The Trouble with Online Parenting Advice

The trouble with online parenting adviceSo what’s the trouble with online parenting advice?  

Looking for online parenting advice?  Sounds fair enough.  So what’s the trouble with online parenting advice? After all, what’s wrong with reaching out for guidance at the end of a night with the kids and looking for help, particularly when any parent I know would much rather lie down in front of the TV or iPad to enjoy some much-needed and well-deserved entertainment? If parents are going to make the effort, whether they’re dealing with chronic temper tantrums or a picky eaters, they want answers quickly. So what’s the problem with online parenting advice? Is the online part something parents need to be careful of, or is the advice part the problem? Well, both, and here’s why.

Let’s say we have a parent who constantly wonders why everything is a struggle. When they finally get the kids into bed, they can’t help but think there might be an easier way. After all, they’ve read magazines and listened to experts drone on, and they’re still in the same boat. Nothing seems to work, at least nothing that doesn’t expressly deal with their particular struggles. So, they start searching for online parenting advice, and up pop thousands of options for people who can counsel, talk, and otherwise guide them through the minutiae of being a parent. But do they work, or do they just end up with a very expensive chat session? What determines that depends not only on the quality of help they employ but also on how they react to their advice.

The trouble with online parenting advice: Changing  behaviour starts with the parent

You see, that’s because changing any child’s behaviour relies on helping parents understand where it’s coming from in the first place. That’s understandably something people often find the hardest part of the process because they have to come to terms with their role. Having said that, those parents who can step out of their comfort zone and see things from the outside looking in will discover something very important, something that, frankly, is integral to bringing real, lasting change and happiness to their home. What’s that?  Well, changing things starts with them.

How parents react is habit

But keep in mind that, like anything else in life, change requires effort. I always remember Dr. Phil saying, “The greatest predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour” and that’s because the way we behave is, by and large, habit. I’m a creature of habit, and no doubt you are too. Whenever I get stressed over bills or paperwork, I tend to deal with it exactly the same way. I just get more efficient, but that doesn’t always deal with the underlying problem, and as a result, my blood pressure rises and my face goes beet red. My daughter says I look like a distressed Teletubby no matter how much I try to breathe. I can always rely on my daughter to tell me the truth.  I obviously need a yoga class!   

When you get online parenting advice, get someone who knows what they’re doing

All parents have a way of behaving when their children are difficult. Understanding what they do and how they react, and how that reaction either helps them or perpetuates their child’s behaviour is their key to changing it. So can online help really do that? Yes, it can, definitively, but it needs to be done carefully and by someone who understands implicitly that children’s behaviour reflects what the parent is doing, and someone who can deliver that message in a kind, supportive, and non-judgmental way that makes parents feel good about their efforts and fills them with encouragement so they can get it right.

Too much online parenting advice has a bad side

The fact that parents are out there searching for help on the internet says a lot about how much they want to change things, their dedication, and their willingness to work hard to create the family life they want. The good news is that online parenting help is available. The bad news is that it’s available everywhere. There’s a wealth of information out there, and I’m going to suggest that’s a huge part of the problem. You see, when a parent is out there looking for online parenting advice, all of that advice makes them question the one person they should rely on: themselves. Their instinct is more powerful than anything, and the parenting help they choose should strengthen that innate instinct, not destroy it.

We have applied the scientific method to parenting

Remember, we have been “parenting” for some 60,000 years successfully. Only in the last 50 years has parenting become something to study and be analyzed to death, and all that analysis and navel-gazing has made us infinitely less capable as parents. Instead of providing us with enough information to parent normally, it’s made a science out of it. Parenting is now something that experts have to interpret for you.

The instinct that has been with us for millennia is no longer enough. We’re told there’s a scientific method, and if you just follow it, parenting success will ensue. We know so much more, and yet we know so much less. Our instinct has been replaced by study after study.

While science is useful, it has paralyzed parents

That’s why we’ve got massive parenting manuals, bookstores full of books, and experts ad infinitum. That’s why we have studies where Doctors X, Y, and Z all come to differing conclusions, which have the direct result of making parents more confused than ever. Yet despite this, most parents’ belief in the scientific method endures, and therein lies the problem. Subjecting parenting to the scientific method is a problem because parenting is a natural process that has been tested over the entire existence of humanity. It’s not that the insights provided by studies aren’t valuable; it’s that because they focus on one small aspect of child development, they paralyze many parents’ ability to parent effectively. Parents simply can’t see the forest for the trees, and they become worried that every parenting misstep will become their new legacy.

Relax, mistakes are normal

To these parents, I say, relax. Children are far more resilient than you might imagine. They know when they are loved and cared for, and parental mistakes are par for the course. They are built into humanity’s learning process, and just as parents before you made mistakes, so will those that follow you.

Simple and instinctual last a lifetime

As part of my consultations, toward the end, I usually ask what parents think of the advice I have given them. During one of my most recent consultations, there was a moment of silence on the part of one mom, which I mistook for a moment of discomfort. To make her feel better, I suggested that she not worry, and although there was a lot to remember, she’d be receiving a set of very comprehensive notes to help her. “No,” she said quickly, “it’s not that. The answer is so simple. I never realized how simple it could be!” Well, there you have it. Does there have to be trouble with online parenting advice? No, just make sure whoever helps you keeps it simple and honest.

Would you like to create resilient children who bounce back from life’s difficulties, read ‘A Parent’s Guide for building resilience. ‘ For more help with your child or children’s behaviour or how I can help you personally, please visit my parenting services page here.

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