Yesterday, a dear friend of mine had her second baby at 3 a.m. By 4 p.m. the following day, she had posted a gorgeous shot of him on Instagram and Facebook, and friends and family were cheering and wishing her well. It struck me as amazing, considering that several years ago it could have taken weeks for that information to spread. In fact, some of the family's friends, maybe long-lost middle school buddies, and former colleagues, would never have known.
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Social media has greatly impacted our lives, and I think it's safe to say it's drastically changed the way we act as parents as well. On the positive side, it allows us to share the joys our children bring us, and means that we're rarely alone at 3 a.m. feedings, since the virtual crowd of our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds nearly always have something to offer in the wee morning hours. If you have a colicky infant or can't figure out how to use your new baby carrier or put your stroller together, tips are usually a status update away. The community you can find online offers a wealth of information, though it might not always yield the exact intel you're looking for.
Turning to Facebook friends to vent, crowd-source opinions and seek wisdom has become the norm, which has me wondering if that old proverb — "It takes a village to raise a child" — is now referring to an e-village of sorts?
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Elizabeth Hendrickson, an Assistant Professor of Electronic Media and Journalism at the University of Tennessee (and a mother of two), believes gathering information via social media can be a hugely useful tool for parents. From the news-breaking timeliness of Twitter to the relationship-based Facebook posts that organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and Kumon use to keep parents in the loop, the social web world can prove to be an efficient way to digest information on say, breastfeeding or tutoring tips. Writer Joanna Goddard has used her blog, A Cup of Jo, and her Facebook page and Twitter feed as a sounding board for many of her parenting quandaries. Many of her posts can garner upwards of 200 comments, providing a diverse amount of information from parents across the country.
While there are many positives to the way our lives as parents have been changed by social media, there are downsides as well. With 92% of children under the age of two reported to have a "digital footprint," or trail of identifiable photos and personal information available digitally, we need to consider how all that sharing and chatting will affect them as they grow. It's a bit odd to think that when my daughter is of "legal" internet age (which is what, exactly, these days? Six years old?), there could be an entire world of information about her life on the web, within an arm's reach of anyone who might be interested. My task as a mother will be to teach her well about the pros and cons of sharing moments of her life online.
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The big picture, in my opinion, is that the social media-fueled world we exist in, filled with photos of first steps and videos of dance recitals, is mostly a lovely place to keep up with long-distance friends and relatives and share the community of parenthood. But we have to be mindful of the potential drawbacks, and weight that against what we decide to share. Our children will then learn from our example and step into their own virtual worlds with grace and a full understanding of how the social media world and the real world differ, and how their voice should be heard in both.
Follow Elizabeth Street on Twitter.