Ah, the Internet, where everyone can say anything. Social media has connected people in new and exciting ways. It now doesn’t matter that I live in Fort Worth; I can still ask 200 mothers of multiples in San Antonio their opinions on separating my twins in school. It isn’t important that you haven’t physically seen someone in decades, you can share in their life milestones. Regular people become little celebrities because of the things they share and how many people follow them. Politicians have a new way to reach out 24 hours a day. The way we think, what we read, the way we relate to one another has undergone a complete overhaul. Parenting and research have experienced a similar change.
Now, instead of listening to our parents and grandparents, we read baby books (occasionally), but more likely follow sites on Twitter and Facebook to learn more about parenting topics. We google, look at infographics, and do hours worth of “click research.” These days, there is so much information at our fingertips that we don’t have to look far or hard to find the answer we are searching for.
But, when you find that answer, how complete is it? Is it the absolute best answer, or just the one you wanted to hear? Thanks to social media and search engine algorithms, our computers recognize our biases better than we do ourselves. On Facebook, you only see what you have chosen (by virtue of past page visits, likes, or unfollows), so it seems that everyone believes the same things and is making the same choices. Google filters your results, putting what it thinks you want to see (once again, based on past page views and searches) at the top. I can search for the exact thing on three different computers and get three completely different pages of results. So, what’s a mom to do? How are you supposed to think outside the box, get a complete picture, and know both sides of the story?
First, you have to be aware of your bias and want to make sure you see both sides. If you only ever read articles that support the ideas you already have, then you will never be able to appreciate different viewpoints. Some people are okay with that, and I don’t blame them. It’s a safe and cozy place to be. But, if you want more, then you need to go searching for it. You need to actively google the opposite question, find someone to follow that thinks differently, and like some posts that you may not agree with, but you can see their side. Even something as simple as reading a different newspaper can help you get a bigger picture.
Second, you need to read critically. When you are looking for studies on sleep training children, do you pay attention to who paid for it? The year it was conducted? The variety and quantity of families observed? The length of time the study covered? These are REALLY important questions to ask. If you want to read about the effect of organic food on your body, make sure you don’t only read studies conducted by organic companies OR ones sponsored by mainstream food providers. You need to read both. And still take it all with a grain of salt. We are constantly witnessing new studies and new findings in science, so what is considered “best” now, may not always hold that position.
Third, keep an open mind. I am sure you can link to studies that support your stance. So can someone on the other side. Do you know what their studies say? Sometimes, reading an article or blog with the opposite view serves to solidify our current position. For others, it helps them understand where other people may be coming from. Maybe they aren’t uninformed or unintelligent; maybe they have a point when you view it from their side. If you read the other side’s material and constantly dismiss it without critical thought, that is not an example of an open mind but one that is sinking deeper into bias. Remember that you know less about everyone else’s life than they do. So they may have something to teach you.
Finally, we need to listen. Listen to each other, and stop formulating a response before the other person is done talking. Open your ears to those who may look different than us or make different life choices than we do. Tune in to the conversations happening around you. Pause and think when your kids speak those simple truths that only come from innocence. Pay attention to yourself, and think about how your words and actions affect yourself and others. Just listen, and you’ll hear the other side.
When we profess our opinions on Facebook, Twitter, etc., we curry the favor of people who think exactly like us. We rack up “likes” and hashtags and feel validated. And that’s great. There is no equivalent to a mom tribe, particularly one in which you feel supported and comfortable. We all need them! But, this echo chamber has another side. When we surround ourselves only with people and ideas we are comfortable with, we are insulated from new thoughts, other views, and thinking about those who don’t think like us. How can we grow if we only see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear? Step outside your box occasionally, and take a look at that other side.