Care and Feeding

Ugh, I’ve Had Enough of These Instagram Parenting Techniques

This stuff makes me roll my eyes.

Woman rolling her eyes and holding up palm up.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a white woman in a primarily liberal, higher-income suburb of a U.S. major city, and I find myself feeling irked by how other parents treat their kids.

Many if not most of my neighbors and fellow parents are extremely plugged in to “Instagram parenting:” accounts that emphasize gentle parenting, emotional regulation, socioemotional development, etc.

Here’s my question: Is it OK for me to just not do these things? Here’s what I mean: Whether at book club, Mommy & Me classes, on the playground, whatever, I feel like I’m surrounded by extremely intensive efforts at validating children’s every emotion and using a lot of “parenting” language. For example, another child takes a toy from my child on the playground, and the other mom says something like, “Joey. I know you want the pail, and it’s OK that you want that, but in our home, we don’t take things from someone else. We find another way to get our needs met. To get your needs met, you just have to ask me and use your feeling words. Are you feeling scared, anxious, or sad?”

I hate that I’m saying this, but this kind of parenting makes my eyes roll back in my head. My approach to the same situation would be: “Joey, we don’t take things from other people without asking. Please ask first. If it happens again, you’ll be in timeout.” Is it OK to just do this?

Usually I feel fine about parenting this way, and my kids are pretty well-behaved, but when talking with other parents or seeing them in action, I start to get insecure that maybe I’m raising a little monster who isn’t in touch with their emotions, and will be in front of a therapist in 15 years. Please help!

— Not an Instagram Mom

Dear N.a.I.M., 

It is totally fine that you haven’t adjusted your parenting style and personality to match trends that are popping up around you. It is also very easy to be annoyed by what sometimes can feel like a performative approach to mothering that seems to imply that the rest of us are raising emotionally inept children as long as we decide not to hop aboard the latest Instagram wave.

However, I think it’s worth considering what, if any, value you can take from some of these new parenting trends and utilizing them when it makes sense for you. “Are you feeling scared, anxious, or sad?” may not feel like a relevant question when a little one snatches a toy, but it could be a valid inquiry when your child begins to act out of character—and maybe that’s exactly what was going on at the playground. Feeling words are actually really useful! The better your child can articulate what is going on with them on the inside, the easier it will be for you to manage how that manifests itself externally. Sending a child to timeout may emphasize that the behavior they displayed was incorrect, but it doesn’t help them to understand why, nor does it address what was going on with your kid that led them to act out in the first place.

You may not enjoy the language that these IG devotees are using to parent, but I think there is something tremendously useful about emphasizing emotional intelligence in our children. Find the ways that make sense for you to talk to your kid about feelings—his, yours, those of other children, etc.—and do so on a regular basis. Your child will be better off for it.

— Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

My daughter is 13 years old. For most of her life, she’s been fairly self-motivated and independent. She doesn’t seem to have cared a whole lot about what other people thought of her. She’s pursued her interests as she’d had them: gymnastics, music, art, whatever. When she was little, we were worried about the difficulties of social pressure, but she seemed to have avoided them—until now.

The other day, she had a pimple on her nose and didn’t want to go to school. We thought she was kidding, but she really wanted to stay in her room and skip school, even though she’s been a straight-A student. We were able to convince her to go, finally, but it took almost an hour, and it was such a sudden change from her normal behavior, we wondered if something bigger was going on. We’ve noticed that she’s following a lot of Instagram models and beauty accounts that seem to be setting unrealistic expectations.