Social Networking Sites and Their Role in the Grieving Process of Parents with Deceased Children

In a world that is becoming more and more active on social networking websites, it is not surprising that many life events are shared and learned about through these sites.  One particular social networking site, Facebook®, reached 845 million users in 2011, which translates into over 10% of the world’s population (Digitalbuzz, 2011).

Williams and Merton  (2009) state that in the 93% of teenagers in the United States and Canada use the internet and more than half of those participate in online social networking. Many parents know of their children’s participation with these social networking sites and may themselves have accounts. Tragedies are one of the many things learned about on these social networking sites unfortunately. Personal profiles are not accessible by anyone without the password, so what happens when this individual dies unexpectedly? More specifically, what if it is your child? What if it is their picture you see popping up every time you log on to your social networking account? Is this just constant reminder to parents about the tragedy they are a part of; or do these sites serve as memorials as to all of the good memories people have had with your child that you may have otherwise never known?

This blog serves to provide insight into the role of social networking sites and their involvement in parents grieving over a lost child.

Social Networking’s Role in Grieving

It has been proven that the ability to share thoughts and feelings with others about grief and loss has positive outcomes on coping as compared to internalizing these emotions. In modern day society, technology plays a huge role in the ability and ease of sharing these personal thoughts and feelings (Massimi and Baecker, 2010). On social networking sites, participants can talk about whatever they want whereas in real life, grieving may be frowned upon and individuals may be urged to move on with their lives.

In the event of a child dying, a parent may look to their child’s profile page as an easily accessible way to reminisce and stay connected with their lost child. In an article by Graves (2009), it is discussed that visiting a social networking profile of a deceased person is easier and more accessible than visiting a grave and is becoming more common practice.

So…? What does this mean for you? Unsure of whether looking up your lost son or daughter’s social networking page is a good idea? Here is some information on what studies on this topic have found.

Benefits to Social Networking in the Grieving Process

Social networking sites can be beneficial in the grieving process of a parent in that they can facilitate an existing relationship that they already have with their child allowing for there to be a virtual bond between them. Even though the child has passed on, studies report that by reading the posts on the child’s profile, parents may still feel a connection through the page (Graves, 2009).

These types of websites also allow for other people to post on the child’s page creating a type of social support for the parent as they are able to see that they are not the only ones grieving. Often the comments left on the deceased’s page are positive stories or memories which allow parents to perhaps learn more about their child and how they impacted other people’s lives. This will create opportunities for parents to reflect on the death of their child and will help them through the grieving process (Graves, 2009; Heeftje, 2009;Williams and Merton, 2009).

Another benefit to the use of social networking in grieving a lost child is that parents can connect with their child whenever the desire arises. The internet is always available in ways that visiting the gravesite of a child may not be (Heeftje, 2009).

Downfalls to Social Networking in the Grieving Process

There are also downfalls to the use of social networking sites in the grieving process. The biggest concern for this practice is that there is a potential for parent’s to become stuck in their grief by ruminating on the loss due to the ease of accessibility of these sites. This may make it harder for parent to move on as they are constantly reminded of their child’s death (Graves, 2009).

Another concern is the lack of control over what is being posted on these sites that the parents may read. It is possible for negative comments to be made about the deceased, thus evoking anger in the parents or perhaps causing a flurry of retaliation by the family and friends of the deceased individual Massimi and Baeker, 2010; Graves, 2009).

In Conclusion

There is obvious ways in which accessing a deceased child’s social networking profile can have detrimental effects on the grieving process of the parents however; it there are also ways in which it can help to preserve the memory of the child and creates a continuous way in which to communicate or share things with the deceased individual.

I hope this site has provided you insight as to the benefits and risks of viewing your child’s social networking profile and how this effects this may have on your grieving process.

References

Digitalbuzz. (2010). Facebook statistics. Retreived from: http://www.digitalbuzzblog.com/facebook-statistics-stats-facts-2011/

Graves, K. E.Social networking sites and grief: An exploratory investigation of potential benefits. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, , 7852. http://search.proquest.com/docview/754058217?accountid=14391

Hieftje, K.The role of social networking sites as a medium for memorialization in emerging adults. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, , 7900. http://search.proquest.com/docview/754058165?accountid=14391

Massimi, M., Baecker, R. (2010). A death in the family: opportunities for designing technologies for the bereaved. ACM, 182-183. doi: 10.1145/1753326.1753600

Williams, A. L., & Merten, M. J. (2009). Adolescents online social networking following the death of a peer. Journal of Adolescent Research, 24(1), 67-90. doi:10.1177/0743558408328440

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