Mental Health

Parenting, social media and maintaining your sanity

Parents find themselves with a brand-new set of challenges never faced before in previous generations. While social media helps them stay connected and informed, it could be harming their mental wellbeing. These insights and tips can help create a healthy balance.

At its best, social media brings people together, especially during an event such as the global pandemic we are currently facing, capturing memories and maintaining the thread of connection on which human beings thrive. According to Social Media Use and Its Connection to Mental Health: A Systematic Review, 2019 saw the number of social media users balloon to 3.484 billion, an increase of 9%, and that number continues to rise. Other research found that while social media usage and age didn’t have a direct effect on mental health, gender did. It seems women were more likely to have mental health challenges than men when it came to overuse of social media. 

Dialling in to the online community 

‘I have seen both faces of the social media coin – how social media can have a very positive effect on parenting styles and mental health, but also how it can compromise healthy parenting. The need for social interaction has always been there, but it increased during the COVID-19 lockdown, especially for parents who suddenly had to assume the role of teacher and 24/7 caregiver. Using the internet for social gatherings via video calls and social media platforms was the only way to see familiar faces and not feel so isolated,’ says Sylvia Monakane, a social worker at Life Glynnview

‘But when you examine social media and emotional health, it’s clear that interactions on certain platforms can make parents feel inadequate, scrolling through newsfeeds of “sharenting” and depicting picture-perfect Pinterest parents homeschooling like champions, when the reality might not be so. In addition, many families might be struggling financially – and coming out of the hard lockdown, many had to find new ways of earning an income. Scrolling through social media can therefore be cause for comparison and heartache, and can affect the mental wellbeing of mothers in particular, as they may perceive their parenting efforts as a failure.’

Sylvia adds that new moms are especially prone to postnatal depression and, sometimes, social media can enhance a negative body image, increase anxiety and deepen a lack of self-worth. 

Mother of one Eleonora Engelbrecht noted this about social networks and mental health: ‘It’s annoying when you click on one thing about diet and then get bombarded for the next month with weight-loss options. It makes me question my weight, not how healthy I am.’

Social comparison and validation

Research suggests that the number of hours spent on social media in South Africa has reached a staggering three hours and 10 minutes per day. Ingrid Roberts, mom to a toddler, says she spends roughly three hours on social media every day, which supports the research. 

‘I crave the time that I have by myself, after my toddler goes down for his nap, but then I spend over an hour mindlessly and exhaustedly scrolling through social media. It’s like I keep opening the fridge, hoping there will be something good to eat in it, but it’s the same as it was five minutes ago,’ she says. 

Mothers comment on social media and mental health

  • Ingrid Roberts: ‘I find the tsunami of influencers on social media so irritating – particularly their false perceptions of ideals. It’s also annoying that my husband, who uses social media for work and socialising, is exposed to these fake norms and then projects these ideals onto me. He wonders why I’m not a mother of three with a successful business, who makes the family superfood smoothies every morning, gourmet lunches, has the perfect body and claims that she “woke up like this”.’ 

  • Ruth Erasmus, mother of two: ‘Social media has changed the way I parent, as interacting with other parents on WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook groups has shown me ways to do things differently from how I was raised. I am presented with useful research, and I am directed to places to read up on and learn more about parenting and marriage. My social networks helped me to detect my daughter’s special needs and find support and ways to deal with that too. The access to a supportive, if at times faceless, community, is so valuable in our broken society. I think of it in the reverse too – hopefully, I can be helpful to others in their parenting journeys and in dealing with the hard stuff.’

Sylvia Monakane shares her tips for healthy social media use

  • It is time to trade the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) for the Joy of Missing Out (JOMO) and carefully manage your screen time. Download a digital-wellbeing monitoring app, which can encourage the healthy use of social media. 
  • Aeroplane mode is very handy for disconnecting and unplugging from the virtual world.
  • If you don’t like something, take the time to click ‘unfollow’. It really improves the algorithm of what you see. 
  • Put your devices away during a person-to-person interaction and engage and be present. 
  • Make your bedroom a device-free zone to enjoy better-quality sleep. 
  • Turn off all notifications from your social media apps to keep from checking your devices all the time. 
  • Find your tribe – people who make you feel good – on social media and in person – and stick with them. 

If you are feeling overwhelmed by parenting or any other area of your life, it’s always a good idea to speak to a professional. Life Mental Health is a leading provider of private psychiatric care at nine facilities in four provinces across the country.

The information is shared on condition that readers will make their own determination, including seeking advice from a healthcare professional. E&OE. Life Healthcare Group Ltd does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage suffered by the reader as a result of the information provided.