How to survive being a parent in the digital age


My last blog about all of the advice columns and lists you’ll find online today for parents to do the “best” for their kids got me thinking; it’s a far different world today than it was while I was growing up. It’s not like we DIDN’T have the internet for my entire childhood, but it wasn’t what it is now. It wasn’t an endless and vast black hole of useless information and random nuggets of gold. It was dial-up, and more often than not, it got a busy tone. Information was at the tip of your fingers, sure… if you could wait 7 minutes for the webpage to load.

Most of the advice parents got back then was from family, friends, or just figuring it the fuck out themselves. You’d be amazed by what you can do with limited resources and common sense.

“It takes a village to raise a child” had a far different meaning “back then” (and I hate typing back then like I’m 97 years old or some shit). The village meant your local community. Everyone knew everyone. Everyone knew everything ABOUT everyone. Try having an affair with your BFF’s husband. It doesn’t stay a secret for very long. And yes, I know this because I lived in that village they speak of where everyone helped everyone, dispensed useful advice, and judged the fuck out of each other- only there was never any digital evidence of any of it. But at least you KNEW everyone who decided to toss their opinions of your parenting at you.

Most of us do our best to be secure online. We know there are weirdos and creeps out there, and we definitely don’t want to give them access to the intimate details of our lives- but most of us also let things slide just a wee bit. My friend’s uncle’s brother’s cousin? We have 2 mutual friends. Why not! You play Farmville? Hey! I do too! Let me just click the Add Friend button!

We don’t just open ourselves up beyond the traditional “village” that way, though. With all of this information FINALLY at the tips of our fingers, with no busy signals or dial tones, without having to go to a library, or calling your Grandmother long distance- it leaves us all wide open. Wide open and vulnerable. To not only an overwhelming amount of wrong information, but the opinions of complete strangers to go along with those. It can be very dangerous, stressful, angering, frustrating, hurtful, and every other emotion you can think of to try to raise a child in this digital age if you don’t know what to look out for, what to ignore, and what to just laugh at because it is honestly THAT stupid.

I have not yet made it “through” this journey we call parenthood (and I’m not sure we ever really do), but after experiencing this digital village and all it has to offer first hand, I wanted to dispense some of what I have learned about this wondrous thing we call the internet, and how to make it through your children’s childhood without completely losing it. These ideas have been bounced off of other parents, so it’s not just me spouting off random nonsense. This is tried and true advice, advice even I, myself, need to take.

First and foremost: STAY AWAY FROM WEB MD! Web MD does not have eyeballs, and you are not a doctor. Describing symptoms to an internet program that can not examine your child and expecting the correct answer is like expecting the grocery store to offer teeth cleanings because they sell toothbrushes. Would you let a bag boy administer a test for a yeast infection? No? Then don’t trust a robot to tell you what is wrong with your child just because it contains signs and symptoms of  medical conditions.

Be aware of who can see what you write. Adding your friend’s uncle’s brother’s cousin may have seemed like a harmless action at the time, until you make a post about how your kid threw a shit-fit in public and he or she berates you for being a terrible horrible parent and goes off on a tangent about the kids of today and how terrible they are. You may never have met this person or have any intentions of EVER doing so, but you gave them the chance to respond, no matter how inaccurately, and they took it. For most people, this kind of situation is pretty damn upsetting. This is MY Facebook! How dare they! Arguing ensues. It’s not worth it. I’m not saying NEVER add these people, I’m saying be aware that this could happen. Not just on Facebook, but on message boards (aka the 7th circle of hell), on random websites where there are comments- you can get blasted anywhere, for anything, by anyone.

Be confident. No one can belittle you unless you let them. Do not give so much weight to someone who has either never met you or your kid/s, or has only spent a limited amount of time with them. Hell, don’t give that much weight to ANYONE. Know that even though you may make mistakes, bad moments don’t make bad parents. People might judge you, actually, scratch that, people WILL judge you- but as long as you know that you are doing your best and that you love your children, other peoples opinions mean nothing.
You’re rubber and they’re glue.

Don’t argue with people over parenting differences. Really, just don’t. It is so unhealthy to get into it with someone who thinks you are doing things all wrong. You shouldn’t have to defend yourself on the internet. It’s the frickin’ internet! What are you hoping to gain? Most of the time people won’t admit that they are wrong and will fight until they see they’re hitting a brick wall, and then you have them just waiting to pounce again. I’ve been there. It causes too much stress and anxiety, and kids cause enough of that shit already on their own. No one raises children the same exact way, and no one way is more right than another way. At least in the villages of yesteryear, if people were going to shit talk you, you could hang up on them, or kick them out of your house. If there were witnesses, it was limited. These kinds of people on the internet can follow you wherever you go, post where all of YOUR friends and family can see it, and the only deadbolt you have is to turn the computer off. Even then, they can continue to blast you while you’re gone to anyone and everyone. See how that can spiral out of control so easily? Just don’t do it at all! If you see something you disagree with, ask yourself this: Is it worth it? Is it REALLY worth ruining a friendship, or starting a flame war? If it is, make your statement privately.

Take all advice received via the internet with a grain of salt. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

TRUST YOUR GUT- I seriously cannot emphasize this more. Please remember that no one knows your child better than you. No one can 100% accurately visualize what is going on in your house if they are not there, so therefore, they cannot accurately comment on your parenting or how “good” or “bad” of a child your kid is, or diagnose them. Last I checked, Google does not offer doctorates. If someone implies you’re a crappy parent or your kid is a crappy kid after reading a few statuses or posts you make online, that doesn’t make them right- it makes them a judgmental asshole. Be confident in your parenting skills. I know that is hard to do all the time, but remember- no one on the internet knows your entire life, so the chances of them being right are slim. The chances of them reading what you wrote the wrong way or taking it out of context, however, are large.

And for the love of God, AVOID WEBMD! JUST SAY NO!

It’s truly that simple…. which isn’t all that easy- but as long as we parents at least keep these things in mind, I think we’ll all be okay. And by okay, I mean not carted off to a lovely padded room with a straight-jacket… even though some days that might sound downright wonderful.

Posted on October 25, 2013 by Holdin' Holden 5 Comments
Holdin' Holden

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  • I think this is a brilliant article Jenny. I’ve been shocked, appalled, and even mystified what people will argue about online. Especially in parenting groups, I’m just trying to maintain my sanity to my next bottle of wine. I actually had someone comment that I might have a drinking problem because of all the wine related material I post on my personal Facebook. I didn’t reply but I sure had a few of my friends do so!!! I deleted the post because it got ugly fast and it wasn’t worth it to argue about it.

  • LOVE IT! The one that I really have to remind my sister (and myself) is that Facebook has a little running feed on EVERYTHING you are commenting or liking. So even if you don’t choose to share info on your page if you comment on someone else’s that still gives them what they feel is the right to comment on you. And trust there are some times I’m just like “dude I really just did’t want to know all that chiz”.

  • Such good advice in this post and I’m not even a parent. I think we all need to trust our gut instinct. As for social media arguments, I’ve learned that my best friend on Facebook is the “hide” option. Most of the time when a post really riles me, I hide it and usually that’s all it takes to get me to stop thinking about it. Much better than arguing.