The relationship we have with our children is a unique one. They are ours, but they’re not really ours, you know- we’re their guardians and their protectors. We shape them and we guide them, but we don’t really own them in the same sense that we own our other possessions. Like perhaps a CD or a book. The relationship we have with the children we raise is perhaps more like a library book than something we’ve bought and paid for. They are on loan to us until it is time for them to move on to the next autonomous stages of their lives. We are our children’s keepers, we make decisions for them, we are in charge of many of their choices until they are older. It is true that it’s up to us parents how we treat them. we choose how to raise them. We can and sometimes do make the wrong decisions. Since they do not always understand or comprehend consequences at young ages we may limit their choices or guide them towards smart ones. We generally shouldn’t do negative things that will affect them long into their adulthood. For instance, it would be wrong to falsely use their identity or ruin their credit without their knowledge before they are able to control these things themselves. They trust us long before they understand what the concept of trust actually is with their bodies and all that they are. Then when they are of age, we hope we have given them the proper tools to shape their own lives further. With this self governance comes a human right that each person then carries as they move from childhood into adulthood: it is the ability to screw up their own lives.
So now that we are in an age where technology and social media is intertwined in everything we do and we live in the age of the over-share, there comes many times all throughout our child’s lives, from the moment they are conceived, or even way before they are a twinkle in their parent’s eyes, that their digital footprint starts to be formed.
Many of us know, or should know, the Internet is forever.
Let me just repeat that real quick: the Internet is forever.
Everything you share and say and type and post is forever catalogued and most of it saved for eternity into this vast thing we call the Internet. Those tweets you posted last week, last month, last year, don’t just fall of a cliff and die, they live on and can be searched via Google forever. Ten years go by and any Internet user with half a brain can easily search whatever you have posted and said. Not only that, but different social media sites often intertwine and connect. For instance Flickr and Pinterest and Facebook and Twitter feeds can be connected with a click of a button. Technology can connect the dots with most everything you do online, even when you didn’t know they are being connected. This sort of thing is being made easier by the day. Tagging is easily enabled by advanced facial recognition programs such as the one used on Facebook. This will only get easier and more advanced each time a program is updated.
Something that seems to come very easily with our culture of the extreme Internet over-share is the phenomenon of the Internet over-parenting. Or parents over-sharing about their kids. We post our kids pictures ad nauseam and tag them along the way. Many of us doing so from the day they are conceived. It starts with the ultrasound pictures that we share with the public to enjoy. Parents may even post statuses about their journey or hardships to conceive. Then comes the birth, whether they’ve been circumcised, whether they’ve been breastfed, what abilities or disabilities they’ve faced. Then comes the potty training pictures and blow-by-blow accounts of wetting the bed at night, whether they’re a biter or poor eater or cry all night long or sucked their thumbs, have cavities or even if they were constipated when they were young. It’s like a digital flip book, all you have to do is click real fast and their lives are literally a movie on display for all to see. I’ve seen pictures of kids on toilets, videos of kids on toilets, of poopy diapers, of desperate parents pleading for help when their child is unruly, the journey to find out that they’re autistic or unmanageable or have chronic illness or that their exes won’t give them child support, or any number if things.
Cut to when your child turns 13 and they’re finally able to create their own Facebook account and they automatically get tagged by facial recognition to all of their childhood pictures. Their parents pictures are then shared immediately on their walls. Their parents and grandparents have posted hundreds upon hundreds of pictures from birth on up. The naked birth pictures, the bath pictures, the suckling their Mother’s breast pictures, the potty training pictures, the crying over this or that pictures. And they realize their digital footprint has already been over saturated beyond their own control before they even knew what the Internet was. The right to screw up or create their own digital life has already been taken away from them. Whether they wanted these images and descriptions of their every last move plastered all over the Internet, too bad, they’re there and they’re there forever.
Your child gets their first girlfriend. Well, little Suzy can just Google little Johnny’s Mom’s blog and find out if he’s circumcised or not and whether he peed the bed till he was ten or breastfed till he was five, and there are pictures along every step of the way to prove it.
Cut to college applications and little Johnny’s Mom has already posted step by step account of his mental instability. Forget Hippa laws, his complete medical history is chronicled all over his Mom’s blog or public Twitter account at no choice of his own. Remember that mother (last month) who trashed her son’s violent behavior all over the Internet and all over every morning show on TV and everyone else made it go viral? We all cheered her on as she showed us how hard it was to be his mom. What about his privacy? His struggle? His choices? He has none. His mother has the right to trash him all over the Internet apparently.
Cut to adulthood and it’s time to apply for a job. Johnny’s 24 years old and his new perspective employers have already read his parents blogs, their public Twitter and Facebook accounts, have read about whether he’s stolen candy bars when he was a teenager, learned that he’s ADHD or had behavioral problems, failed out of his first year of college, got an F on his final exam in advanced math, been arrested, and all these other things that should be private information and all of a sudden Johnny doesn’t seem like a good candidate for the job anymore. Not to mention ever be in a position where public office is even a choice, because there’s no way Johnny’s going to be elected senator when every last move and poor behavioral choice he’s ever made is on display for the world to scrutinize.
I know parenting is hard, and exciting, and its super easy to over share every last thing we do. It’s nice to have support, get advice from others. It’s nice to get virtual pats on the back from strangers, have an outlet when we’re lost and confused, depressed and frustrated. We want to share the joyous and sad moments of our lives. But we often do this with absolutely no regards as to what it does to our child’s identity and their digital footprint. They may screw it up completely when they’re older and in college, but then it’s their choice to do the things they do and what it is that they choose to share of their own identity.
The way we present ourselves on social media is a very personal choice for many different reasons. Some of us share anything and everything we know and do. Some are more reserved. Some use last names, some don’t. We can choose to use real pictures of ourselves or maybe other things for our profile pictures. Some of us choose to be very casual. Some might prefer to only present themselves in a professional light. Some only use nicknames and keep their identities a secret. If I randomly ask 5 friends I will surely get 5 different opinions on how much and in what capacity they think they should display their information to the world. The choice is ours to make. Now imagine if other people around you violated your choices and betrayed how you want to portray yourself online? Now what if you were never even given that choice and your life has been chronicled since birth openly and very candidly online? What if you were portrayed very very poorly?
Anyone else (our spouses, our parents and friends) can call it defamation of character, but since we feel like we own our children, many of us often don’t look at it in those terms.
I have surely, and in some instances regretted, over-shared many a thing in my life. I’ve discussed my children, my husband, my happiness or sadness online, but in the past several months I’ve definitely pulled back more and more. I do write a blog that is quite personal, but I try not to post specific things about my children, instead unspecific things about parenting that really could apply to any family. There’s a line and I try to stay on one side of it. I also feel like I’m learning along the way and really just hope I’m not screwing up anything for my children. I never post pictures of my kids or say their names on Twitter and try not to really speak specifically about them as much as I ever did. And this isn’t because I think the boogie man is right around the corner, but because I need to consider if it’s something they’d want me to say about them or not. Think about how- now they don’t know any better, but someday they will and I need to be proud of what I have shared and said about them. I’ve erased their pictures from my Flickr accounts and Instagram and have locked about 95% of the pictures I’ve once shared of them on Facebook, (which I’ve locked down to a friends only profile). And I’m not criticizing sharing good things and exciting things and the great moments in our kids lives, but I think there’s a line that I often see crossed on a daily basis. And I’m not even saying that parents who over-share about their kids are bad, I’m just saying it may be wise to step back and ask your self some questions, like what exactly are you doing and do you think your actions may have consequences? Are you being selfish by pleasing only yourself without regards to others? Your child’s feelings in particular? I use the rule that if I wouldn’t hang the picture on the wall of my living room or send it in to school or have it be tagged on their own future Facebook account, than I shouldn’t post it on my Facebook Wall. I then ask myself: do I want all the people in my child’s future life to know this information? If the answer is no, then it shouldn’t be posted.
There’s a rule that I will teach my children that they should try to adhere to when texting anyone or posting anything in social media: if they don’t want the whole world to know about it or see it, just don’t ever put it in print or in type. If it’s not something you want Googled from here to eternity, then why post it ever, at all? And so this advice applies to anyone really.. why should a parent carelessly and selfishly over share their child’s lives without thinking twice about the consequences?