Is it okay to post about our children online…?
…in blog posts?
…in Youtube videos?
In an increasingly connected world, where families often demand instant communication and constant updates, is it okay not to?
We’re living in a strange transitional time, where social media is just old enough that now, the teenagers who hopped onto the internet for the first time when it was still new and novel are now grown adults, many raising children of their own, but social media is also not quite old enough for there to be much evidence to show us what happens to adults who grew up having their parents share about them online their whole childhood, from birth to graduation.
Back when MySpace was the thing, no one was thinking of posting pictures of babies, or stories of wild toddler antics. Most of the kids occupying that online space were aged 14-17, being lectured by their parents and teachers about the dangers of the internet, and, if they weren’t forbidden outright from being on the internet altogether, they were at least warned to never post their real names, schools, or locations, for fear of stalkers finding them. Obviously, a lot of the kids made profiles under their real names, and showed real pictures of their real faces, anyway, and for the lucky majority, the worst that happened was big embarrassment years later about the things their adolescent selves chose to post.
Now, social media is no longer just for the teens. Everyone and their great-aunt is on Facebook. Parents and grandparents are sharing photos of small children regularly. The fear of being “found” doesn’t seem to be as prevalent, but we also seem to forget that kids might be embarrassed, or just want a feeling of autonomy about what others see of them.
Are the little kids having their lives publicized going to resent the adults in their lives for it when they grow up?
The Social Media Dilemma
Social media, especially the big 3: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, are so mainstream that they’re starting to be considered regular things everyone should have, like a phone number, or e-mail.
In recent years, there have been several movements where posting about real life was encouraged, and a feed full of happy, pretty, curated posts is starting to be discouraged.
The fact that getting real about messy life and its struggles is being celebrated is a good thing.
It means we can connect to people all over the world, and not fall as easily into the trap of comparing ourselves to perfection.
But it also means that discussions about the pitfalls of parenting are being celebrated, too.
As a parent, I enjoy reading the honesty of other parents, and knowing I’m not alone, and we’re all struggling. I also enjoy an occasional cute picture or funny story.
It’s real life, we’re all having it, and we shouldn’t have to hide it.
But what if our parents had had Twitter, or blogs, when we were little preschool-aged jerks making their lives difficult? Would we feel differently?
(I’m not even saying we would. I just wonder.)
I’ve been wondering lately about how to find the balance between being real, and respecting my son’s privacy.
I don’t know if there’s one right answer, but I’m working on it.
In it, Katlyn Burbidge shares her thoughts on photos, in particular:
“We’re big proponents of bodily autonomy and not forcing him to hug or kiss people unless he wants to, but it never occurred to me that I should ask his permission to post photos of him online… Now when I post photos of him on Facebook, I show him the photo and get his okay. I get to approve tags and photos of myself I want posted — why not my child?”
That’s just about pictures, but even talking about our kids, repeating what they say, might be an invasion of privacy.
I hope I can maintain honesty online,
without doing it at the expense of my family.
…Because this has been on my mind, I decided to reflect on how I use each of the major internet avenues as a parent:
The long-standing, still-going-strong original, Facebook, is a little more private than most. Every user has the option to approve their “friends” (instead of “followers” like you’d have on other sites), and the site, last I checked, still encourages its users to only connect with people they’ve met in real life. Facebook is generally considered to be for friends and family, which is why it’s the place where I’ve posted pictures of my son regularly, back when I used Facebook. It’s been awhile since I’ve been active on my personal Facebook profile, but the old pictures are still there. That’s why I finally changed the privacy settings on my Facebook profile from public to private, so now only my family members can see.
Yes, I do partake in the #ParentTwitter community, where moms and dads lament and laugh together about the difficulties of parenting, sometimes transcribing, for the world to see, embarrassing conversations their kids have with them and each other.
The typical format of Parent Twitter, for the sake of privacy, is to refer to children without using their names, usually with their ages instead, and to either not post pictures, or censor photos so that a child’s face is never shown. I subscribe to these methods, especially since my twitter interactions are typically with strangers.
I’m unsure whether that makes it okay to post about real events. Even if I hide his appearance and name, is it a violation of privacy?
Although Instagram is owned by Facebook, it uses the “follow” method of interaction, instead of “friend” lists. This means that anyone can follow, and see pictures, even strangers. For some reason, for the longest time, it didn’t occur to me that many of my Twitter followers (to whom I was censoring myself in regards to my kid) were also following me on Instagram, where I was posting personal family photos, thinking it was no big deal. I guess my reasoning was that my first followers were extended family members who found me via Facebook.
Recently, I realized there was no reason to continue letting strangers see personal pictures, and I changed that Instagram account to “private” so I can’t get any new followers without approving them, and I’m considering soft-blocking the people I don’t know.
For posts that are my own thing, and I don’t mind being public, I made a separate Instagram account, where I will not be posting pictures of my son until he’s old enough to consent to being shown.
Here is where I write my thoughts, feelings, and stories, and they are often about my struggles as a parent. As I said above:
Is it okay to post about real events?
I don’t know.
I guess I’m what you’d call a “mom blogger” occasionally.
It’s my story because I lived it, but is it my right to tell when it’s someone else’s story, too? I find myself questioning where I stand on the ethics of that every time I tell a story, whether the story includes friends, extended family members, or even the unkind customers I dealt with when I worked in retail. Common stories, but still, stories that include another human being.
The problem is that it’s impossible to tell any story without it including another person. Even if I had a slew of stories about just me, I imagine that would feel weird, too, because no one wants to interact with a person who has nothing to say about anyone but themselves.
Then there’s the issue of my dear offspring being a major part of my life: I am a mom, and although I’m more than that, Mom is a big part of my identity now. What if I hide my personal family life, for the sake of my son’s privacy, and then one day, he finds my blog, sees no indication that he exists, and wonders if he wasn’t that important to me, because I never had anything to say about him? As humans, we tend to give time and words to the things that matter to us. Because of that, it almost seems like it would be insulting to not talk about my family sometimes.
All these speculations I have, and I still don’t have a solid opinion. Really, I can’t have an opinion the way someone else will feel. It’s impossible to predict.
The best compromise I can come up with is to stop publishing pictures of my son for anyone to see, keep all the other details sparse, and then, when my son is old enough, let him read any public material that mentions him (blog posts, tweets, or whatever else comes about by then), and give him the right to tell me if he wants certain things deleted.
Other parents of the internet, what are your thoughts on our duty to protect our children, combined with the expectation to be real?
Do you have any policies in your family about what you share on your blog and/or social media about your kids?
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If you visit my site regularly, you may have noticed that the Instagram link is gone. I took it down because, as I mentioned above, I decided that account needed to be private.
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