Sharenting for Good: Using Social Media to Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem
It’s near impossible to go online without coming across a chubby-cheeked image of cuteness overload. More and more parents are sharing their children’s lives from their first grainy ultrasound to their birth, breath, and beyond. In fact, according to a 2010 survey, 90% of toddlers have a digital presence.
As Tanith Carey so aptly puts it, “social media is already designed to appeal to our most narcissistic tendencies. What bigger ego trip can there be than to produce a mini-me and pretend it’s all about them, when really it’s all about us?”… a pitfall that manages to ensnare the best of us.
On Instagram, mommies share carefully curated images of #honestmotherhood stories, bemoaning the too-much-laundry, too-little-sleep, coffee-fueled aspects of motherhood. Or you’ll find pictures of toddlers dressed to the nines in the most adorable outfits, with heart-eyed comments pouring in.
There’s no shortage of parental status updates on Facebook either where one-time friends, now sharenting opponents, roll their eyes over what they see as humblebrag captions of alleged child prodigies… and eventually mute those posts completely.
YouTube has its own culture with parents sharing everything from sibling reactions to birth announcements, pranks, fails… anything that can make you gasp, coo, or laugh.
Worst of all and regardless of the medium, social media has taught us to live for – and to measure ourselves by – other people’s reactions. There’s plenty of information out there about the pitfalls of social media. We’ve all read about how FOMO affects teenagers, how online competition leads to depression, how likes have become a measure of self-worth, and how we’re growing into an increasingly self-obsessed culture.
But let’s face it, parents love sharing. So how can you use social media in a way that’s positive for your child – where it’s not going to be seen as some form of digital narcissism, or a thinly veiled pat on your own back? How can you leverage these resources so that you’re sharing in a way that boosts your child’s confidence and teaches them love self-love and self-acceptance?
In a world of instant reactions to surface-level content, how can you show your kids that overcoming struggles and facing challenges are even more beautiful than their outfits? Or that they’re valuable well beyond their chubby-cheeked baby years… valuable beyond that cuteness overload fix?
Why Self-Esteem Matters
Grounded, self-confident kids who actually feel good about themselves have a greater chance of growing into happy, successful adults. They’re armed with a sense of self-acceptance that makes it easier to cope with other people’s opinions and judgments… which is increasingly important considering today’s online court of public opinion. In fact, these kids are less likely to seek approval or praise altogether.
Children with strong self-esteem are also more likely to take risks and face new challenges. Whereas a child who has been raised high on praise will strive for perfectionism and fear failure, self-confident kids can better cope with mistakes, pick themselves up, and try again. They tend to feel good about their efforts and take pride in their achievements.
Contrary to what some might think, praise, likes, trophies... They don’t help your children in the self-esteem department. It's important for kids to feel good about themselves even when they those aren’t being doled out. Self-esteem comes from experiences that help your child feel capable and accepted. And you can provide a forum for that using your social media.
Using Social Media to Build Self-Esteem
First thing’s first, if you’re a parent who is not naturally drawn to sharing information about your child online, there is absolutely no need to start now. There are plenty of ways to boost your child’s self-esteem offline and no one is advocating for you to change your ways.
But if sharenting is your thing, then there are some ways to make sure your online activity is working positively for your child:
- Keep it real: As easy as it is to fall prey to online competition. Remember, this is about your child. While your posts are on a public forum, your personal relationship is more important here. Your goal isn’t to pat yourself on the back – or to over inflate your child’s accomplishments. Your goal is to focus on your child’s self-confidence, so you need to check your own need for approval at the digital doorstep.
- Set the tone: False praise never helped anyone. Neither has exaggerating, over inflating, or otherwise gushing. Your child experienced whatever you’re posting about in real life and will know if what you’ve written is in any way insincere. If there’s even a hint of being disingenuous, your child will not only pick up on it, they will learn to believe that the real experience wasn’t good enough for you _ that it required some embellishing to be worthy of posting – and they will translate that message and internalize it to reflect on themselves.
- Remember your values: The online world is a place of superficial reactions: “Cute!” “Adorable!” “All the heart eyes!” Like it or not, people will have surface-level responses to most posts. While it’s tempting to share pictures that capture your child’s overall cuteness, remember that their beauty runs deeper than that. Make sure your captions and your content reflect your values and the sense of self-worth you’re hoping to instill.
- Accept them how they are: Let your experiences and your images speak for themselves. Put on your journalistic hat and document your life without labeling your kids. Your children are constantly developing and it’s important to let them grow and expand without being boxed in too early. If you’re a parent of multiples, avoid comparisons between siblings. Not only can they feel limiting, but they can also lead to rivalry.
- #achievementsnotoutfits: Use your posts to celebrate your child’s achievements – the ways they’ve been able to take their skills, resources, or their talents and apply them – rather than praising their innate qualities, or their external appearances. Remember: No gushing or baseless praise.
- Encourage their efforts: While sharing achievements are great, you also want to recognize the efforts that matter to your child. That may mean keeping a report card of easy A’s to yourself while sharing the hard work they put into a less typically praise-worthy achievement if it was truly hard won. It could also mean acknowledging hard work that lead to less-than-stellar results. You want to show your kids to be proud of their efforts, and to feel free to take risks. They need to know that they’re loved and accepted regardless of their achievements. So when they’re attempting new tasks or facing new challenges and you find that their self-confidence isn’t at its peak or they’re unusually self-critical, you can help them see the positive by focusing on their efforts.
- #momentsnotposes: Consider sharing only candid shots of your kids, if you’re posting photos. Whether they’re shots of your child enjoying a moment alone or a moment that you’ve shared together, it’s a good idea to keep the focus on real moments rather than poses. Poses teach your child to please and to seek approval. Think about how many times you’ll be asking your little one to stand still for “just one more” or the likelihood you may let something slip like “that was no good, let me take another.” Plus, candid shots allow your kids to live in the present, enjoying the moment, rather than having you disrupt them for a photo.
- Don’t do it for the likes: Remember to remove your own ego from the equation. Refrain from drawing your child’s attention to the number of likes or reactions on your posts. Don’t compare how “successful” one post was to another. Don’t try to replicate posts that did get more likes or comments. And always, always remember rule #1… to keep it real. This is about your child, not about anyone else’s approval.
- Respond with confidence and poise: If you do happen to receive negative comments or reactions on your posts, always respond with confidence and poise. It’s your opportunity to role model how to cope with other people’s opinions. Remain self-assured and tactful. There’s no need to be defensive or to engage with people who are looking for conflict.
- Keep it minimal: A little goes a long way and there is such a thing as over-sharenting. Focus on quality, substantive posts rather than flooding your feed with too many updates. You want to give your posts the space and the time to be meaningful. Overdoing it just distills your message.
With new technologies come new opportunities but also new challenges. Sharenting presents a conflict between a parent’s freedom to post and a child’s right to privacy. What you may consider an important and pivotal moment in your child’s life may be their cause for embarrassment.
Be respectful of your child. Think about how your partner’s or your mom’s favorite image of you may not be how you most like to be remembered. That bare-bottomed shot you share of your child could become conflict for you in the future, no matter how hard you try to explain your intentions.
Also, be aware of the longevity of your posts. With each new post, you’re increasing your child’s digital footprint. You are actively making identity-shaping decisions on behalf of your child. What you decide to post, how you word your caption, your filters and crops all work together to define each and every experience and set it in digital stone so to speak. This aspect of sharenting is a direct threat to your child’s ability to determine and define their own developing identity.
Finally, inform yourself about how to go about sharenting wisely and with your child’s safety in mind. Review your privacy settings to ensure that posts featuring your kids only make it to the people you want to see them. Consider creating a family account for sharenting purposes to keep your personal posts from making it to your professional network, your random acquaintances, strangers, and trolls.
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