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How best to avoid parent trap of online over-loading

Social media boasts about your children's latest achievements can feel good,however, they might irritate other mums and dads. Author Sarah Ockwell-Smith gives tips on 'sensitive sharing'

By Lisa Salmon

Published 27/06/2016

Baby talk: many go online to share their child's progress
Baby talk: many go online to share their child's progress
Sarah Ockwell-Smith

When a baby or child achieves something fantastic - from taking their first steps to coming top in an exam - it's hard for many parents not to jump straight on social media to share it with the world.

But have you ever thought about how your post may be perceived by others? New research shows 93% of parents believe social media encourages them to 'over-share' about their babies, and more than a quarter (27%) say they feel under pressure to keep up every week, with 12% admitting to feeling this pressure almost daily.

The problem, it seems, is many social media fans who are also parents feel other mums and dads tend to make claims about their children that are either untrue or exaggerated, that they're boasting unnecessarily, or that whatever the truth of the post, it may make other parents feel bad because their child hasn't achieved the same thing, according to the research commissioned by WaterWipes.

The top culprits identified in the survey are 'Super Mum' posts (mums who claim to fit in a thousand things a day and still look glamorous); Unrealistic achievements (such as, 'Back in my skinny jeans after two weeks'), and New baby milestones - like baby's first steps, sleeping through the night and more.

Mum-of-four and parenting author Sarah Ockwell-Smith points out that social media can be a great virtual support network for mothers, building a community which they can lean on and turn to for advice. "For a lot of new mothers, this is an incredibly positive experience," she says. "When your baby achieves something, you'll likely want to shout it from the rooftops, both in the real world or on social media.

"However, the comparison with others online can cause some mothers to be overwhelmed by feelings that they aren't good enough, and that their children should be doing better."

The survey found Facebook was the biggest over-sharing platform for new parents, with Instagram in second place.

A third of mums said they always 'like' or 'comment' on posts from parent friends, to help them feel positive reinforcement, and 17% admitted that receiving likes and comments on their own posts helped them feel validated as a parent. Indeed, 16% of new mums believe posting online helps them feel less alone when they're looking after their baby.

However, some are cynical about other people's posts, with 33% of mums and 24% of dads saying they don't believe posts are true. Ockwell-Smith warns it's not easy to predict how your social media comments will affect others.

"You may be excited that your baby has just started crawling, yet one of your friends who sees your post on social media may be concerned about her baby's development and lack of motor skills. There are so many possible reactions that are often impossible to anticipate," she says.

But she stresses this doesn't mean you should never share pictures or updates of your child's progress. "The vast majority of your friends and family are likely to be thrilled to coo over your baby photos, however there are ways to be more mindful of what you post.

"Be a more 'sensitive sharer', particularly if you're aware of friends having a hard time parenting or even conceiving a baby."

Here are Ockwell-Smith's top tips for parents sharing on social media:

Know your audience

Are any of your close friends or family struggling with something, or are there issues that would be better to avoid with them? Consider this before posting on social media - many topics or opinions are better suited to conversations in person, as you can read each other's feelings much more easily.

Check in with friends offline

Sometimes sharing with the masses means we're lazy at communicating with friends who really matter. Some people over-share as a cry for help, so if you think someone you know might be having a hard time, engage with them directly.

Don't dismiss friends' concerns

Pay attention - sometimes people just need a listening ear, other times you may want to help them seek professional advice.

Celebrate others' achievements

If your friend is really proud of her baby, for saying his first word for example, share in her pride.

Share failures as well

Sometimes, the less perfect moments can be brilliant - from messy kids' mealtimes to leaving the house with dried baby food on your clothes. It will remind your friends you're human.

Ockwell-Smith adds: "Don't fret about sharing the 'imperfect' moments - motherhood is glossed over too much. Sharing bad days or messy moments with a healthy dose of humour will make your friends smile with understanding.

"Striking a good balance between photos of messy houses and beautiful nurseries, tales of pride and tales of exhaustion can make you much more human."

Belfast Telegraph

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