With daily access to a family’s activities and milestones, virtually anyone can respond to a post, leaving parents feeling naked to the judgment of others. When a parent posts a simple question, or light-hearted update, it can draw a response that feels like a criticism. The parent might post something as benign as a rhetorical question like “Isn’t she adorable?” or “Doesn’t she look happy?” – only to be met with a stream of unwelcome suggestions. The new parent might simply be seeking a bit of reassurance, or to keep in touch with friends and family. Instead they’re left feeling depleted after reading through the comments. A quick scan through virtually any social media platform will show that all new parents are susceptible to this kind of judgment and shaming, from an everyday mom to a Hollywood megastar.
The most extreme aspect of parent shaming, so-called "Call-out Culture" or "Cancel Culture", is a form of shaming where people are publicly humiliated in a digital space. The more common and pernicious experience of this comes in the form of judgement from strangers—but sometimes even friends—over social platforms. It has become so commonplace there are hashtags for it, and parents report high levels of social pressure and judgment because of it.
Some of the most regularly “shamed” parenting decisions are often around contentious topics like feeding and childrearing. Although the parents may feel confident about the decisions they’re making, it’s when they share these things online and become the victims of shaming that they suddenly feel pain and anxiety around the subject. Famous people, even Royals, are often targets of these harsh drive-by criticisms, as witnessed in the headlines of our daily news feeds.
By nature, social media runs on spontaneity – where moments are captured and shared without a second thought of having to explain or defend the content of a post. With a lack of context, people may use their imaginations to fill in the blanks, sometimes twisting the situations into fodder for controversy. This can cause a parent to feel targeted, humiliated, and inadequate. It plays on the mind and erodes confidence. Even the most resilient parents could be forgiven for taking such judgements to heart.
Social media also tends to incite a deep competitive nature, especially among parents. Comparing one’s-self or one´s child to the seemingly perfect lives of others can often fuel new parents’ feelings of insecurity. Being surrounded by so many opinions can cause an overload of stress and anxiety and ultimately undermine their own abilities to navigate the everyday.
It’s important to keep in mind that a lot of what is being portrayed on social media is not real life, but rather a highly curated, seemingly perfect parenting world fashioned right before our eyes. Confronted with these posts, a new parent can feel a deep internal pressure to level up to what other parents appear to be doing—judging themselves against something that never truly existed.
Ironically, today we’re seeing more and more people calling out Call-Out Culture for the damage it inflicts on others – especially the mental health and wellbeing of new parents. In fact, behaviours are beginning to shift in cultures all over the world. Although social media remains pervasive as ever, new generations of young parents, even those in more traditional societies, are showing an openness to breaking with the norms of the past as a way to minimize the stress of a demanding, highly connected world.
At the same time, social media is collapsing the space between once-distant cultures, revealing a diverse range of parenting methods to draw from—with progressive parents adopting some of the more traditional practices they crave, and conservative families integrating more “modern” approaches to day-to-day parenthood.
Even with its inherent challenges, there is plenty to celebrate about social media, especially in the way it can make us feel more connected than ever. A social platform can be an incredibly powerful tool connecting parents with each other, but even more so providing their children a real global village to be part of – a global conversation that can help us all feel a much-needed common bond and a deep sense of togetherness.
Discover the findings from our Parenting Index 2021 study www.theparentingindex.com