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Parenting in an Instagram Generation

01 Feb 2021

Riding a bicycle
Scrolling through her nightly news feed of videos of impressive kids and amazing parents, mum-of-three and secondary school teacher Lavinia Ranjan would question her ability as a mother. Then, she realised how her self-doubt was showing up in her daughter. Here, her response to this realisation.

Like many of my generation, Facebook and Instagram are repositories of our memories.

I have been an avid user of both since my university days and have come to view it as my life’s log of sorts. This is where I do online-journaling and maintain e-photo albums. In recent years, I have found a lot of learning value, too, from reading my friends’ posts on parenting struggles, their photo logs and video ideas, even! However, each night, as I lay in bed scrolling through my News Feed with tons of videos of impressive kids and amazing parent-led activities/crafts, I would find myself questioning my ability as a mother and if I were nurturing my kids well.

I have to confess that there’s a little part of me that is a self-doubter. It hides during the day when my positive, confident self is in full view. But it exists as it does for many people. I had never really been bothered by this aspect of myself… until I began to realise that my eldest daughter, all of six years, had inherited this quality, and it became very obvious during the Home-Based Learning (HBL) period.

Let me tell you what happened both to her and to me over the next few months.

From shy to sociable

My daughter’s pre-school teachers had shared candidly that my daughter lacked confidence in trying new tasks and often shied away from leadership opportunities because she felt she would not be able to do it. Even at play dates, we noticed that she would often play alone and would hesitate to join others. This troubled my husband and I as she was very confident at home, played well with her cousins and would put on dance sequences and create her own stories for us. But it was a different story outside.  

Throughout her preschool years, we tried to boost her confidence by praising her effort (rather than outcome) and giving her small tasks with incentives. But she remained rather shy in school.

However, things really changed this year in Primary One. The period of Home-based Learning (HBL) saw the teachers employ a variety of e-pedagogy to engage their students in the subjects. Often, the teachers would task them to create videos, record their voices or take photos of them trying out a task. For instance, my daughter learnt the Math topic of ‘Length’ during HBL and her daily assignment involved taking photos or videos of herself measuring items in the house, comparing their lengths and evaluating them.

At first, she was really shy as her photos and videos so far had been exclusively for family consumption. As these videos for school would be shared with the class, she began to worry about how she would look to others.  She also didn’t want to make any mistakes. To assure her, we would plan a script, props and sequence. She would write out what she wanted to say and rehearse a few times before recording. Initially, she asked to film in the bedroom where only she and I would be present as she did not want her siblings laughing at her. Sigh! It pained me to see how concerned she was for herself.

But as she started to share these videos and photos of herself completing her HBL tasks and she read the positive feedback from her teachers and peers, she began to find a confidence I had never seen before! It was as if the physical reading of these comments by others, made her see herself in a new light. She began to excitedly take ownership of her daily video assignments and come up with innovative ideas to complete her tasks. She also began to view her teacher’s and peers’ feedback on improvement as a way to be better and was not discouraged. She wanted to try again and do better and not just retreat into her little hermit-crab-like shell as before.

Confident learner

Measuring the length of the bed using ice cream sticks

The time and space of HBL gave her the opportunity to try again, re-submit tasks and improve - something that we don’t always have time for during regular school hours. She even decided to make weekly video logs of her activities at home for her HBL check-ins with her Form Teachers! She created a scrapbook of her art pieces, researched the significance behind them and would video herself talking about these learnings. As we spent the circuit-breaker doing some Science experiments at home, she asked to take the lead and conduct the experiment, while I was relegated to videographer status.

Success is a process

This new-found confidence was cemented further when she returned to school and her teachers made an effort to commend her on her creative video assignments and ideas! So when we were approached in July to be part of the SYF-NDP commemorative video, I was really heartened when she said yes to being featured in a national video. In earlier years she had refused. Seeing herself on TV during National Day really made her see herself in the same way we had always seen her: beautiful, talented, full of love and life!

Looking back, it seems such a small thing - simple video assignments and written feedback – but the impact of these tasks and words run deep. They give the child ownership, it gives them autonomy in completing a task, and success is experienced as a gradual process not an instant destination! Through this, it powers up the child’s self-confidence.

I experienced first-hand why schools are increasingly customising their teaching and learning to meet the individual needs and interests of students, so each can learn at their own pace to reach their learning outcomes. This is called Differentiated Instruction. This may seem chaotic to parents but HBL really reminded me how important it is to allow a child to learn and meet their learning goals in their own way. While many moaned the lack of face-to-face interaction in schools, I realised that HBL allowed every student to have their voice heard by the teacher as well as by their peers. In a regular classroom setting, the teacher would have taught ‘Length’ using manipulatives and perhaps two or three students would have presented in class while the others listened. But through HBL, every child was able to present and share their reflections. I realise that my daughter would not have grown so much as a person if not for HBL. How ironic that a period of isolation actually led to my child being more sociable?

Growing my own confidence

So now that my child was feeling more confident about herself, I had to shape up, too. I realised that while I was a rather positive parent in front of my child, she had picked up on my personal fears and insecurities.

This was an a-ha moment in my parenting journey – one that we never really read much about in books. The books tell you to be positive to your kid, but they never quite tell you that you have to be positive to yourself, too! Children observe everything and feed off our energy, so we need to be balanced first, before our children can be. Of course, children are not tabula rasa and do have their own in-built personalities but how these personalities develop is also determined by the home environment and how they feel or how they feel others feel. This really made me realise that parenting was not just about raising kids but also about growing myself!

So, for instance, was my child’s fear of riding her two-wheeler due to my fear of bicycles? Most likely.

With that realisation, I put my fears in a bag, signed up for lessons and started cycling, so my daughter could see that if I could do it, she could do it, too. I was always there to pick her up when she fell, laugh with her when we both fell and share our scars as trophies.

Thank you, my dear girl, for making Mummy realise how much more I could be. I had embarked on a journey to grow my child’s confidence but really, I ended up gaining some of my own while at it.

And as for social media, yes, parenting in the age of FB and IG can be stressful. But instead of comparing kids, why not use it as an enabler to grow the confidence of this generation?  Here’s something I am considering: starting a joint Instagram account with my daughter,  so I can ease her into the world of social media, and take the opportunity to discuss boundaries and shared screen time.  This joint-Instagram account can be a weekly e-journal of one thing she is grateful for each week to build a sense of appreciation and positivity (the writing practice doesn’t hurt either). She  can look back at these memories every now and then to keep motivated! There are lots of parental controls and filters available to ensure unsuitable content is kept away.

So, chin up mums and dads. If social media sometimes makes you feel like you are a blade of grass or a floret among beautiful blooms, remember you are the sunshine that helps your children bloom.

Like this story? Read about how Lavinia guides her younger child in basic reading and numeracy skills through a variety of hands-on activities here.