Recently, on a WhatsApp group of old girls, Alice Nankwanga, a first time mother of a five months old baby, sought advice from her peers on how to handle a sudden high temperature her child had developed.
“A few minutes ago (around 2am) my angel started crying like something had bitten her,” she revealed, adding, “This is the second time since yesterday but I administered a wet sponge. Now it is back and I need help from you mothers like yesterday.”
One of the random responses came from Margaret noting that, “a fever is not the end of life.”
Before someone else, who happened to be a general practitioner asked Nankwanga to give the child some Panadol syrup as well as put off their warm clothes or remove warm bedding.
“But, go to see a paediatrician because there are different causes of fever,” explained the general practitioner.
The next day, Nankwanga in an update followed with a selfie of herself with the infant on a hospital bed, thanked the general practitioner and explained that the child had a bacterial infection that was getting severe.
With the world going digital, the role of social media in parenting exceeds medical issues, for instance, Lilian Opio, a mother of three, shares how magical social media forums are.
“My shopping needs and trends of children’s clothes always come through peers on social media. I am now a kafulu (master) of where and who to contact in case I need trendy children’s clothes,” Opio affirms.
Alfred Chebet, a single father, too is having a ball on social media from reconnecting with friends most of whom are parents to those more experienced than him in some parenting aspects.
“I was excited to join a Facebook group that had been recommended by one of my friends,” he says adding that a week ago, his 10 year-old daughter came home with a special message from the teacher.
“This is what his girl relayed, “Daddy, our teacher has told us to ask our parents how “cookie” should be washed.”
Chebet definitely turned to his gadget for help from a Facebook group peers. “One of the kind mothers I later discovered to be my neighbour sent me a private message offering to come by my home and we teach the girl,” he recalls.
He says the hygiene for his daughter has since improved which he owes to the trust she had in him and wonders how he would have dealt with the little one without the help from the concerned neighbour
Unity in diversity
Social media has become a hub where people run to for all sorts of help and support;
“Parenting has never been better, one just has to be open to learning from more experienced parents,” says Lilian Mugenyi, a mother of one.
Mugenyi subscribes to three parenting groups on WhatsApp and other three for women.
“On Facebook, I am part of marriage and motherhood. In these groups, children issues are commonly discussed because women and children seem inseparable,” she explains.
Her child used to ask for money from anyone, play past 6pm, leave home without permission, and beat friends during play time.
“Rather than spank her, I have learned solutions such as time out, denying them some play items, restrictions on favours such as sweets. These have worked well for us. Thus, social media has indeed been good to me,” says Mugenyi.
She has also learned some hacks such as, using charcoal for teeth whitening and reducing diarrhoea in infants.
However, her mother always advises her to “read, watch and listen to everything but only use what is appropriate for you and your situation. No one understands your situation better”. Mugenyi is cautious, saying you will not blame anyone in case this advice backfires.
Betty Wangi, an economist and mother of four, different opinions on different issues shared equips parents with knowledge on how to handle different cases.
“I talk to children instead of beating them and I listen to their opinions, which has strengthened our bond.”
Wangi adds that advice from social media is cheap compared to meeting professionals concerned with parenting. You can get advice faster than it is with meeting or calling the professionals.
The grey but…
Priscilla Mugenyi, an entrepreneur and mother of one, believes some of the advice given on social media is bad.
“I once read that when you catch a cold, you cough or sneeze from under your baby’s feet and the child will not catch it. I think some of these are myths,” Mugenyi says.
There are remedies that mothers share, yet paediatricians advise against them. For example, onion-cetamol therapy; a child is given Panadol syrup before immunisation and after immunisation, an onion slice is rubbed on the place where the injection was administered.
On the other hand, it is a sign of care as some people go the extra mile of sending you messages to help further.
Why parents do it
“I think parents seek advice from social media to get social and emotional support from others,” Sandra Asingwire, a counsellor at New Dawn Counselling and Training Centre, says.
Individuals going through similar challenges get the feeling that they are not alone, they connect with one another and some of them go on to form lasting friendships.
Asingwire also points out that most of these parents have a need for validation and acceptance. Some of them have certain views and beliefs regarding parenting, and posting these on social media helps them to affirm themselves that those opinions and beliefs are important.
She adds that parents get advice without disclosing their identity because social media provides a safe space for them to air out their challenges without full disclosure. This is so especially if the issue discussed is perceived as embarrassing.
With the increasing cost of living, it cuts across to consultation fees specialists charge. Social media groups are awash with all kinds of people, including professionals who always chip in to offer expert advice. Therefore, if a parent can get expert advice for free, it makes life merrier.
Not all is rosy about going to social media for parenting advice. Asingwire says while some think that privacy is guaranteed, it is not usually the case as most of these embarrassing stories are likely to go viral. Consequences might follow our children into adulthood, affecting their self-esteem and later relationships.
Dr Doreen Mazakpwe Ssemujju, a lactation specialist, says the Smart phone era does not help matters.
“One does not have to move long distances before they can get answers to their questions. However, much of this information is uncensored,” says Dr Mazkpwe. “For example, in the case of colic, some will say, tomato juice without seeds, while another will advocate for mushroom soup.
Remember, every baby is different and the cause of colic might not be the same. Besides, a parent is uncertain of what will be appropriate for their case.
There is a lot of ‘bad’ advice seeing that everyone on social media seems to be an ‘expert’ on something and yet there is usually no one to vet it.
Asingwire says there is a high likelihood that some parents will use this advice which leads to complications.
Mazakpwe says online information ought to be interpreted if one is to benefit from it. Some of this information is based on a research on a certain group of people under certain conditions.
Therefore, it should not be taken at face value and information reviewed by an expert to find out whether it is true and how best to use it.
Caution needs to be taken when using the information from social media. It is important to first seek professional help before getting information from social media of which some is biased.
While several ingredients are used to make the medicine, Dr Boniface Ssegujja, a paediatrician at Naalya Children’s Clinic, parents will not know how much of each ingredient to use in a mixture.
A layman may not easily tell the active ingredients in a particular drug which would make the drug either ineffective or dangerous to the child.
In case of side effects from a certain ingredient when used in high quantity, a child may be exposed to toxicity because the parent does not have a dosage. “Most people think that home remedies have no dosage,” Dr Ssegujja says.
Examination by a parent to conclude that they are suffering from a certain condition is sometimes wanting.
“Some signs and symptoms are similar so the chances that a parent makes a mistake cannot be ruled out. That puts the child in danger because wrong medication will be given,” Dr Ssegujja says.
How we used to do it
Sarah Sentongo Kisauzi, a mother of from the older generation shares her experience.
“I was a personal secretary to a dressmaker before I started my family. However, when my children came forth, I resigned and started making dresses from home. It was flexible because I was my own boss. I, therefore, worked when I had the time and left all if the children needed my attention. That was despite having a house help. It was only after they had matured that I went into cottage industry.”
With everyone looking to make ends meet, Kisauzi says “Most parents, especially mothers, are career focused and it is difficult to balance career and family. One will either give more to their career or their family, making a choice is the only way out”.
Two cents to professionals
Doreen Mazakpwe Semujju, a lactation specialist, says professionals ought to make themselves relevant because much as they are needed, their services are no longer being sought after as in the past and many things are going wrong.
They have to keep up with trends to help information-hungry parents with timely yet accurate information.
They could go for things such as, chat with the counsellor, go to my Facebook inbox where consumers, precisely parents will easily and quickly get information without having to make queues in hospitals.
For example, as a lactation consultant, I once got a call from a mother. Listening to her problem, I was certain that I did not need a physical one-on-one meeting, so I sorted her problem by a phone call. I asked her to pay consultation fees by mobile money.
It is such innovations that keep professionals relevant while saving parents and their children from implementing general information.
Some cases need a physical examination, something that parents need to appreciate. I once had a phone chat with a mother whose baby was not breastfeeding well due to ligament that stretched from the bottom to the tip of the tongue.
While the phone call helped in letting her know about her next move, she had to travel to hospital for a minor surgery. However, some parents might insist on seeing what worked for another and apply it to themselves regardless of their situation.