Parent checking phone while girl makes crafts

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Eight in 10 parents are now seeking parenting guidance on social media platforms, a recent survey reveals.

Researchers in Michigan say this trend underscores the growing reliance on these platforms as valuable resources for parents of young children, with 50 percent of the participants considering social media “very useful” for discovering novel parenting strategies.

“Many parents turn to online communities to exchange advice or discuss parenting challenges because it may seem faster and easier than asking a health professional,” says Sarah Clark, co-director of the University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, in a media release. “Finding parent comradery in this space can have benefits but parents should keep in mind that every family’s experience is different and not everything they hear online may be accurate or the right thing for their child.”

The study, which surveyed 614 parents with at least one child under the age of five, reveals a marked increase from a 2015 poll in the number of parents — most notably mothers and over two-thirds of fathers — who utilize social media for parenting advice or sharing their experiences.

infographic about people using social media to parent
4 in 5 parents in a new national poll say they seek parenting advice on social media. (Credit: University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.)

Common topics of discussion among parents on these platforms include toilet training, sleep habits, nutrition, breastfeeding, discipline, behavioral issues, vaccinations, daycare, preschool, and social interactions.

The researchers note that three-fifths of parents participate in these conversations to gain a variety of viewpoints, while a quarter appreciates the convenience of these platforms as a means to parent in ways that differ from their own upbringing. Additionally, some parents turn to social media due to a lack of local support, scarce chances for face-to-face consultations with healthcare providers, or discomfort in asking sensitive questions in person. Over one-third of parents find social media “very useful” in alleviating feelings of isolation.

However, the digital engagement is not without its critics. Around 80 percent of parents believe that social media can lead to oversharing, with individuals boasting about their children’s accomplishments or posting excessively. Nearly half the poll report witnessing the sharing of inaccurate information by parents, and over 25 percent have observed instances where parents posted unsuitable images of their children.

“Families should consider whether their child may one day be embarrassed about having personal information shared without their consent; a good rule is if you have any doubt, don’t share it,” Clark adds. “Before posting, think about whether you’re sharing enough information to get someone else’s advice without giving away too much personal information about your family. It’s really about stopping and thinking before you post.”

The convenience of social media for real-time advice is tempered by the concern over misinformation, as 40 percent of parents find it challenging to discern credible advice from misleading content.

“Social media is a convenient way for parents to seek information about parenting challenges in real time, especially in between checkups. But it’s important that parents identify reputable sources of information about children’s health and parenting, and that they consult those sources before attempting new strategies with their own child,” Clark concludes.

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South West News Service writer Isobel Williams contributed to this report.

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