How does it make you feel when you scroll through the photos of happy couples and perfect families?

Social media is a big part of our lives. And although we all know that the staged photos and romantic selfies appearing on our feed don’t represent reality, how do we feel when these pop up? It can be different for everyone.

Mental health

“Research has created a wide evidence-base supporting an association between social media use and mental health, and although still emerging, new evidence has painted a broad picture of the main impacts.”1

Centre for Mental Health

It’s not just young people who are affected by social media. It’s become an integral and unavoidable part of life for many of us. The well-documented cycle of post-likes and the dopamine hit they bring can affect our self-esteem and where we look for personal validation. A study conducted by the OECD, found that those who used social media more intensively had, on average, lower life satisfaction.1

Anxiety can be caused by a need to keep up with others, the ‘Fear of Missing Out’ (FOMO). We all know that image manipulation on photo-sharing platforms creates unrealistic expectations for ourselves and our kids. Adverts and other people’s carefully curated family photos can lead to a damaging comparison and sense of failure.1

One single parent wrote:

“When the kids are finally in bed, I make a cuppa and I start scrolling. The very first photo I see is of a friend and her family on a luxurious holiday. They portray nothing less than perfection. I immediately start to compare my family and myself to theirs and I start to spiral. I go to bed with lots of negative thoughts in my mind and forget about all the good things I am thankful for that day. This did not have the comforting effect on me that I was hoping for.”

By the end of the evening, we can feel worse than when we first started!

For other single parents, social media is a lifeline. When the children go to bed and the house is eerily quiet, being able to chat with someone, join a support group or scroll through a news feed can help bring a sense of connectedness. One single mum wrote:

“I really enjoy being a part of my Facebook group for single parents. Everyone has been so friendly and offered helpful advice. When I feel a bit low, they cheer me up. We have even started meeting up at the park together to go for a walk once a week with all our kids.”

A report on The Impact of Participation in Online Social Networking on Parenting Stress Levels of Single Mothers found that mothers seemed to get relief in knowing they were not alone; they supported each other and suggested new ways of dealing with certain issues.2

Balance

When used thoughtfully and deliberately, social media can be a useful addition to our social life. The keyword here is addition. Social media does not replace real life. Some top tips for using it well3 are: 

  1. Limit where and when social media is used and schedule regular breaks. Studies have shown that even a five-day break from Facebook can lead to lower stress and higher life satisfaction.
  2. Be an active participant, posting and commenting, rather than passively browsing only.
  3. Use social media to connect with people who inspire and encourage you. Look up people who share stories of hope and gratitude.
  4. Pay attention to how you feel. Prune ‘friends’ when you need to and continually remind yourself that you are not seeing the full picture of someone’s life in one post.

It’s also really helpful to remind ourselves how our children see us. As parents, we are the one they seek out when they need comfort and guidance. They see us at our best and our worst, and love us just the same. We are their world and to them; we and our family are perfect just the way we are. Instead of looking through the lens of social media, look through the lens of your children. When we do, we see all the more the beautiful world that surrounds us.

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