Facebook Parent Groups

Are parents becoming the people they try to protect their kids from?

“Just call them out yourself. You’re the parent.” “The fact that parents allow their child to be sitting out there with the word ‘deserve’ on a sign is appalling.” “You don’t know my situation, get off my page.” At some point, these comments were all posted by members of the Westfield, NJ Moms and the Westfield, NJ Facebook groups. These groups started in 2013 and 2014 respectively, were created with the intention of providing useful information for incoming families to Westfield and neighboring towns. Despite that original goal, it appears that these forums have become as toxic as the social media accounts from which these parents so desperately try to protect their own children.

If you are a part of one of these groups, you’ve probably seen it firsthand: a fight over a school dilemma or someone shaming a business or an aggressive political post. According to Westfield, NJ Moms group Administrator Linsday Bliss, “In recent years there has been an influx in posts that have needed to be moderated or censored. A lot of complaints come to my inbox regarding other people’s posts, and it’s [my and the other administrators’] job to go and investigate it all.” Bliss is also a member of the Westfield, NJ group and agrees that people in these groups are “strongly opinionated, and that’s when things get sticky and we have to nip things.” 

Ironically, the age a child should be able to get social media and a cell phone are hot topics of debate among parents. Many are afraid of their kids being subjected to toxic bullying environments, yet the hostility and toxic interactions of youth social media have found their way into these adult groups as well. Robert Ebert, a psychology teacher at WHS, explained, “If you see the polarization in the country, it might be worse with adults than it is teenagers. They are subject to the same high-mind mentality and grouping and all of the thinking that goes along with it.” 

The psychological impact of social media on adults and parents is a topic of conversation society often ignores, but it can be serious. Ebert said, “There is something in psychology called confirmation bias, where we only listen to the things we agree with–we easily process those things and things we don’t agree with we ignore and criticize without giving it a fair shake, and I see a ton of that with everyone, including adults.” 

New York City-based Psychologist Dr. Michelle Canarick explained that there are many factors that go into attacks on the internet such as “insecurity, competition, [the] grass is greener effect and [the] inability to realize the shallowness of what is being presented.” 

On a more surface level, after reviewing numerous arguments on these Facebook groups, it became clear that politics is one of the main catalysts for attacks. Sabina Schuttevaer, a moderator for the Westfield, NJ Moms Facebook group said, “The influx [of aggressive posts] is usually around some sort of political issue. People get very incensed over politics. Sometimes these [Facebook parent] groups can do more harm than good.” 

Ebert echoed this sentiment. “Frankly, I find adults’ posts tend to be more political than younger people’s posts, so they are subject to a more drastic level of toxicity on social media accounts,” he said.

In these groups, there have been harmful posts that affect a new parent or a business. This begs the question: What makes some people continue to come back and berate each other day after day?

“There is safety on the internet; you don’t have to be accountable for what you say. I think people are looking for connection and validation. They are looking for people to validate their parenting,” said Dr. Canarick. “A lot of what you’re talking about is anger masked as concern. They are using the internet to soothe their own insecurities. Many parents are feeling a lot of anxiety attached to these arguments. When you feel a lack of control, you reach out for power, which ultimately can satisfy you temporarily, although it is not a long-term satisfaction.”

As a parent herself and a psychologist whose patients are primarily parents, Dr. Canarick has first-hand experience with the loneliness and insecurities that can sometimes come with being a parent. Easily accessible social media platforms like Facebook provide a level of anonymity that can make some parents feel more comfortable launching verbal attacks on others.

While Dr. Canarick acknowledges that there are many benefits that can come out of Facebook groups such as new moms having an outlet to connect with other parents, she explained, “I have also seen disagreements become fights and people get hurt. I think parents have a hard time separating their ego from their parenting and don’t realize some of the things they are talking about on social media are attempts to satisfy their ego.” 

Schuttevaer agrees that parents often have a hard time thinking about how their actions may affect others. “Let’s just say there was a plumber who worked for so-and-so and one person posted on the group that their experience with them was terrible and to never use them again. This then becomes an issue, and now the owner of that business, who probably has no knowledge of this because he sent a worker, gets the backlash,” she said. This is one of the reasons, as Schuttevaer explained, that the Westfield, NJ group has had to create a rule against criticizing businesses.

After considering both the negative and positive outcomes of Facebook groups such as Westfield, NJ and Westfield, NJ Moms, is the environment toxic? 

Dr. Canarick said, “Toxic is the right term to describe these chats when people lose their ability to walk away from the conversation. When they are seeking it out, as well as engaging or indulging in some type of feelings that are probably hurtful in some way, toxic becomes the right word.” 

In a world and a society where social media is teens’ main form of communication with one another, parents need to try to set a positive example on their own platforms. If moms and other adults are seen harassing or using hurtful words towards one another on their social media accounts and groups, their kids learn that it is acceptable behavior. Children and teens need positive guidance in order to ensure a healthier future for the next generation.