Social Media Comparisons and Motherhood: All Too Common

If you compare yourself with others while on social media, you are not alone; such comparisons are fairly common. But if you’re a mother making those comparisons,the likelihood that you’ll feel worse as a result of them is increased, according to a recent study published in Computers in Human Behavior, and the number of people affected by your comparisons is potentially greater. School of Family Life Professor Sarah Coyne examined the connection between making social comparisons on social networking sites with a mothers’ parenting, mental health, and romantic relationship outcomes. Results concluded that mothers making social media comparisons are affected in their parenting, mental health, and romantic relationships.

Coyne, Sarah
Sarah Coyne

Coyne and her associates, Brandon T. McDaniel and Laura A. Stockdale, asked 721 mothers social media use, parenting behaviors, and health outcomes, for the iMom Project.  Most of them were caucasian, had a college degree, and one or two children, with their youngest or only child being about 1 1/2 years old. Most of them were middle-class, married, heterosexual. Coyne’s research acknowledged that people post their idealized life and best self on social media. “If people compare others’ ‘best selves’ conveyed through social media to their own ‘normal selves’ or ‘worst selves’ this may result in increased negative social comparisons and decreased overall mental health and well-being,”she says.

“Even when difficult parts of parenting are presented,” she continues, “many parents laugh it off online or portray themselves as cool under pressure. Rarely, do we see the true face of parenting online, where parents present the frustrations, exhaustion, self-doubt, and pressure combined with the joy that exists in a typical parenting context. They may wonder why parenting is so easy for others, when it feels so difficult to them. These feelings may increase a sense of role overload…, parental stress…, higher levels of depression…, lower feelings of support, and less positive perceptions of the coparenting relationship.”

Feeling Content in a Comparing World

With this in mind, Coyne et al. caution others to “focus on developing a positive view of self as a mother as opposed to focusing on comparing one’s own self with the many idealized images and portrayals of mothers online. [This] may be helpful in mitigating the negative impact of social comparisons on social networking sites.” The College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences at BYU provides many resources to support mothers in those kinds of efforts, from posts and publications on parenting, single parenting, marriage, and relationships, as well as publications and events on those topics, and places to spend family time, like the Museum of Peoples and Cultures

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5 Expert Tips for Managing Your Kids’ Social Media Use

Social media is now an essential fiber in the thread of most adolescents’ social life. Kids and teens use social media everywhere. They use it at home, on the road, and even at baseball games. Although it is impossible to be absolutely certain that your kids are free from social threats on their social sites, parents can take some small and simple steps to secure some online safety for their kids and peace of mind for themselves.

One of the leading experts in teen social media use, Marion K. Underwood, visited BYU campus two weeks ago to present her findings on the subject. She suggests that parents:

Follow Their Kids

If you don’t have a social media account, get one! Your children can benefit from knowing that you will see what things they post, and some of what will be shared with them. Being your child’s friend and follower is a simple way to stay aware of what they experience, and even show you care.

Also, make sure to be more than a passive observer of social media content. Participate! Post, like, and comment on different material. Being a more active participant in social media will help you understand where your child is coming from. Dr. Underwood, as she received likes and responses to her personal social media content, recounted, “I was amazed at how thrilled I was.” She now has a better understanding of what her children feel as they participate in social media conversations.

Experiences like these will help you to empathize with your child. “By creating your own account and joining these platforms,” says Underwood, “You will understand the power of digital communication in a way you never thought possible.”

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Take Away Phones at Night

“85% of the students in [our] study said they slept with their [phones] under their pillows so they could hear an incoming text message in the middle of the night. Disruption in sleep is terrible for adolescents,” said Underwood.

Further, when teens are alone in their rooms, they are more likely to subject themselves to negative content, which is widely available on all platforms. Making this quick rule will lessen the likelihood of teens dwelling on negative messages.

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Set Specific Guidelines for Specific Situations

“I think we all need to structure our homes and our children’s time to avoid over-involvement with social media,” says Underwood. She suggests at least two ideas:

  • No phones during meals.

“[This includes] family meals at home, at restaurants, that includes parents – everybody has to put their phones away.”

  • No phones in the car.

“A rule that I had when I would miss my work time to drive children around in carpools was ‘no phones in the car,’ said Underwood. “If I’m spending my time to take my young ladies places, I wanted them to converse with me. So I would say, you’re not going to look at your phone . You’re going to talk about your day. And every family can come up with their own set of guidelines.”

Further, children and teens are capable of doing a lot of good on their various platforms. Encouraging children to engage in pro-social behavior on social media can be beneficial to overall mental health and well-being.

Setting these kinds of boundaries doesn’t absolutely assure that your home’s parent-child interaction will be full of green pastures, but it does mean that family stability will more easily prevail over the outside social world.

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Talk Openly

Social media is a big deal to your kids. “Online experiences [are] vitally important to…students,” Underwood said. “When we asked them what was more important, their offline social experiences or their online experiences, they said online social experiences were more important in their lives.”

“I’m not a big fan of monitoring software,” says Underwood, “Young people are very smart about how to get around it and platforms change all the time. Our best hope of influencing their online conduct – their online experience, is to use our relationships to discuss with them.”

Invite Children to Help 

Children and teens can help you to help them. Dana Boyd, author of It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens wrote: “What makes the digital street safe is when teens and adults collectively agree to open their eyes and pay attention, communicate, and collaboratively negotiate difficult situations.”

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“Teens need the freedom to wander the digital street, but they also need to know that caring adults are behind them and supporting them wherever they go.”

You can have a positive influence on your children. It is never too late to begin implementing guidelines for a positive social media experience.


You can view Dr. Underwood’s full lecture here:

 

 

What guidelines do you have in YOUR home for social media use?