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Has Facebook changed parenting?

Maureen used to be obsessed with baseball -- and then she had children. After she welcomed her son, Charlie, and his extra chromosome, she discovered her passion for writing about Down syndrome and disability-related issues.

With two...

10 Years of pros, cons

As Facebook celebrates 10 years of likes and pokes, parents reflect on the pros and cons of parenting in the age of tagging, friending and following.
Girl using laptop computer | Sheknows.com

First of all, can you believe Facebook just turned 10 years old? What?!? I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit it seems like the online social forum has been part of my life forever.

When I joined, I was single and spent too much time watching Red Sox games. Nowadays, I’m mom to three children under 4 years old and no longer recognize Boston’s roster. The transition didn’t happen overnight, but I can pinpoint a specific period of time when my life went from popping on Facebook sporadically to, well, popping off Facebook sporadically.

Learn to lurk

Charlie as a newborn | Sheknows.com

In 2010, our oldest son was born 7 weeks early and with Down syndrome. I spent one month in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), holding my preemie and looking for signs of a positive future in the butterfly flutters of his eyelids.

When we returned home toting a heart monitor, we were tethered to the 25-foot space between electrical outlets in our bedroom and living room, where Charlie and I spent weeks. I had a newborn, a box that squawked every time his breathing stopped and a raging case of postpartum depression.

I can’t believe my husband came home from work every night.

I also had a BlackBerry and access to Facebook. Slowly, I nudged myself over to the Facebook page of the local Down syndrome community. Pacing myself, I began to lurk and read about other parents’ experiences. It was the first time I felt like someone really knew what I was going through. It was a blessing and a curse, because I also got a glimpse into our future via experiences of parents with older children.

Facebook allowed me to become comfortable with my fears and stresses on my terms. I found reassurance, support and information without leaving my living room.

Today, I have a blog that evolved to focus on issues related to Down syndrome, and I visit and interact with other parents of children with Down syndrome daily (sometimes hourly) on both public and private pages.

I’m not the only parent whose life has been forever changed by Facebook.

Build communities, offer support

The Allisons | Sheknows.com

Amy Allison, executive director of the Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City, has three teenagers (all with Facebook pages) and her own Facebook profile.

"I was the first person to friend my kids when they got a Facebook account," she says. "It’s fun to watch them post pictures and links and helps me better understand what is important to them right now, or for the future. I tag my kids often in posts that I want them to read — about potentially dangerous situations, inspiring stories, things they are passionate about or faith building opportunities."

Allison’s favorite Facebook page: "I love the Simple Reminders page. They post great quotes and thoughts to keep me grounded and make me think about my priorities."

She also manages two Facebook pages — Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City, where she posts 60 to 70 times a week with content ranging from research updates to information about events, blogs and educational strategies, and Just Like You Down Syndrome, which offers a place for viewers of the video about teens with Down syndrome and their friends to connect.

Allison’s reward for all this work is watching parents learn and connect, especially on the Down Syndrome Guild’s private forum, where parents can post questions or discuss frustrations and achievements. “It’s wonderful to watch other parents jump in quickly with advice, counsel and suggestions to help,” she says.

Facebook Tips & Tricks
for Parents

Want to make parenting via Facebook even easier? Facebook recently shared these tips with us:

  1. Facebook Messenger is a great way to quickly connect with friends to coordinate play date plans, or to check-in with your teens privately. (What's not cool? Posting "Call your Mom!" on your teen's wall.)
  2. Teach your teens how to be safe on Facebook:The Playing it Safe guide for teens provides some helpful tips on how teens can best present themselves on Facebook.
  3. And for parents: Help Your Teens Play It Safe
  4. Do the terms "poke" and "phishing" make you nervous? Facebook’s Help Center can help you decipher the code.

Talking autism

Jess Wilson | Sheknows.com

Jess Wilson, 43, is mom to Brooke, age 10, who is autistic (read this post about why she prefers saying Brooke “is autistic” vs. Brooke “has autism”) and Katie, age 12, who is neurotypical. (The children’s names are pseudonyms.) Jess began blogging at A Diary of a Mom to write and keep family updated. Today, her Facebook page for the blog has more than 40,000 likes and Jess has become for parents of children with autism what Glennon Melton has become for moms in general with her blog and Facebook page, Momastery.

"More than anything, Facebook has created both a smaller and larger world for me as a parent, and particularly as the parent of a child with differences. It’s been the key to finding community, allowing me to connect both with parents of autistic children who walk a similar path as well as with autistic adults, who, in some ways, know my daughter's view of that path far more intimately than I ever can. Both have been life changing."

Vigilant about negativity

Jess’s favorite Facebook page: "Although he doesn’t post as much anymore, I’m a big fan of Landon Bryce’s page, ThAutcast."

Wilson says she spends more time moderating the page as readership increases. “I’m determined to keep the space safe and accessible for everyone — parents, teachers, doctors, friends, neighbors, and, above all, people on the autism spectrum, but ensuring everyone’s comfort (or at least trying) requires constant vigilance. It can be both overwhelmingly time consuming and emotionally exhausting.”

Facebook monitoring fatigue aside, Jess says her uses for the social forum are as varied as her visitors. "I use Facebook… as entertainment, as escape, as a meeting space to congregate with friends, as a resource when I need varied perspectives or to compare experiences, and as a soapbox from which to try to affect change. Yeah, definitely as a soapbox."

Share an adoption journey

Kyle and Steve | Sheknows.com

In 2010, Kyle Rose and Steve Schuller began fulfilling their dream to be parents by working with the Independent Adoption Center (IAC), known for successfully placing children with same-sex couples.

"While IAC helps bring birthparents and adoptive parents together, they also recommend that prospective adoptive parents take a proactive approach in helping identify birth parents by networking with friends and family,” Rose explains. “As part of our networking process, we created a Facebook page dedicated to our adoption journey. We used the page to share more about our lives with prospective birth parents as well as to update our Facebook friends and family on how things were going as we waited to be matched with a birth mother."

One of Kyle's favorite Facebook pages: Family Equality Center.

But Facebook offered more than networking. "It turns out that our Facebook page was also a great support system for us," Rose says. "We received so many special notes of encouragement throughout our journey... even from people whom we hadn't personally met."

Today, Kyle and Steve are proud parents of a 1-year-old son, born in January 2013.

"While Facebook was helpful as we waited to become parents, it's actually been a great way for us to stay connected with our son’s birth mother and birth father and their extended families," Rose continues. "Not only can they see pictures of our son as he grows up and know that he’s doing well, but we’re also able to follow the things going on in their lives and share updates with our son.

"Part of what makes open adoption so special is that there is open, ongoing communication between the birth parents, adoptive parents and the adopted child, and Facebook certainly has been one tool that has helped facilitate that communication for us."

Kyle & Steve’s Tips for Creating a
Facebook Page for Your Adoption

  1. Play the Name Game. When naming your page, be sure to include the word "Adoption" or "Adopt," so a birth mother who may be searching for adoption information will find you.
  2. Link In. In addition to providing information about your lives and reason for wanting to adopt in the "About" section, be sure to add links where prospective birth mothers can find other pertinent information, such as your adoption profile on your agency's website.
  3. Share Your Support. Show prospective birth parents what's important to you by "liking" other pages that are meaningful to you, whether it's a particular cause, TV show or organization. They'll be able to see what you've liked when visiting your page and get to know you better.
  4. Keep it Fresh. It's important to post updates regularly. From our experience, posts that include photos tend to generate the most buzz.
  5. Lean On Your Friends. Ask friends and family to "like" your adoption page, and ask them to share the page or individual posts with their Facebook friends. The more people who know about your adoption journey and your hopes to adopt, the better.

More about social media and parenting

Social media: Help for parents of kids with special needs
Teens and the consequences of social media
Statistics about teens and social media use

Image Credit: David Burton/Fuse/Getty Images
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