seeing links to fake news sources, or distracting, FOMO-inducing updates from acquaintances whom I barely know and haven't seen in years. I'm able to really focus on my little family, my work, and my everyday life. I don't find myself comparing my parenting skills or the kids to anyone else, and if I want to buy something secondhand, I use a local secondhand purchase website (and now, thanks to a better COVID situation, flea markets have re-opened again too). If I need to get in touch with someone I truly care about, I give them (gasp) an actual phone call or maybe a text, or an e-mail… or even a written letter. And now, a photo is just a photo for me to cherish, not grist for a Facebook post. Perhaps I'll even take to carrying around wallet-sized photos of my kids with me to truly level up my Luddite status.
When I'm a happier parent, my kids are happier kids. So, fare thee well, social media; it's been an interesting ride, but I don't think we're meant to be.