Parenting with a PhD: Facebragging

By Kristen Berthiaume:

Dear Facebragger,
Your friends don’t like it when you do that.
Common Sense

Ever wanted to message the above to someone? I feel like it regularly. Whether your parent friends are bragging on Facebook about all the amazing things their kids can do or your neighbors are going on (and on and on) about expensive purchases and fabulous vacations, the constant competition gets old. Things that people would never say in real life (because momma taught them not to brag) are plastered on social media for everyone, probably including a couple of people they’ve never actually spoken to in real life, to see. Why does this happen? There are a number of theories. For one thing, social media doesn’t require us to look another person in the face while we’re saying whatever we’re saying. It’s a lot easier to say (type) just about anything to your computer when there’s no human reaction to deal with. For another thing, there’s such a culture of this kind of “sharing,” it starts to feel perfectly acceptable. If everyone else is posting their kids’ ACT scores, why shouldn’t you? Finally, much of social media is inherently self-focused – it’s your FB page, your Twitter feed, your Instagram account, etc. No question that much of the content will end up being about you but logging on to FB doesn’t give us an excuse to log off of basic manners we were taught in childhood.

What’s the problem with bragging on social media, especially since everyone else seems to be doing it? First, when you use your FB page to promote your accomplishments, you force others to compare themselves to you and, if things are going pretty great for you and not so much for them, that comparison will feel bad. Your husband is “the best” and your kids are all getting straight As? That’s great! But, I guarantee you have at least one friend who’s contemplating divorce or whose child is in danger of failing 3rd grade. As much as your friends may love you and your perfect husband and brilliant children, it’s hard to be happy for someone when they’re constantly promoting their many successes and things seem to be going perfectly for them all of the time. It’s difficult to feel that a friend like that could understand or support you if your life is taking some scary detours. So, while you think you’re connecting with others by sharing about your life, you may actually be alienating yourself from friends and loved ones. This possibility becomes even more likely when you only post the great things that happen and none of the less-than-great (not that you should constantly complain on social media – people don’t really love that either). Another unintended side effect of bragging on social media is it may make others less likely to offer you social support when something tough is going on in your life.

So, what’s the difference between sharing and bragging? Sometimes it can be hard to determine when a post crosses the line between being informative and being competitive. Before posting, consider asking yourself some of these questions:

Why are you sharing? If it’s because the post will benefit others or update them about something they should know (e.g., you’re getting married, moving, got a new job, etc.), go for it. BUT, if it’s to make yourself feel better or look good in others’ eyes, the post might come across as bragging. Instead of captioning the pic of you lounging on the beach with a drink, “Hope you suckers are having fun at work!” consider focusing on the cool things you’re getting to see and do on vacation. That doesn’t mean people might not be jealous of what you’re getting to do but at least you’re not rubbing it in.

Is there is a specific audience for the post/picture (e.g., grandparents, best friends, etc.)?  I’m not sure that the guy you sat in front of in 8th grade science cares that your daughter had to choose among four potential prom dates. Consider sharing this kind of info. in a private message, text, or in person (are we even allowed to do that anymore?!) if the information isn’t really for public consumption.

Is there a way to word the post that provides information and shares ideas but doesn’t force a comparison between your life, kids, house, car, etc. and those of others? For example, rather than saying, “Andrew’s teacher said he’s the smartest in the class!” (Hello? You’re FB friends with some of the mothers of those other kids!), consider, “Andrew is really enjoying his first grade year and is really into reading!”

Beware the “humble brag.” “Having a humongous house is really more of a curse than a blessing! #alwayscleaning” is still bragging.

How would my child feel if she sees that I’ve shared this? If she’s too young to understand now, how would she feel in five years? Would she be embarrassed? Would this post encourage her to brag or compare herself favorably to others right in front of them? If it’s something you, as the wonderful momma you are, would teach your kids not to say out loud, it’s probably not something you should be posting.

So, next time you post on social media, stop to consider whether the information you’re sharing will draw your little community together or cause friends to roll their eyes. It may be fun to have people feel jealous of you but it’s a lot more fun to have friends (like, the real kind, not just the FB kind).

About this column: Send your parenting- and kid-related questions my way and I’ll tell you what I can: Please be aware that email is not a secure method of transmitting personal information so it’s best to keep your questions general. If your question is featured, your name and email will not be published. Submitting a question does not constitute a professional relationship in any way and this column is not meant to substitute for face-to-face therapy. If you feel you’re doing the best you can and still need help, it may be time to bring in a professional. Start by talking with your child’s pediatrician to get a referral.

Kristen Berthiaume, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist with Grayson and Associates. She obtained her doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Kentucky. She completed a predoctoral internship in clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a post- doctoral fellowship in the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD) Program at Duke University Medical Center. She specializes in providing assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and families dealing with the following issues: ADHD, learning disorders, social skill deficits, organizational problems, behavioral difficulties, anxiety, and depression. She generally focuses on behavioral and cognitive- behavioral techniques, but maintains a flexible approach to therapy. Her other day job is as mom to her six-year-old and newborn daughters and three-year-old son.

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