I wrote last week about why my partner and I have decided not to share photos of our children on social media and how much of that is part of our commitment to giving our children age-appropriate control and by raising them in an environment of consent. To be clear – this is not necessarily the right approach for everyone. Nor does it mean that posting photos of your children will scar them or teach them to be out of control assailants with no empathy or respect. Our calculation was based on a number of factors – how I approach social media and how I hope to use it in the future, my partner’s views, and our lifestyle. I make no judgments, or even recommendations on how others should approach the topic.
But as I mentioned there were three main factors that led us to this decision – security, consent, and a third which can loosely be described as “my own shit.”
Social media is great. I’ve been a fan since day one (which I think is MySpace right?). It’s great to keep in touch with friends, to make new connections, to fundraise, inspire and be inspired, and to share what I’m thinking, doing, and writing with the world. Hell, it’s worth it for the pure entertainment value alone.
But it’s not without its downsides. There has been much written and studied regarding the impact of social media on mental health and self-image, especially among young women. The inauthentic overly filtered sheen of it sets impossible standards. It serves as a distraction from real-life joys and problems. It is a breeding-ground for scams of various degrees of exploitation, often targeting women. It can be a real time-suck, a productivity show-stopper, not to mention a frustrating tool. But for me, the biggest danger of social media is one of its main features – the external validation it promises.
I’ll let a professional unpack the root causes of my struggle with validation, but for now let’s just say that I like it. I’m deeply motivated by extrinsic rewards. I like accolades, praise, and respect. I don’t love these things about me, but I recognize them and am working on them. Or rather I’m working on managing them.
There is nothing wrong with wanting recognition for your accomplishments, in fact the idea that we shouldn’t seek recognition or compensation is one contributing factor to gender-based inequalities ranging from the wage gap to continued unpaid labor of women. We take on so much and demure at the thought of being honored or recognized for it. We dismiss our individual accomplishments, diminish our major achievements, all while minimizing our contributions to group work or team awards. Women are all too often working behind the scenes and allow men to claim credit.
Women, as a whole deserve praise, promotions, and pay equal to their work and results. Full stop.
But, as an individual, I know that my need for validation goes beyond healthy recognition, or at least it quickly can if I don’t pay attention – and social media is designed to make you stop paying attention.
Each year I usually take a social media cleanse, typically around the holidays. I find it good, necessary even, to take that time to reflect in private on my year, spend time with family, and set intentions for the next year away from outside influences. Plus, I get to focus on old fashion social networking – my holiday cards. This year I’m working on the opposite – increasing my online presence. I’m opening up my writing to more folks, hoping it resonates with some people and holds me accountable to getting my thoughts on paper. I’m also hoping it gives me the most precious gift a writer can get – feedback. Criticism and comments from friends and strangers alike. I’m doing this to become a better writer, a better feminist, and a better person.
But it’s different with my kids. I don’t need to open them up to criticism and feedback. As a mother, I don’t need criticism or feedback. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have this figured out, not in the slightest. In the past week I have googled “why is my toddler walking backwards” and “is it bad if a toddler bangs his head on the wall.” It’s not that I don’t need or seek out advice, it’s simply that I don’t think reaching out publicly for it is the best option for me.
Because the online world can be vicious, and I can be very sensitive to negative comments. I can get defensive and drill down into spiraling back and forths regarding cloth diapers, homemade purees, or sleep training. I’m also prone to over analyzing everything – and there is a wealth of information, often conflicting, when it comes to motherhood. I quickly go internal with this information overload and in doing so I’m certain to miss the cues coming from my own kiddo. (He has no preference on diapers).
But even more than avoiding the negative comments, I’m keeping my kiddos off social media to avoid the positive ones.
Stay with me now.
I love my supportive community. I love how much they encourage all my biggest dreams and goals. I love how much they send notes and cards and comments to that effect. All of those things have gotten me through so much, and I’m grateful to social media for that, but I also know how many times I’ve turned to my feed looking for those little red notifications to validate what I should know myself. How many times I’ve ignored the physical love and connection from people two feet away so that I can bask in the blue light glow from strangers I’ve never met. I know how much value I’ve attached to hearts and views.
And I don’t want social media numbers to dictate how I measure up as a mother.
I don’t want an algorithm to be the pat on my back at the end of a day, some code designed by a silicon valley genius to keep me on the platform to be my report card, my reward. I don’t want social media to be a metric for motherhood.
I don’t want my kids to be judged that way either.
My kiddos are a lot of amazing things, and will likely continue to be, but I don’t know how much credit one can take for those, and I know that the social media powers that be will have me thinking it’s all mine. They’ll have my serotonin and dopamine flowing when I find out that the woman I met seven years ago thinks the 12 yr old’s hair is so gorgeous, or that my son’s eyelashes are so dark and gorgeous (they are). They’ll have me buying into my own bullshit. They’ll have me thinking that because my family, all gussied up and with the advantage of a professional photographer and talented editing, is gorgeous and smiling, that I’ve made it.
If I don’t watch it, I’ll start believing in my own filtered highlight reel. I’ll ignore the actual struggles and problems. I’ll neglect to do the hard work to make my family happier and healthier, closer and more connected. I know this about myself, and until I can untangle those tendencies, I’ll have to be careful to remove the triggers.
In short, I’m keeping my kids largely offline to keep my own narcissism and my own self-doubt in appropriate check. Because social media feeds both.