Has social media fed our addiction to live vicariously through our kids? When I was growing up the picture of a stage parent belonged to moms and dads of famous singers or actors that everyone knew. There wasn’t so much of a high from someone’s little 4th grader on a soccer field scoring a few goals other than the approval of a group of parents huddled under umbrellas on the sideline, grandma’s flipbook of photos in her purse and the quick conversation at the grocery store. That used to be enough.
But now, every single accomplishment our kids have can be blasted across multiple social media platforms. Parents are simultaneously watching a game and posting highlights, pictures, clips, and missing half the game. That perfect family still picture we used to hold up as proof of our flawless family unit has shifted into an entire platform of advertising our success as people and as parents. The opportunities our kids have today to be publicly recognized are so much larger than we ever had as kids, so as loving and competitive people we want to make sure they get what we never had. That push that for certain could have propelled us into stardom when we were kids that never happened surely can’t be overlooked on our own children. We are determined to get them opportunities that, we justify, they will appreciate as adults so they don’t feel the regret or inadequacies that we feel about our own lack of publicly recognized accomplishments. Or maybe we were high achievers, maybe we can’t bear the thought of them not getting what we had.
The feeling of pride we have as a parent when our kids get those accomplishments and the ability to have instant “likes” from hundreds of people has set us up for a dangerous case of “stage parent-itis.” Have we become addicted to it? Not only can we use our social media platforms to praise our kids’ accomplishments, no matter how small, but organizations who want more attention and more customers are now preying on parents need for attention. They are setting up tournaments, online news, and voting contests, where parents are being baited into the trap of more public attention. Once upon a time we didn’t talk about kids’ names, where they went to school, and post pictures because we wanted to protect them. But in a few short years we have shifted into branding our kids on our own personal social media pages (or giving them their own) with just a few thousand of our “closest” friends and allowing others to do the same. Are those likes driving us to push our kids harder, conditioning us in fact, to train our kids like professional athletes and driving competition between parents? Whose kid can go farther, faster, get noticed more? Or maybe it’s simpler than that, maybe it’s just seeing what other kids are doing and feeling like we are failing if we don’t keep up?
There’s a part of me, much like many others, that misses simpler times before technology turned from a wonder and a mild convenience into a crutch and a distraction. But love it or hate it, we are marching forward as things change around us and none of us were prepared for the impact social media has made in our lives. We had no classes or warnings before it came, and all of that instant feedback drives the validation so many of us crave as parents who aren’t sure if we are doing it quite right. Beyond parenting even, it feeds the validation as humans we are searching for. At what point do we need to remove the LIKE button from our vocabulary and why on earth do we need it anyway?
Is it time to step back and take a look at what all this “look at me” is doing to our kids. To look at what message its sending about where validation is supposed to come from. What if the approval from the people who they really care about (us as parents) is what we shower them with (in person!) and let our friends and total strangers shower their love and approval on their kids and we let social media be about something else. What if we reminisce about that goal over the produce isle at the grocery stores with our neighbors like the old days and then let it go. Or is it too late? Because as I write this I know that I’m going to go post it on an online platform and then wait to see if anyone “likes” it…