Exploring the Experience of Parenting when using Social Media: a Grounded Theory Study
Becoming a parent is a period of great transition in which a person’s relationship to their evolving identity can impact upon their wellbeing. Both group membership (Seymour-Smith et al, 2017) and social comparison (Gilbert, 2014) can impact on a new parent’s identity as they negotiate this new role. Parents, nowadays, face an ever changing social context in which social media use has become a normalised part of society, however research into the impact of social media use and the processes which underpin it is limited. The wellbeing of new parents is especially important when we consider that between 10% (Maternal Mental Health Alliance, 2020) and 20% (NHS England, 2020) of new mothers and 10% of new fathers (Singley & Edwards, 2015) experience perinatal mental health difficulties and this can have long lasting impacts on the health and wellbeing of both the parent and their baby. This study used a Grounded Theory methodology to explore the experiences of eleven new parents, who had infants aged between birth and two years. One to one interviews were used to explore the impact of social media use on their emerging parenting identity, their wellbeing and their relationships to others, including their baby. Two models are presented which aim to describe the processes associated with using social media, as described by the new parents. Parents used social media as means of seeking both information and connection and specific support groups were described as beneficial to new parents in meeting these needs. However, insecurity within their parenting role was identified as both a reason for continued social media use and as a consequence of using the platforms. This suggests bi-directional reasons for using the platforms. Furthermore, negative impacts of social media use were identified away from the screen. These included experiencing a negative impact on their relationships, their wellbeing and their desire to engage in performative parenting. Parents also described attempting to reduce their social media use; however this process came with challenges. A continued and complex process of stepping back from social media and being pulled back in was described. This study suggests that social media use, for new parents, is a complicated process which may have negative experiences attached to it. This has implications for clinical practice, throughout a new parent’s perinatal journey, as the impact of social media use is not typically explored. Open conversations about an individual’s use of the platforms may normalise the difficulty that can be experienced and support clients to identify those aspects of social media which may be unhelpful for them.
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