From toilet training to breastfeeding, parents of young children are hungry for reliable parenting advice as they navigate the first few stressful years of child-rearing, and a new survey finds that they are turning to social media to answer their questions.
The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, conducted by the University of Michigan, found that four in five parents are ditching medical experts and turning to social media sites such as TikTok and Facebook for parenting tips. Nearly half of survey respondents said the sites were useful.
Participants also said that browsing on a phone app or posing questions to an online community “may seem faster and easier than asking a health professional,” co-director of the Mott Poll, Sarah Clark, M.P.H., co-director of the Mott Poll, explained in a statement.
The survey gathered data from more than 600 responses from parents of children aged four or under. Researchers found that most mothers and about two-thirds of the fathers took to social media to share their challenges and seek advice — a significant spike in the number compared to a similar poll from 2015.
According to the poll, over 40% of parents are scouring the apps or forums for answers and strategies on toilet and sleep training. Around one in three are turning to social media for help with breastfeeding or dealing with behavioral problems in children.
More than 20% of respondents said they turn to social media for questions on vaccination, childcare and how to help their offspring get along with other kids.
About 27% of respondents said they lean on social media advice from internet strangers because “they want to do things differently than their parents,” the poll says, and more than a third of the parents said it helps them feel less alone in their parenting journey and learn what not to do.
However, Clark points out that not all online parenting content or guidance — also known as “sharenting” — is sage advice. In fact, the information may be knowingly or unknowingly inaccurate. Everything parents read or consume online should be taken with a grain of salt, she says.
“Finding parent camaraderie in this space can have benefits, but parents should keep in mind that every family’s experience is different, and not everything they hear online may be accurate or the right thing for their child,” Clark says. “Often there isn’t a clear ‘best’ way to do things and many parents use a trial-and-error approach to find what works for their child.”
Around one in ten respondents also noted that social media is a good way to determine if the issue they are facing with their child is something worth reaching out to the doctor for. But for children under four, Clark says it’s best to reach out when in doubt.
If going in person is an issue, making a telehealth appointment or sending a question through the patient portal might be a good workaround.