Facebook: The Scourge of Modern Parenting?

Did you know that Facebook is the scourge of modern parenting – and modern motherhood in particular? There’s a new campaign that encourages mothers to turn off the social networking site and play with their kids. The campaign is called “The Log Off“, and it’s built entirely around a 47 second long YouTube video.

This is not the first example of backlash against moms who spend a lot of time on social networking sites. I’ve seen articles about parents ignoring kids in favour of their smart phones, and I’ve witnessed an uproar when a mother tweeted, asking for prayers as paramedics worked on her dying son. And while dads do face questions about balancing social media and family, I definitely feel that the censure is focused mostly in the direction of mothers. I think that Annie at PhD in Parenting would call this another example of blaming the mother.

In fairness, there are some extreme examples of parents who have let their social media use get in the way of sound parenting. The most egregious example is a mother who played a game on Facebook, leaving her 13-month-old alone in a full bathtub. The toddler drowned, and she was been sentenced to spend 10 years in prison. I think that pretty much any parent would agree that leaving a toddler alone in the tub for any reason is a phenomenally bad idea. And I would argue that this is an extreme example, which is not characteristic of the way most people use Facebook.

Maybe I feel a little bit defensive, though, because I am very active online, myself. I’m all over Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and Flickr. But I also think that I am an attentive and responsible parent. And I’m not sure sure that social media is particularly unique in terms of its parenting impact. Much of the discussion surrounding parents and social networking is simply a re-hashing of old ideas. In the 1980s when I was a kid, for instance, we might have exhorted those mothers in that video to turn off their soap operas to play with their kids. But this argument is much older than TV, even.

I am a Canadian, and I enjoy historical fiction. This means that as a child I read the entire Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maud Montgomery about 17 times. There’s an exchange in the fourth book, Anne’s House of Dreams, that echoes a lot of the sentiments you might hear about social media. Anne, her best friend Diana, and the much older neighbourhood busybody Rachel Lynde talk as they prepare for Anne’s wedding. Diana tells Anne she couldn’t have had a nicer day if she’d ordered it from Eaton’s. Here’s an excerpt:

“Indeed, there’s too much money going out of this Island to that same Eaton’s,” said Mrs. Lynde indignantly … “And as for those catalogues of theirs, they’re the Avonlea girls’ Bible now, that’s what. They pore over them on Sundays instead of studying the Holy Scriptures.”

“Well, they’re splendid to amuse children with,” said Diana. “Fred and Small Anne look at the pictures by the hour.”

I amused ten children without the aid of the Eaton’s catalogue,” said Mrs. Rachel severely.

Anne’s House of Dreams was first published in 1917, approximately 30 years after the first Eaton’s catalogue made its debut. So when the venerable Lucy Maud wrote this exchange, it was from the vantage point of someone looking back and reflecting on long-dead concerns. By the time 1917 rolled around, no one would have thought that the Eaton’s catalogue was going to be the death of the modern family. But underlying that exchange between Rachel Lynde and Diana, we see a lot of the same arguments that we see today about social media use.

And that, to me, is the crux of things. Social media is not unique, it is just another innovation that we are learning how to use. Can it be used to excess? Certainly. Is it going to rip our families apart and destroy any actual human connection? I would argue that it is not, just as previous innovations have not.

But let’s come back to that whole “you’re ignoring your kids!” argument. Because this is the accusation that underlies criticisms of parental social media use, or the mothers of the 1980s who were too busy watching All My Children to watch their own children, or the mothers of 120 years ago who were using that new-fangled Eaton’s catalogue as a babysitter. It’s at the heart of pretty much every guilt trip we level at mothers who do anything other than gaze lovingly at their progeny all day long. Are we ignoring our kids? And if so, is it actually harming them?

Research suggests that we are spending more time with our children than our parents spent with us. A UK study found that fathers averaged 32 to 36 minutes a day on their children in 2000, but just three to eight minutes in 1975, and mothers averaged 51 to 86 minutes a day with their kids in 2000, but just eight to 21 minutes a day in 1975. And this makes sense, if you think about the way that we restrict our children’s freedom today. When our mothers sent us outside to play until it got dark, they weren’t exactly engaging with us.

But I don’t think that leaving kids to their own devices is so terrible. Ignoring your children from time to time may teach them valuable skills, like how to entertain themselves. Of course, we need to be ever mindful of safety, but I don’t believe that letting my kids play in my fenced backyard while I watch them from my computer desk and write is negligence. I believe I’m just doing what parents have always done – caring for children while also going about the business of living to the best of my ability.

So you’ll all have to excuse me if I fail to feel phenomenally guilty for my Facebook use. I have enough guilt on my plate already, and I refuse to accept any more.

I wonder what you think. Do you think that Facebook and other social networking sites are the scourge of modern parenting? How do you set reasonable limits for yourself so that you’re not ignoring your kids too much? And do you think that ignoring your kids a little bit is good or bad for them? Please weigh in!

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  1. Great post Amber. Yes, this is another example of blaming the mother.

    I took on this topic myself last year: http://www.phdinparenting.com/2010/06/17/oh-those-technology-obsessed-neglectful-parents/

  2. Rachael says:

    For me the issue goes deeper than whether a mother is engaging with or ignoring the children however. For me, there just seems to be about 10 other things (I feel) I could or SHOULD be doing. Things that will enrich me more or serve me better. I’m not sure the image I wish my kids to have of me is one of sitting at the computer. (Although I confess it probably already is…it was also fabulous when breastfeeding wee babes and there was nothing else to do!)

    Then again, I know that the interaction that parents had with neighbours etc in days gone by was much higher. So the social meda use is about engaging in a way that feels very necessary at times so as not to be parenting always in isolation.

    Can you tell I’m conflicted? I see both sides. I imagine I could cut my computer use in half and not miss anything (as so much of it is checking on who’s replied etc) I aim to do so all the time! With two at school now it’s a little easier to strike a balance.

  3. Anne! *lurve my fellow Anne girls*

    In the later books, Anne had Susan. Housekeeper…cook…babysitter…do’er of all duties Gilbert felt Anne didn’t “need” to do. If we look at her from our modern, judgmental, “spend every second with your kids!!!” perspective–Anne herself was a pretty crappy mother. She left her kids with Susan and ran around town, or split her kids between friends/family and went on long trips. She let them wander down to Rainbow Valley (ALONE!!!) and spent all her free time gardening or gossiping with friends. Even one of her daughter’s friends called Anne “an awful gad-about”.

    Blame the Mother has been around for a long, long time. Frankly, I’m tired of the judgment! As long as a child is healthy, love, and well cared for I couldn’t give a crap about how many hours Mom spends online. Or how often she gardens. Or how many late hours she pulls at the office. Or how much she travels without the kids. She’s a Mom, not a martyr.

  4. I work from home and I have to grab every second I can to do work online or on my laptop, sometimes quick 5 minute emails, sometimes online conference calls, and sometimes I spend all of naptime with my computer placed securely in front of my face. Last year I decided I spend too much time on Facebook, but that was in part, due to some drama that occurred on Facebook within my family that really shouldn’t have been made public and I wanted to step away. I do spend a lot of time on twitter – I like it’s fast interactions and it’s take-it-or-leave-it interface. I have made many good, real friends as a result, people I invite into my home and spend real life offline time with. I think there is value in online communities, and like you pointed out, I think there is value in Kale spending a bit of time by himself with his toys or books, and gasp! a bit of TV. I too refuse to feel guilty.
    Jen’s last post … Sense of HumourMy Profile

  5. Great post! This business of thinking that a SAHM should only cook, clean, and care for children 100% of the time has been around for a loooong time. I don’t understand this line of thinking because that 100% isn’t expected of any worker in any other field.

    I think a lot of on-line envy comes from wage earners who would rather not be in the workforce. Of course, these same wage earners ignore the fact that they periodically goof around throughout the day too. And, for crying out loud, don’t ever complain about a rough day as a SAHM because we are only allowed to feel gratitude for this stage in our work careers and we are not allowed to have any negative feelings toward our “job” at any time.

    I wrote a blog post about Facebook in particular where I liken to the SAHM’s water cooler: http://bloggymcbloggerstein.blogspot.com/2011/02/facebook-is-sahms-water-cooler.html

    As long as there is relative harmony in your home, who really cares about your on-line activities?

  6. As a working mother, I AM in front of my computer a good portion of the day. When my kids are on vacation, I work from home – and they see me in front of the computer. But I fail to see what’s wrong with a child having a picture of her mother as a working mother. A mother who is a farmer – should she not farm while her kids are around? A mother who is an artist – should she not throw pots while her kids are awake? Why is the standard different for a mother who is a designer or programmer or writer or copyeditor or any myriad of careers that are computer-focused?

    We all know, working mothers & fathers, at home mothers & fathers, there’s a difference between blatently ignoring your kids and being preoccupied while your children play in the same room. And honestly, can ANYONE actively engage their kids every moment of the day – when’s the last time you kept your 5 year old on your hip while you prepared, cooked, and served dinner? Kids have lives & activities they want to do too.

    I think where the difficulty lies is that people have a hard time seeing the “other side”. SAHMs think untrue things about what WOHM’s life must be like & what WOHM’s must think of them, and vice versa. Resentment and the “woe is me” attitude abounds, and blame gets passed because it temporarily makes people feel better about themselves.

    Truthfully though, what’s more important than spending every waking moment making sure your kids are your focus, is making sure your kids are safe, and that you are presenting them with a picture of you as happy, confident, and secure. It isn’t a parent’s job to constantly keep children entertained. Presenting them with opportunities to learn, explore, and play – on their own time table (within safe parameters) is certainly better than shadowing and corralling them all day out of a sense of duty or guilt while wishing you had some time to yourself to do “something else”.

    Good post, Amber.
    kelly @kellynaturally’s last post … If Not Spanking- Then WhatMy Profile

  7. Wow, that’s a huge amount of guilt being spread through “The Log Off” campaign. Facebook and other networks can be real sanity savers for many at-home moms who have disconnected from their pre-mom networks – their friends and former colleagues. At-home moms who are isolated are unlikely to thrive in motherhood.

    I spend a lot of time working at home, on my computer, with my three kids close by. When I feel guilty (and I often do) I remember some of my own history. When I was little, my mom had no dishwasher, washing machine, outside help cleaning the house or disposable diapers. I am sure I had no choice but to get along and play on my own or with my siblings. I can’t remember that being anything but a good thing.

  8. So for me this issue is about both balance and judgment. I believe that there is such a thing as spending too much time on Facebook (or twitter, checking email, etc.), but that can only be determined by me and my family, no one else. The judgment comes in when an outsider looking in thinks they know the whole story and also know what is best for the people they are looking in on- most of the time they don’t.

    I agree that this guilt has been around for a long time, in whatever manner it was manifested. Our children need quality time spent with parents and other caregivers or role models. They also need independence. They need to learn to solve problems with other children and to be ok when alone. They also need to learn patience and that if I am on the phone or typing an email that they can wait a minute or two until I am done.

    I try to limit myself when I am asked to play a game or read a book and I am not doing anything meaningful. Those are the times I know I need to step away, even if I don’t necessarily want to. That is when my kids come first.

  9. Monsterchew says:

    Love this! For me, the screen time isn’t bad. But what I have to work on is being fully present those times when I’m actively engaging my kids. Because, in today’s instant society, it’s hard not to feel as if you’re missing something when not checking in on your laptop or listening to you blackberry notifications, etc.

    My aim isn’t to forgo Facebook and the like forever, but rather, to forgo it when I’m not actively using it so that I can be more present for the 37th game of my little pony. 🙂

    And, Anne of Green Gables? My favorite books ever
    Monsterchew’s last post … Knock KnockMy Profile

  10. Point one: Kids don’t need parental attention all the time. Point two: It behooves parents to become familiar with the digital tools that their children are being born into. Parents risk becoming totally unaware of the digital landscape that will occupy much of their children’s lives in the future. I might add that kids AND THEIR PARENTS need to become digitally literate to properly support and BOND with our children as they grow up.
    harriet’s last post … CapturedMy Profile

  11. The only real limit I set for myself is my gut feeling. I try to listen to that. It likes to tell me when enough is enough. Have a beautiful day 🙂
    Wendy Irene’s last post … Memorial Day Love- Honor LifeMy Profile

  12. I find this pretty insulting. And even after taking a step back to see if the reason why I’m insulted is b/c I feel guilty about being that mom (and I don’t)–I still think the problem is not me, or “moms on facebook.”

    Pretty sure mothers have been asking kids to wait while they did all sorts of things over the years and the last time I checked a kid who had a constant parent play date was not the goal.

    I think they really went the wrong route here. Instead they could have launched a campaign that said, “Check-in: are you happy with your media/life balance” or something like that. If you want ppl to change you can inspire them with a better vision–not pain their behavior as neglectful.

    Not cool in my book.

  13. Just seeing the first few lines of this post on Facebook, I immediately thought “oh right, and before that it was soap operas”…clearly we’re on the same page. Since your blog is generally clean and family-oriented, I will refrain from using the language I feel like using towards people who feel it’s their place to tell me I should play with my kids more. I do know one or two relationships that have been ruined by internet addictions, and one mother whose parenting is, in fact, adversely affected by her computer usage, but you now what? A ‘log off’ campaign isn’t going to do squat for her. For the average kid, I think a healthy dose of benign neglect is…well, healthy.
    allison’s last post … Walk a mile in another mans socks Or somethingMy Profile

  14. Okay, I hadn’t watched the video before I commented and I just did, and now I’m even MORE pissed off.
    allison’s last post … Walk a mile in another mans socks Or somethingMy Profile

  15. Good post and very true…. I nurse on the computer so I’m doing a needed parenting activity while connecting and reading but of course now that the new baby is one she nurses less. I think if a mom was washing laundry or cutting up potatoes and ignoring her children there would be little to no scrutiny on her. I think mom’s deserve some fun time, some time to connect with others because parenting can be very isolating.

  16. I was just thinking about this very topic a few days ago. When I’m on the computer or the netbook, I feel that parenting gets harder (usually because my 1-1/2 year-old is hungry and it’s harder to feed her when I’m playing Facebook games…). So I often think that I should pay attention to her completely when she’s awake and use the computer when she’s asleep (but then when will I clean and work on my own hobbies?) After reading your post though, I don’t think it’s as simple as just logging off Facebook. Should I be paying attention to her every waking moment (of course taking safety into consideration?) It’s a balance that I haven’t achieved yet, and I doubt that I’ll ever keep her happy all the time, but I believe that most of my computer time does contribute to a lot of the stress I feel juggling between caring for my daughter and doing something frivolous that could wait until later. Sounds like I just answered my own question!

    • I think that’s just it – if your computer use is not enhancing your life, then curtailing it makes sense. But it’s not up to someone else to make that decision, or dictate what sites you should use, and when.

  17. I’ve been following this hullabaloo, and it’s ridiculous. As you say, it’s always something. Mothers can’t win. I love the quote from Anne’s House of Dreams! Yes, in the Victorian novels I read, the scare of the day was women who read … wait for it … novels. This is usually handled in a tongue and cheek way in novels, because, um, they were novels, but it was a real fear at the time and there was a lot of outcry. Those terrible novels packed women’s heads with romantic ideas (one has to wonder, like, um, personal autonomy?) that were not compatible with virtuous, pious, serious motherhood.

    Can you imagine someone nowadays saying that a mother was neglectful because she was reading Dickens? Wait, don’t answer that question.
    Inder’s last post … Blouse- Colette VioletMy Profile

  18. Okay…that video traumatized me. Maybe it’s the Jewish mother in me, but it made me feel guilty! Like I don’t play with Ari enough and I’m on a the computer all the time. But it’s true, Harriet makes a good point, kids don’t NEED attention all the time. They need to play by themselves too! And also, parents need a BREAK for G-d’s sake! We can’t be “on” all the time! We need to talk to friends online to decompress.

  19. That video is RIDICULOUS! Seriously?! I got nothing…

  20. Yep, we stay at home moms are terrible with that Facebook. How dare we have our own interests, especially right where the kids can see there’s more to our lives than doting on them? The nerve.

    I figure so long as the kids are healthy, loved, well fed, etc., what me time I can manage is fair game.
    Stephanie – Home with the Kids’s last post … Do You Own Your Business IdeasMy Profile

  21. Shannon says:

    Did you read David Brook’s column today? http://nyti.ms/kSo9Fy

  22. Like your earlier commenter, I also thought about the historical outcry against novels – what a waste of time and a distraction from proper things! Oh no! Better go read the Bible and wash some more potatoes.
    Lady M’s last post … Someone at This School is BrilliantMy Profile

  23. Yep, totally agree that some mothers these days are doing business online. Is our child to know what is Fbook and what is work time?

    Besides, it’s a tool. (computer/internet) We should be using it. If other things are array in our lives, it can wait. But we should never be ashamed for being online.

  24. I love this post because 1. you make a point I agree with, namely, it’s always something (because we ladeez need to be Kept In Our Places Dammit! How dare we take on airs) and 2. you make it with ANNE OF GREEN GABLES *swoon*.

    And I would love to watch the video but I think I might go bananas so I’m going to skip it.

  25. OK I watched the video. Those kids remind me of Flowers in the Attic. And also, SHUT UP.

  26. Like you, I am an eager user of social media. And much as you argue in this post, it is NOT ruining my family. In some ways, it can be argued that it’s enhancing my experience as mother because I can more easily commiserate with others about my experiences. It has exposed me to new ideas and approaches, and a wealth of knowledge I would not otherwise have had. Like anything, it’s about moderation.

    Somewhere along the line society has subscribed to this ridiculous notion that it’s the parent’s job to entertain their children. Of course it isn’t. It IS our job to connect with them, to be there for them, and to keep them self and offer love, but it is not our job to be there for them 24/7. That is simply no practical nor healthy.
    Christine’s last post … Feels like homeMy Profile

  27. Great piece here, Amber.
    I’ve been quite open about wanting to disconnect and spend my connected time more thoughtfully. I deleted my personal Facebook account in January and gave up my iPhone two weeks ago.
    Yes, I was that SAHM wasting hours on Facebook and mindlessly checking my iPhone when I had better, richer, more engaging things to do. And no, I don’t consider the Log Off campaign anti-SAHM or in the “blame the mother” vein. Every generation has it’s crutch, daytime soaps, Eaton’s catalogs, Angry Birds. And I think we need to talk openly about positive use of the Internet and that, like a lot of things, many people over-use, abuse, become addicted to.
    I don’t see this as blame the mother, I see it as let’s take a closer look at how much time we’re spending online. Should mothers feel guilty about taking some personal time and connecting online with friends? No. But, speaking as someone who has recently reigned in my online time, you have to find a balance. Some people are using Facebook and online time wisely, others are not. If you’re comfortable with your level of online time a 47 second video targeting those that have a problem shouldn’t bother you. I have a few glasses of wine a week and I don’t feel any issue with seeing a campaign targeted to people with drinking problems.

  28. I love this post, and the comments are quite good and thoughtful! Thanks for writing another bang on post…. Hey, my 2 y/o keeps bugging me to watch him knock over his tower again and again while I read this. I play with him a LOT, and I don’t need to do it every second of the day. I really agree kids need some non quality time, too. Time where they figure things out on their own. Time where they get away with breaking the rules. Time where they exercise their own judgement, especially as they get older.

    I have to say, that video was so contrived it made me laugh pretty hard. If you hadn’t contextualized it in your post, I absolutely would have thought it was satire.

    Good heavens, give me a break. I agree with an above comment that if I were scrubbing potatoes nobody would criticize me!!! Think about the amount of time it would take to make 3 meals from scratch, wash laundry by hand, and sew clothes for your entire family while you shoot out new babies every 2 years or so?! I think nature had something in mind aside from us fetishizing childhood into something that only has positive meaning if our kids spend every waking moment interacting with us.
    Spend time with them? YES! Play with them? YES! Read with them? YES! And lots of it. But 100% of the time? NOPE.
    Melissa Vose’s last post … GroucheeeeeeeMy Profile

  29. Hear, hear!
    Amanda’s last post … The Glass is More Than Half FullMy Profile

  30. Marcy G. says:

    I was trying to think what I was doing with two toddlers…..oh, I know, having morning coffee with my neighbourhood friends while our children roared around together. Seems somewhat the same thing to me, just connecting in a different way. And then there were the “chaufeurring years” where I caught up with others in the parking lot. Then the “go to meeting ” years while we built a Women’s Centre. Like most mothers, I was a superb juggler/multi-tasker.

    My children tell me they remember a wonderful childhood with a devoted mother. I remember being busy as could be, swooping the children up to be off to the next thing.There was lots of “benign neglect” while they entertained themselves or played with others. Thank goodness for neighbourhoods and other children. I also remember being on the phone a lot.The days were a whirlwind, while quiet time was at night with the bath and reading ritual, shared by their father.

    Things may have changed , especially with fewer neighbourhood women for SAHM to connect with, but women have found a way to establish and maintain bounds through the internet. It saved my sanity to have that female connection, so who am I to criticize a young mom finding her own way?

    I agree with the responder who acknowledges that there could be an overuse of social media. I’m sure there were times I was far too busy, especially on the phone, and could have stopped and played more, but, really, it all worked out. Nobody lives a life where everything is in perfect balance. Guilt is something that seems to accompany the birth of the first child. I have rarely seen a mom who doesn’t carry it. So I am delighted to see the reaction to guilt-tripping in these posts.

    Trust yourself.Tell yourself the truth if something is out of balance.You’re the best judge of how to make the correction. And keep your connections with other women as this will help get you though most anything .

    Oh, and I liked the nyt article. Thanks for the link.That’s a whole other discussion, isn’t it? But connected.

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