Child-rearing consultants on social media: Opportunities and risks

A woman holding a child (Internet)

A woman holding a child (Internet)

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Enab Baladi – Fatima al-Mohammad

Through social media platforms, mothers with their children are active in providing advice and consultations on proper parenting methods and dealing with pregnancy and childbirth.

They base their information and consultations on parenting books or useful information they read on the Internet. These women are widely known, and tens of thousands follow them online, the majority of whom are mothers.

Through the platforms Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok, these mothers explain the situations that occur with their children and how they deal with them in a proper manner.

Under the pressure of idealism

Feryal al-Salibi, 26, listened to mothers and child development counselors since the beginning of her pregnancy with her first child, and at first, she was not knowledgeable enough to distinguish between specialists and non-specialists and where she should get the correct information from.

When al-Salibi, a mother of two children, gave birth to her first child, she began trying to apply everything she had read and seen on social media.

She told Enab Baladi that it was not easy to implement all this amount of advice, and this is what put her under the influence of “a lot of pressure,” and that the image that these pages publish is full of “idealism” and far from reality, and burdens the mother without taking into account her condition or situation.

Al-Salibi added that every mother has a special situation for her and her child that no one knows about and that she encountered on social networking sites many people who devoted their content to giving educational advice and consultations without having any academic qualifications, and this made her more cautious in determining who she should listen to.

On the other hand, al-Salibi spoke about the positive role played by the presence of some specialized educators active on social media and the good impact that their advice had on her motherhood journey.

“Every child is a special case”

The educational specialist at the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), Majda al-Yousef, said in her interview with Enab Baladi that non-specialized people are not able to provide accurate and reliable information on educational and related topics.

The content provided by these people may be inaccurate and lead to a misunderstanding of the information given, and there may also be inconsistencies in the information they provide, which increases confusion among parents.

Al-Yousef added that the lack of practical experience in this field by non-specialist educational content sources leads to the transmission of wrong ideas or beliefs about raising children, which negatively affects the decisions that families will make.

The specialist stressed the importance of searching for reliable sources in the field of child-rearing when educational information is needed and that only specialists can provide these consultations who have in-depth knowledge of childhood education and psychology and sufficient knowledge of all steps of evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment.

Educational culture alone is not enough to provide consultations and advice, as the person will rely on his personal opinions and experiences to provide the solution or treatment, which opens the way for biases and distance from objectivity and the accurate scientific approach based on research and review, according to al-Yousef.

This ill-considered advice, which is applied and generalized to a large number, has a negative impact on children because each child is a special case in itself, and the specialist needs several sessions to understand the nature of the case and its treatment.

Child-rearing consultations should rely on a clear scientific approach and extensive knowledge of the field, starting with studying and evaluating the child’s condition, taking into account all the factors and circumstances that could affect the condition, said al-Yousef.

On the other hand, the specialist pointed out that social media has opened the door for child development specialists to spread knowledge, raise awareness, and give directions to increase the culture of parents to build a healthy child from psychological and educational aspects.

Negative impact

The US  Academic Pediatric Association (APA) searched databases and included studies that examined parents’ and caregivers’ use of social media as a source of health information for their children (under 18 years).

The APA recorded 42 studies between 2011 and 2020.

According to the association, parents use social media to obtain information about specific health concerns before and after their child’s medical diagnosis.

Parents feel motivated to engage with social media as they search for wide-ranging information based on the life experiences of other parents.

Taking opinions as information from other parents on social media and applying them may give contradictory results, delay access to appropriate health care, and increase the use of treatments without medical supervision, which may negatively affect children’s health, according to the APA study.

Interference of genetics and surrounding environment

Psychological counselor Elaf al-Shahrour, from the UOSSM center in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, told Enab Baladi that children can be different due to multiple influences, such as genetics and the environment.

Differences include personality, response to stimuli, and style of dealing with challenges, so general advice may not be equally effective for all children.

She added that it is preferable to direct attention based on an individual understanding of each child, his environment, and what affects him.

Al-Shahrour, who is also a mother of a daughter, advised parents to follow educational specialists, and to have a scientific and academic background, in addition to having reliable references to rely on when providing information or providing advice and consultations.

She pointed out that she benefited from the presence of specialists on social media when going through the experience of motherhood, with topics such as sleep regulation, education methods, and proper self-expression for the child, and the advice of nutritionists also helped her in the eating stage.

Seeking advice from social media platforms

Social media is viewed as a vast source of useful information, and as one of a toolkit for parenting.

A study by the Pew Research Center on a sample of 336 parents stated that mothers use social media as a resource for parenting more than fathers.

The majority of the sample agreed that social media is a source of useful information.

More than three-quarters (79%) of parents who use social media agree that they get useful information from their social media networks, according to the study.

Mothers who use social media are particularly likely to encounter helpful parenting information while looking at social media content – 66% have ever done so in the past 30 days, compared with 48% of fathers, said the Pew Research Center’s study.

 

 

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