Social media is the ultimate comparison machine. On average people check their phones 150 times per day, with 75% of parents using social media. As one dad I interviewed said when talking about social media “it’s comparing your insides with another person’s outsides”.
The good of social media comes from shared experiences, knowing what is ‘normal’ is hugely helpful. Psychologically it eases the pressure because we’re not alone and we get some sense of certainty that the short term suffering will end. It’s also a great way of accessing the world’s wisdom – ask a friend, and their friends and their friends’ friends.
Enough of the virtues, although interesting, they are harder to learn from than the ills. The first ill is anxiety. We know rationally that they, like every other being in the world, are unique. Yet we compare them to others in their progress in life. We want them to be just as good as, if not better than, everyone else at everything else. Comparison that shows your child isn’t keeping up with the ‘norm’ creates anxiety. Despite the fact that whether we walked at 18 months, 2 or 4 isn’t a criteria for success in adulthood. Neither is academic ability for that matter (in fact it’s family income and education levels that correlate with lower levels of teenage pregnancy, better school achievement and better mental health).
This comparison-driven anxiety can lead to parents become controlling in the desire to see their child meet their newly set expectations. Controlling specifically means:
· Meddling - Being too involved in their eating habits, appearances, hobbies or social life and violating their privacy.
· Perfectionist - Setting too high standards, not allowing for experimentation and child-direct activities.
· Unyielding – Unwilling to admit error, not allowing questioning or disagreement, setting rules without involving the child in those rules.
Guess what? Being a controlling parent means your child will have a less happier and more unsatisfied life.
Parenting is the job of helping our children develop so they can be their best self. This new level of love means we would do whatever necessary to make that happen, such is the depth of our love. But paradoxically loving them means letting them go. Letting them screw up. As many dads I’ve talked to say. It’s about creating the conditions for them to grow, not doing it for them.