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Parenting advice online is easily available – even real time on forums and FB support groups. How does one choose what is relevant from all this?
Ever so often, your timeline is peppered with articles on how to bring up a responsible child, how to raise a ‘successful’ child and so on. Many of these provide valuable inputs for your crazy, wild parenting adventure, but a few leave you wondering: like shouldn’t your child define ‘success’ for themselves, or why would you need 12 tips to be a ‘Super Mom’, whatever that may be?
Once in a way, a perceived parenting mishap also pops up in this mix. Remember the Japanese lad said to have been abandoned by his parents, or the toddler who slipped into a gorilla enclosure in the Cincinnati zoo?
It is good to stay informed. But with little knowledge of the specific parenting culture or exact details of what actually happened which cannot be gleaned from initial reports, it is hard to draw conclusions. This doesn’t deter some folks however, and even media houses. Their sharing and analysing make these incidents go ‘viral’, and they show up on every other newsfeed.
Of course, you could simply stay offline and avoid the commotion. But the Internet and mobile are nearly indispensable to modern life. For instance, quite a few of us are members of online support forums and interest groups. Specific to parenting, you have FB moms’ groups, WhatsApp groups for each child’s class and also groups for different points in the parenting journey, from breastfeeding to parenting teens.
All this online activity, coupled with the continual social media furore, can get overwhelming. So, how does one stay connected and at the same time true to one’s parenting path?
Preeti*, a writer and mother of two girls, 10 and 8.5, turned to the internet often for parenting tips before she became a part of an online moms’ forum. She continues to read a lot online on parenting and has her preferred websites. The content, she says, affects her “to a certain, small extent. But again, I guess I rely on my gut feel, instinct and the fact that I know my girls more than anyone else, and hence I deal with it my way”.
Experts echo this advice. “Parenting is essentially intuitive and mindful. One really does not need the support of social media to be a successful parent. Yet, it is always useful to be updated about the newer trends and see whether they suit your needs. Imitation or blind faith can lead to damage. You should know how much to believe and how much to apply. Match what you observe and what you read. You are always right because every child is unique, distinct and different, and nobody knows your child better than you,” says Nimrat Singh, Ph.D, who has extensive counselling, training and consulting experience with pre-primary, primary, and secondary schools, and has authored the book, ‘Proactive Parenting’ in 2014.
Aparna* whose interests vary from education to ecotourism, is mom to an almost 4.5-year-old, and has been a member of an FB mothers’ forum since her son was 10 months old. The group alerted her to little-known topics like the Orange Rhino Challenge – a yell-free method for raising children and home schooling, which led her to consider it for her son.
Traditionally, women relied on their older female relatives for support on child-raising. This is increasingly absent in today’s nuclear families and internet forums take their place. A few mothers also don’t appreciate the nature of assistance offered by the older women in their families.
“I don’t turn to them (older female relatives)”, says Neelanjana*, a criminologist and communications professional and mother of two. “I don’t need to. There is usually unsolicited advice (from them) coming my way all the time laced with judgement. So I prefer to do my own research or consult friends with young children”.
Neelanjana became part of an FB moms’ group when her second child was a few months old. The forum kept her engaged and helped her overcome post-partum depression. Such forums make one realize “one is not alone”, says Neelanjana.
For Aparna too, a major plus of such groups is that the guidance comes from moms like herself, “rather than from a know-it-all, up-on-a-pedestal expert”. The empathy and absence of condescension in these peer-to-peer 24/7 support networks mean a mother can readily turn to them for first-time concerns such as caring for a fevered infant at 2 in the morning or packed meals for a fussy pre-schooler.
Women also seek support on these groups for major issues such as when a child or family member is critically ill. A FB mothers’ forum once stood by a woman as she walked out of an abusive marriage and another who was nursing her partner back to health after he was critically injured in an accident.
But like elsewhere on the Internet, these forums have their downsides. While home remedies are largely harmless, one needs to stay wary of serious medical guidance coming from unqualified quarters. Parenting and relationship advice can also cross the line at times and discussions do get unpleasant and even personal. While most groups have rules in place to prevent such situations, they do occur. Group administrators step in when required and also have the onerous task of verifying member profiles.
The Internet, with its constant deluge of information, vast support networks that convert strangers into friends, and the constant peeks it offers into others’ lives – such as a picture on your timeline of your ex-colleague’s daughter with her Math Olympiad medal while your son can’t subtract – does not have to be a keystone of your parenting approach.
But from providing a sense of community, to helping you stay abreast of the latest in parenting as you forge your own way, the World Wide Web certainly has its uses, as the digital age mom has ably figured out.
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