It Takes a (Virtual) Village

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Behavior on social media sites has been getting a lot of scrutiny lately. Commentators are understandably disturbed by the many uncivil exchanges and downright bullying that can occur when people are allowed to speak their minds under the cover of anonymity.

Yet I have also found that sites such as Facebook can be a helpful tool for families. For instance, my son’s college has a parents’ Facebook page, on which members post queries about everything from dorm assignments to meal allowances to the availability of campus tutors. Whenever a parent asks for help on this page, there are dozens of answers from other interested and concerned parents. Families will ask for doctor or dining recommendations, off-campus apartment suggestions, and even prayers when an ailing or upset child is keeping them up nights. The college Facebook page has become a great way for parents to share information and ideas, and just to support each other during a difficult transition in their own and their children’s lives.

There are other internet sites that provide parents with advice, encouragement, and support. Some are forums such as The Parenting Spot. Others, such as Scary Mommy, inject a needed dose of humor into the all-too-serious business of raising children. And the relative anonymity of the sites, while it opens comment threads to abuse, also allows parents to share their struggles without worrying about what their friends and neighbors might think.

As a mother, I have often felt alone trying to deal with some of the challenges of raising my kids. Whether it was a medical challenge, a discipline issue, or a problem at school, I felt as if I were the only one facing such struggles. That is one of the problems with our intensely private culture with its emphasis on the nuclear family and the exclusion of outsiders in our day-to-day decisions.

When my husband and I were in China having adopted our youngest daughter there, we were approached on the street by a group of strange women who seemed to be chastising us about our baby. Our guide explained that the women were telling us, “Take off her socks. The baby is too hot!” We were a bit taken aback, as in the United States such unsolicited advice would be anathema. Not so in China, where children are considered everyone’s treasure and everyone’s business.

Reflecting on it later, I had to admit that I liked the idea of an entire community looking out for my child. I remember with fondness growing up with all the moms on my block, who had absolute authority to discipline me but at the same time the absolute conviction to help me should I ever be in need.

In our hands off society, maybe it will take a virtual village to help us raise our children to be happy, healthy, and safe.

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