Published: 21st September 2019
Welcome to reason: Should we broadcast our children’s foibles?
When a child cries, parents are biologically programmed to spring into action — blood pressure increases, for example, even if it’s not your kid. This perspective may strike you as melodramatic
There was a time when new parents recorded every movement of their children on camera and made albums — then showed them to their unwary visitors. Now, there are parents who do the same on a variety of social media. But broadcasting indiscriminately their child’s behaviour can harm them, warn Rebecca Schrag and Daniel T Willingham, both psychologists, in an article in The New York Times (22/8/19) under the title, ‘Stop Posting Your Child’s Tantrum on Instagram.’
What should a parent do when a 2-year-old shrieks inconsolably because her string cheese wrapper tore ‘the wrong way’? Increasingly, the answer is, ‘snap a photo, add a snarky caption and upload it to Instagram.’ Publicly laughing at your toddler’s distress has somehow become not only acceptable but encouraged. Websites offer ‘Best of’ compilations too to entertain viewers. As psychologists and parents ourselves, we understand the urge to laugh when a child howls because he’s forbidden to eat directly from the box, and we also understand the impulse to make these moments public. The problem is the mockery.
When a child cries, parents are biologically programmed to spring into action — blood pressure increases, for example, even if it’s not your kid. This perspective may strike you as melodramatic. After all, he’s not crying because his dog died; he’s crying because ‘the water in his sippy cup is too wet’. It’s funny because there’s nothing wrong! But in his 2-year-old brain, those two events may be equally tragic and distressing.
Another person’s distress should not be a signal to pull out your phone, craving ‘likes’. It’s bad enough when it’s a stranger on a plane, but much worse when it’s your child, who needs your respect and compassion. Yes, children should learn to laugh at themselves, but these early lessons should involve some harmless folly the child can understand. Instagram posters probably feel that their laughter is innocent, given that ‘the child will never see the video’. But if an action is wrong, the awareness part is besides the point — it’s not okay to cheat on your spouse just because she stays in the dark about it!
Parents have needs too, but you can satisfy them without mocking your child. When a tantrum jangles your nerves, instead of laughing, try this empirically proven method of interrupting the ‘panic cycle’ — notice your body’s response (the racing heart, the shallow breathing), and remember that your reaction is biological, and not a cause for alarm.
Solidarity with other parents comes from sharing your experiences in raising kids, so continue posting stories and pictures of your children — just don’t mock them. If you absolutely must tell someone about your kid falling apart, tell a family member or a close friend. Remember, the strangers on the internet don’t love your child. Raising children is complicated, but always laugh with your children, never at them!