Is social media a reliable source of parenting advice?

More and more parents are turning to social networks for advice on their child's health, education and behaviour. — AFP Relaxnews

From health and nutrition to behavior and learning, a recent survey of parents of young children in the US suggests that social media is increasingly becoming a go-to for parenting advice. More and more parents are turning to these platforms for advice on such matters, even if they are aware that they may find a great deal of inaccurate information.

A national poll conducted in the US by the University of Michigan Health CS Mott Children's Hospital reveals that social media is an increasingly popular source of information and advice for parents of young children.

The survey, which involved 614 parents with at least one child aged 0 to 4, reveals that four in five parents turn to social media for information on parenting, and to share their experiences – a "significant increase" compared to a similar survey conducted in 2015, the researchers explain in a news release.

Fast, accessible, practical...

In particular, the survey reveals which topics are most commonly discussed on social platforms: potty training (44%), children's sleep (42%), nutrition or breastfeeding (37%), discipline (37%), vaccinations (26%) and childcare (24%). And if parents turn to social networks to address these issues, it's mainly to benefit from different points of view (around 60%), while a smaller proportion cite the practical nature of these platforms (25%).

Many find them useful for feeling less isolated, learning from the experiences of others, and getting advice on whether or not to buy certain products. It should be noted, however, that for health-related questions, it is recommended to seek the advice of a qualified professional directly.

"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," said Mott Poll co-director Sarah Clark, quoted in a statement.

“Finding parent camaraderie 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."

... but not always reliable

A notable concern among parents is the phenomenon of "sharenting," involving the sharing of personal information or images of children on social media. A practice that, among other things, raises privacy issues. In particular, parents have concerns about certain other parents over-sharing information about their children (around 80%), the risk of revealing too much personal information (around 60%), sharing false or misleading information (almost 50%), or even inappropriate photos (over 25%).

These issues prompt more than half of parents to use privacy settings or to restrict access to these types of posts. Nearly a third of parents simply choose to avoid posting photos or videos 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. In addition, parents should consult with parents of other children in photos for approval before sharing them on social media," says Sarah Clark.

When it comes to social networking, it's important to identify what's true and what's false, especially when it comes to children's issues. Some 40% of parents find it difficult to distinguish between good and bad advice. This is particularly true for first-time parents.

“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," the poll co-director concludes. – AFP Relaxnews

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