By Brittany D. Linde, PhD
Moms can use social media for healthy self-expression and social support; AND healthy boundaries are essential
I’m a mom. I’ve blogged about being a mom before. It’s a newer role for me; my daughter turned two in November. Since I’ve become a mom, I’ve learned why moms lean on social media for education and support. I’ve also learned why social media is, quite possibly, the WORST place for moms to hang out. Let me digress.
“Mom” groups are everywhere. I’ve joined mom groups on social media for support related to getting out stains, washing diapers (we cloth diapered), work-related questions, breastfeeding tips/tricks/concerns, etc. There are thousands of these groups online. In general, they are helpful if you use them for what they are supposed to be used for -- a quick fix or a simple solution to a problem.
However, moms can find themselves easily (and unwittingly) pulled into these groups. They begin to relate to each other and form friendships within the groups.
For the most part, the people you interact with in these groups are superficial “internet friends”; ones you will most likely never meet. And what you’ll learn, after spending some time in these groups, is that almost no one truly cares about you as a person.
The groups are places for people to seek opinions, express opinions, or wildly vent without any repercussions (unless a moderator or administrator bans or blocks them for violating group rules).
I have been kicked out of many groups for expressing my opinion when I’m asked to share it. I couldn’t care any less; it’s their loss. But I have a very strong backbone. Not everyone has skin as thick as I do.
I’ve witnessed and heard stories about ladies who become clinically depressed or even suicidal after being bullied, shunned and/or removed from groups they’ve invested so much time in.
RESOURCES & RESEARCH NOTE
Blogging May Improve New Mother’s Well-Being (Research)
What is even worse, I’ve seen admins mock and make fun of those mentally unstable women after they’ve blocked them. It’s disgusting, despicable and, after explaining to them the harm they’ve caused, I leave these groups. I’m sure they probably just make fun of me after I leave too, but when they’ve violated my personal values of integrity, compassion, and respect, I have to stand up for others who cannot stand up for themselves.
While some research supports these negative effects of social media; there are studies that show positive effects for mothers who use social media (see Resources & Research note).
Yes, let me be clear, not all “mom” groups are full of evil trolls waiting to pounce on unsuspecting victims. But virtual friendships, while seemingly harmless and even positive in some respects, are not the ones moms need to prioritize. When we become moms, we need real-life, in-person, “come-hold-this-kid-for-a-few-minutes-so-I-can-take-my-first-shower-this-week” support.
Moms need face-to-face contact with individuals who care; not those who have the audacity to spout nonsensical, heartless comments at vulnerable women who are just trying to get through one day at a time.
I will say it again -- social media is one of the easiest and, for most moms, the worst place to get sucked into.
3 SUGGESTIONS: Assess, Consider, Strategize
As a PhD in Leisure Studies with expertise in interpersonal communication and subjective well-being, I’d like to make some suggestions to help moms increase the meaningfulness of their interpersonal and independent free time (yes, it’s good to do things alone!). Less time on the internet, whether on your phone or computer, is a positive thing – I promise.
(Bottom line: How does social media help you with healthy self-expression, with feeling supported, and your general well-being?)
- Assess the time you’re contributing to your social media presence.
- STEP 1. Log the hours and times of day you spend on social media over a typical week.
- STEP 2. When you reflect on this amount of time, do you notice that the amount of time evokes anxiety or pleasure (think Marie Kondo: “Does it spark joy?”)?
- Make a pros and cons list of your reasons for spending time on social media. How do these lists compare?
- What things, people, or activities do you neglect because of your time on social media?
- What do you gain from spending this time on social media?
- Assess your current mental, physical and emotional health.
- STEP 1. On a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree), how physically healthy are you?
- STEP 2. On the same scale, how emotionally healthy are you?
- STEP 3. Finally, how is your mental health on that same scale?
- Compared to your current state (or rating), where would you LIKE these numbers to be? Start thinking about what it will take for you to get to your ideal numbers.
- Finally, how does social media contribute (or not) to your current mental, physical, and emotional health?
For additional tools and information related to your personal wellness, please visit https://www.nationalwellness.org/page/nwi_tools.
(Bottom line: How and when do you reserve time for JUST BEING? That is -- healthy self-expression, getting support, and meaningful leisure that fulfills you and does not require media of any kind.)
Reflect on Alternatives. What are your alternatives to social media?
[NOTE: I’m not saying you should NEVER partake in social media; however, it’s best to establish limits and prioritize your time so you are contributing to your well-being!] We are human BEINGs, not human DOINGS, so try to think about these alternatives as your time to “be” who you really are.
- Get in Touch With You. Do you paint? Write poetry? Play guitar? Like to go out to breakfast with friends? Do you want to sit down to dinner with your children and/or partner and have meaningful conversations without interrupt from electronics? Do you enjoy or practice mindfulness meditation, yoga, daily gratitude exercises? Who ARE you? Take a few minutes to write down who you are.
- Follow Your Bliss. What do you value in life? Family, integrity, spirituality, time in nature, being centered? How are your values being tended to in your current state? How do your values relate to your time spent on social media? Are they aligned; could they be more aligned? In what ways can you refocus what’s most important to you in order to increase your well-being?
- Make a Small Change. What small changes can you make to focus and align with who you are and your values? It could be as simple as putting your smartphone in another room and not looking at it until a designated time. It could be as involved as signing up for a partner painting class and scheduling more personal time with your loved ones. What does change look like for you? What can you plan this week? In the next month?
At my company we teach a process called “Health Consciousness.” You can learn more here. Basically, the idea we explore helps us to pay attention to what we take in or “ingest” into our lives. Thinking about the 14 suggestions in this article, how do you ingest in the four areas below?
The Empowered Health Consciousness course, teaches you to follow four steps for setting healthy boundaries:
(Bottom Line: Establish healthy boundaries)
- How can you strategize about your future use of social media? Think strategically. Research shows that increased consumption of non-interaction based social media (i.e. scrolling through newsfeeds or comments on a post) can reduce bonding and increase loneliness (https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1753613).
- Do the hours you spend online help you?
- Can you quickly obtain the information you seek and turn off the comments to the post?
- Can you leave those groups that are cluttering up your newsfeed?
- Can you unfollow those people that you don’t know personally (p.s. they won’t notice if you do) so you have more time to interact with those that you do?
- What works best for you? What can you commit to this week?
- Think about the ways you can limit your vulnerability on social media. Remember, these are internet friends; many have no filter. Be mindful that if you post about marital problems, child-rearing practices, or mental health that you may be ostracized, stigmatized, called out, or talked down to. How are you prepared to cope with these possibilities?
- Be mindful of the posts you make as well as the responses you have in regards to others’ posts. Are you being respectful, compassionate, open-minded? Or are you the troll? Establishing mindful boundaries around how we post and leave comments can alleviate many of my issues surrounding social media. Remember, psychologists, therapists, doctors, and counselors exist for a reason; use them to help solve your problems rather than uninformed, random internet users who have no business discussing your personal health and wellness.
Social media is an easy place to loiter. I get it. Please tread lightly.
But if the time you’re spending on social media isn’t bringing you joy, you should consider alternatives.
It may not be easy for you to take time away from social media; breaking a habit is not often pleasant. Working moms deserve to feel joy in their daily activities; we already have so much to do that is tedious and exhausting and anxiety-provoking.
Isn’t it time to focus our leisure-time on the things, people, and activities that align with our values and promote the “me” that you really want to be?