As school reports are sent out - is Facebook a blessing or a curse for parents?



For parents, Facebook can be both a blessing and a curse. As school reports are sent out, Lauren Cope looks at how social media is changing parenting.

The pressure to be the perfect parent is hardly a new phenomenon.

Mums and dads have long swapped stories at the school gates, with boasts and moans about every corner of childcare, from breastfeeding to exam results.

But the growth of the internet and, in particular, social media, has seen streams of smiling, relaxed, stain-free family snaps take over our feeds.

The tantrums, sleepless nights, arguments and scrapes are airbrushed away - and with numerous studies linking social media usage to poor mental wellbeing, it's easy to see how, perhaps most acutely for first-time parents, it can quickly become isolating.

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It's a worry many parents shrug off year-round, but one which mums and dads of school-age children will perhaps be experiencing once again this week.

School reports are starting to trickle home, ticked boxes marking a child's year of work and summaries on behaviour and attitude giving a snapshot into their time in the classroom.

A family tucks into a meal. Picture: Submitted

A family tucks into a meal. Picture: Submitted - Credit: Archant

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For pleased parents, it is, as with any other good news, an opportunity to share on Facebook - an innocent, well-meaning post for loved ones, but one which can leave others down in the dumps about their children's progress.

And it's proving a divisive issue.

Mum-of-four Kathryn Cross said sharing achievements with friends was 'completely acceptable.'

'It's a natural reaction to want to shout it from the rooftops but it shouldn't make anyone else feel inadequate, because they don't have to be top of the class to get that warm glow of pride,' she said.

'With children of varying academic ability I usually look for the gems that teachers write which mean more to me than results - 'he is unfailingly polite,' or 'he is a joy to teach' or my personal favourite 'his sporting prowess is legendary amongst his peers'.'

But another mum, from south Norfolk, said she would be unlikely to post her son's report on Facebook - despite being pleased with his progress.

'Some would argue it is no different from discussing your child's report with other parents at the school gate,' she said.

'The problem is, a post on Facebook is there for all to see forever. You have to ask yourself is that fair on your child even if the report is excellent?'

Sarah Brownsword, a lecturer in primary education at the University of East Anglia, said: 'There is a lot of comparison that goes on among parents.

'If it's positive news - they think their children's report is great, say - they will put that on Facebook, but if they aren't quite as pleased, they won't.

'It means you end up with this skewed picture of someone's experience.'

She said there was a risk of parents unwittingly passing their concerns and pressure on to their children.

Of course, it's not just report time that social media springs into action - and it's not always bad news.

Parenting communities on social media can be a support lifeline and a way of getting quick answers to niggling worries, while initial milestones can be quickly shared with loved ones.

Holly Drake, from Norwich, became a first-time mum to daughter Ivy six months ago. Two weeks after her daughter was born, she deactivated her Facebook account

'It's hard enough being a new mum,' she said. 'I was struggling to get to grips with how dramatically my life had changed.

'Seeing everyone else's highlights was pretty difficult. Another mum was posting about how her little boy was sleeping through the night and which classes she was going to - it just didn't help.'

She has since rejoined - and is now seeing the other side of the coin.

'There's been a few minor health worries that I've been able to ask other mums about, and I've arranged to meet up with one mum for a coffee.

'There's definitely two sides to it - but I wouldn't hesitate to log back off again if the pressure became too much.'

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What do parents think?

Liz Nice said: 'I can't think of anything worse than parents putting school reports on Facebook. What a repulsive thing to do.

'My reports were, of course, those one would expect from a child genius, but the thought of my parents bragging about this on social media, had such a thing existed in my day, is enough to make me want to turn into the kind of child who would sit at the back of the class and flick rubbers.'

Neil Perry said: 'Don't you just love social media? It has helped take competitive parenting to a whole new level.

'You can fully understand why mums and dads are very proud of their child's achievements but it can put pressure on parents who may not have the most academically gifted children and make them worry their child is falling behind unnecessarily.'

Jo Malone said she was 'super proud' of her three daughters and often shares their achievements - and disasters - on Facebook.

'However,' she said, 'My boasting posts are more of a record for me and I limit the audience to people I think will be interested, which often is just me and my husband.

'Rather like exam results day, when many parents are celebrating their child's successes on social media while others are receiving disappointing results, school reports vary between families, and between siblings.

Posting can make those without a clutch of As feel even more despondent.

'So if I was to post, I'd just say I was pleased with their reports and not give details.'

Steve Downes added: 'According to various school reports, I was 'garrulous' (a loudmouth), 'lively' (badly behaved) and 'quick to offer my opinions' (a know-all).

What a reflection of glory that would've been for my parents to bask in on Facebook.

'Thankfully, the Book of Face didn't exist in the 1980s. Countless children must wish it didn't today – particularly at report time, exam results time or whenever they do competitive sport.

'Parents who Faceboast embarrass and even humiliate their children, make other parents and children feel inadequate, and are effectively posting a public notice announcing their own insecurities.

'If you're proud of your children, tell them – don't feel compelled to receive affirmation from the number of 'likes' and comments you get.'

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