I post about my kid on Facebook a lot. So, it is no surprise that my feed is littered with parenting articles. Some of them are useful and interesting, and some even mildly amusing such as, “Try These Toddler Lunch Ideas” and “Three Easy Steps to Potty Train Your Toddler.” I read them occasionally when one catches my eye. Since Finn was born, I have been searching out some of these articles, Googling my parenting questions as they arise: When is the best time to introduce the bottle? What time is good to start the bedtime routine? What are the best products for learning? What are some tips for traveling with toddlers?
I realize that both of these actions perpetuate the issue. The more I read, the more I google, the more parenting articles I get—so goes the Facebook algorithm.
Lately, the articles have been zeroing in on my worst fears as a parent and using scare tactics to get my attention. Merely reading the titles leaves me feeling guilty, scared, exhausted, overwhelmed, and very judged.
Just in the last week, titles such as these have come up in my feed:
“Co-sleeping Ruined My Marriage: Let this Be a Warning To Parents Everywhere”
“Child Behavior Problems That Should Be Corrected Before They Become Long-Term Issues”
“Why It is Crucial For Parents Not to Ignore These Child Behavior Problems”
“Five Things Parents Do that Damage Children Forever”
They seem to get progressively worse throughout any given week:
“How You are Putting Your Child At Risk of Becoming a Missing Child”
“This Woman Lost Custody of Her Children for Something You’ve Probably Done”
They are usually accompanied by an alluring photo or drawing: a child dangling from a parent’s leg; a toddler mid-tantrum; a huge parent mouth on top, drawn so that it appears it is about to swallow the tiny, scared child; or even scarier, a missing child bulletin or headline, or a woman reaching for her children as they are torn away. These are the things that already keep me up at night. I don’t need my Facebook feed to remind me.
I have (mostly) resisted the urge to click on these scary articles, understanding that the writers or publishers use these fear mongering titles to get my attention, to play on my anxieties, and to get me to react and read. I have read enough to know that most of the crap they put in them, I already know or that really what they are saying doesn’t add up to the scary title at all.
It infuriates me that in the middle of my work day, when I might take a minute at lunch say, to scroll through my feed and unplug from work, one of these article titles sends my heartbeat up into my throat.
To top it off, these articles are beginning to make me paranoid. A series of questions has begun to run through my head: What is it about my posts that say I am the kind of parent that needs these warnings? What is it about what I say to and about my kid tells the Facebook algorithm that I need them? (Yes, your phone may really be eavesdropping on you. I’m not the only one convinced of this.)
When the latest string of “time- out” articles appeared, I was certain my phone had just overheard me giving my son a “time-out” that did not work. I was incensed and confused.
Not only do these articles purposely stir me up, they are often contradictory. In the very same feed or on the very same day, articles like these will appear, sometimes back to back:
“Why Time-Out Doesn’t Work” and “Time-Out is the Best Way to Discipline” or “Whatever You Do, Be Consistent with Your Child” and “Whatever You Do, Pick Your Battles” or “This Theory Works for All Children” and “Just Remember, Every Child Is Different” blah blah blah. I’ve got whiplash.
I fight hard to resist the urge to go over every single thing I’ve said to my child and how I’ve said it after seeing one of these titles (I do that enough anyway). I struggle to resist rushing to pick him up from day care so that I can make sure he is ok—and subsequently create more chances for me to be a better parent. All of this overactive cognition leaves me exhausted.
Even the somewhat positive articles have begun to wear on me, like the one I got today: “Parent, I was Smug About Your Videos of Your Children. I’m Sorry” with the tag line: “I mourn the fact that I cannot reach into my pocket and tap my phone and see my daughter in action when she was 3.” This article seemed to affirm my parenting style of taking an outrageous amount of photos and videos of my son; but still, it left me with a tinge of sadness and guilt. Am I taking enough? Am I taking too many? Somehow even this left me feeling like Facebook, i.e. the whole world, is judging, or at least has something to say, something to add to me and my parenting style.
Why? Why do I let these things get to me? I’ll tell you. I’m a hyper-aware parent. I am excessively self-critical. I’m sometimes a perfectionist. Yes, you could even call me a helicopter (or as Finn says, “hello-cop-ter”) parent. I want Finn to have a great childhood. As most parents do, I want him to become a wonderful, thoughtful, smart, confident human being. And as most parents can attest, all of this comes with a great deal of guilt and second guessing. I already do enough self-evaluating as a parent; I don’t need Facebook’s help in that department. Stop it already!
I feel helpless against the trend of “clickbait parenting” I’ve fallen into. Perhaps we should all heed my friend’s advice: disable the Facebook phone app or, at the very least, turn off its access to the microphone. But I think the real problem is looking online in the first place. Googling and scrolling is so easy, but it has become overwhelmingly troublesome. What we need is a real community. This is one reason I agreed to become a part of organizations like the Memphis Moms Blog, who make good efforts to unite moms, in real time, in person in addition to offering mom advice online. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from these parenting articles, it’s that it’s high time we start looking beyond the Internet for advice, models, and community.