What's up with that?

Is That TikTok Parenting Advice Legit Or Totally Problematic?

A colorful infographic or quick-hit video is little substitute for genuine support, says one clinical psychologist.

Ray Kachatorian/Stone/Getty Images

If you’ve ever scrolled your social media feeds and felt overwhelmed by the sheer amount of parenting content, you’re far from alone. There’s a massive amount of info out there — #parenting has 26.6 billion views on TikTok alone, while #parentingtips and #parentingadvice have 4.5 billion and 450 million, respectively — making it abundantly clear that there’s big business in sharing info about raising kids.

And while it can help you feel decidedly less alone knowing that other parents are speaking honestly about their experiences, not every nugget of wisdom is helpful or even grounded in truth. In fact, plenty of so-called “parenting experts” use their social media platforms to espouse harmful or even dangerous views, and it can sometimes be tough to wade these digital waters.

Unsure if what you’re seeing on your feed is productive or problematic? Allow a clinical psychologist to help you make sense of all that info on social media.

Don’t Be Afraid To Google That Guru

First, it’s worth noting that feeling seen by what you’re seeing is an absolutely normal response, and an open dialogue — on social media or otherwise — is so important to help chip away at stigmas and shame, especially when it comes to parenting and mental health. But nowadays, it’s super easy for anyone to use “expert speak” without having any sort of qualifying background to stand on.

No matter what a specific post is saying or advising, you’ll want to zoom out for a sec and consider the person’s qualifications, says Terri Bacow, Ph.D., a cognitive-behavioral psychologist and author of Goodbye, Anxiety: A Guided Journal for Overcoming Worry.

Ask yourself: “Does the guidance seem to be coming from a reputable person? Or does the expert merely seem to be someone who has garnered a large following?” Bacow suggests. “Many psychologists and physicians are certainly qualified to weigh in on parenting, but not all experts have quality training.”

“I think it is also helpful to consider the person's intentions,” she adds. “Does the expert seem to genuinely want to help others, or rather to make money and sell things? Remember, a large number of followers does not indicate that the person is wise or legitimate — it merely means the person has gained popularity.”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with content creators monetizing their work on social media, but it is worth noting if they appear to be angling their advice to sell you products or have an underlying agenda.

“Check out the degree that the person has earned and the institution that they earned it from,” suggests Bacow. “Someone with a doctoral or medical degree from a well-known college or university is likely to be more ‘legit.’” You can Google them, too. While Bacow notes it’s “certainly helpful if they have published books or scholarly articles,” writing a book doesn’t necessarily make someone qualified to dole out advice, though “it does mean that a publisher agreed their ideas are valuable.”

How To Spot Serious Red Flags

“One sign that a piece of parenting advice is problematic is if it makes you feel judged or urges you to follow an unrealistic and/or impossible standard,” such as purchasing an expensive product, only serving “organic” or “healthy” foods, spending hours you don’t have creating elaborate crafts with your child, and the like, says Bacow. “Another indicator would be if the advice actually seems like it would harm your child in some way,” she adds. Remember the recent (and potentially traumatizing) viral #ghostprank? Yeah, exactly.

When In Doubt, Log The Heck Out

By now, you’re well aware that there’s a seemingly endless supply of content out there aimed at parents, with content creators getting increasingly savvy about positioning themselves as qualified experts. The bottom line, per Bacow: “Ask yourself whether the parenting advice offered aligns with your values as a parent. Does the advice ring true to you? If, instead, it creates stress and pressure or makes you feel worse about your own parenting abilities, it might be time to step away.”

Remember, colorful infographics and #relatable videos might teach you a thing or two, but a quick-hit video using “therapy speak” is no substitute for genuine, IRL support from that of a trusted therapist, seasoned fellow parent, close friend or family member, or other loved ones. You can always jot down what you see in a journal and discuss it with the people you know and love in real life, whose views and values likely align closer with your own than those of a stranger fed to you by an algorithm on a small screen.

“Remind yourself that you as a parent may not be an ‘expert’ — none of us are — but you always have your child's best interests at heart,” says Bacow. At the end of the day, she emphasizes that you’re already doing a great job. It’s great to find solace and community in those you find in the digital ethers, but if it’s impacting your self-esteem or mental health, there’s no shame in taking a break.