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Log on for advice: Parents rely on the Internet and social media to bring up their children

These days, it takes a global village with a WiFi-enabled matrix of bloggers, influencers and researchers to raise a child.

Wisdom expounded by parenting tomes and older relatives is being replaced by online resources, and Google bursts with information on just about anything related to childcare.

Millennial parents are spoiled for choice when it comes to bringing up junior. Although the nuclear family has shrunk the social circle of children, it has certainly widened its ‘social media circumference’.

A recent report co-authored by Ormax Consultants and says that Indian mothers are turning to social media rather than family members for parenting advice. As many as 47% of mothers use websites to buy kids’ clothes and accessories, and 42% for babycare products, besides 41% for academics, says the study which surveyed over 2,100 people online in 21 Indian cities.

The growth of parenting blogs in India has been spurred, not surprisingly, by parents, who usually start out as chroniclers of their children’s early years, and then slowly evolve into more active knowledge-creators.

A case in point is, a portal that Hyderabad-based R Devishobha began as an online journal to record her conversations with her young daughters.

“As my children grew older, I realised that parents in India needed a research-backed repository on child psychology that contains updated research related to everyday parenting. That’s how I started focussing on topics like adolescence, corporal punishment, homeschooling and emotional intelligence, based on my own experiences as a parent,” says Devishobha, who launched Kidskintha in 2016.

Personal experience plays a crucial role in how parent-content creators curate their offerings online. Former banker and digital marketing specialist Ekta Chawla felt the title ‘Confused Parent’ was ideal for her website, because that was how she often felt as the mother of two.

“With the mushrooming of nuclear families, parents are more confused with the options — for schools, products to use, places to go, etc. That’s how the name Confused Parent came about,” says the Chennai resident over email.

Former software professional Yuvapriya Sivakumar blogs about her efforts to educate and entertain her toddler son Jai, in her blog ‘Joy of Mommingj’. Photo: Special Arrangement/THE HINDU  

Offering directory listings on childcare-related services in Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Kolkata, among other cities, also features video tutorials, product reviews and practical advice from childcare blogs.

“Ensuring high quality content which gets ranked by Google on the first page has helped Confused Parent reach many parents across India, for articles related to pregnancy, child nutrition and early education,” says Ekta.

Kidskintha has tried to stand out in crowded cyberspace by focussing on virtual summits. “We went for webinars long before it became the norm,” says Devishobha.

Virtual summits

In 2019, Kidskintha’s virtual summit on parenting consciousness featured 28 experts and a 3,000-strong audience, which led to a webinar on special needs children in collaboration with UNESCO in April this year, with an even bigger attendance.

“The learning materials for the UNESCO meeting are being used by special needs educators, and sometimes we also get requests from universities. Currently all the information is in English, so we are looking out for people who can translate it into other Indian languages,” says Devishobha.

Commercial content

  • With the rise of the ‘sharent’ — the eager mom or dad who shares everything about their child on social media — monetising the content of these web resources has become a priority
  • Companies in the childcare sector, including pharmaceuticals, toymakers and food producers, have used the Internet to create grassroots-level influencer programmes for their brands
  • Many influencer parents review products through their communities on Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, to an online peer-group audience. These ‘super-influencers’ tend to be very effective in subliminal advertising
  • Ekta Chawla of Confused Parent (which uses promotional material as well), says there should be more transparency in the way information is conveyed. “Unlike some celebrities who can promote any product, in the parenting space, the bar is higher to promote healthy and safe goods or an educational institution that offers alternative schooling. Disclosure by influencers on it being a paid promotion is also important,” she says.
  • Kidskintha’s copyrighted material is available free for 48 hours, after which it can be accessed through the website for a nominal charge.
  • “Parent bloggers shouldn’t become mere advertisers of products. If you want to stay in the game for a longer time, your reviews must be impartial. Parents should choose concepts or products that go with their brand’s image, and are backed by research,” says Kidskintha founder R Devishobha.

Former software engineer and keen crafter Yuvapriya S Dineshkumar started ‘Joy of MommingJ’ to record all the Do-it-Yourself (DIY) activities that she and her toddler Jai did at home. “I organised simple games, reading sessions and craft projects at home. Then I realised that documenting such things online would be a way to create memories, and also share our joy with other children,” says the Tiruchi-based Yuvapriya.

Toys from trash

Most of the toys she makes are from easily available materials at home. “Parents can recreate the ideas that they see on my website, and I am also giving out printable resources,” she says.

Sites like Joy of MommingJ strike a chord with parents of young children who have had to deal with extended babysitting during lockdown. Chennai-based freelance copywriter Mridula Joseph, for example, has a ‘new normal’ routine that involves keeping children productively engaged.

Mridula Joseph’s son Rana has been spending the lockdown creatively with his cousins, thanks to his mother’s interesting activity schedule. Photo: Special Arrangement/THE HINDU

Mridula Joseph’s son Rana has been spending the lockdown creatively with his cousins, thanks to his mother’s interesting activity schedule. Photo: Special Arrangement/THE HINDU  

Her two young children are often joined by their two cousins (all in the age group of one to four years) who live in the same building, and Mridula has chosen to make the downtime interesting with a self-designed timetable of activities like craft, games and elementary learning.

“Before the lockdown, the children used to go on play dates. I just didn’t want them to have a bad memory of this summer being stuck at home, so I felt we should have this daily routine. From there it also became a way to save my own sanity, because I was getting crazy with them stuck at home all the time, chewing my brains,” laughs Mridula.

Mridula spends some time every night researching ideas for the kiddie parties.“Kids lose interest in toys fast. But when we make a rocket ship out of toilet paper rolls, they play with that a little longer, because they made it themselves. They have a lot more fun with it,” she says.

As Kidskintha’s Devishobha says, “Today’s parents are a lot more aware about the way they build bonds with their kids. I think that much of present-day research validates the ingrained wisdom of our elders when it comes to parenting. Instead of thinking in terms of ‘this versus that’, we should consider ‘this and that’ and get a good blend of both.”

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