In a time where social media is all the rage, and there is "no such thing as oversharing," parents usually have no problem posting pictures of their kiddos. Don't get me wrong! I love keeping up with former students through their parents social media accounts, or staying in touch with family I don't see regularly. But where do we draw the line on what we share?
Each person has to make their own decision on what is to much to share. But I want to give you something think about, something I've been thinking about a lot lately, especially now that I'm a mother. I might come across as a helicopter mom in this post, but I'm willing to accept that title when it comes to the digital safety of my child. Especially before they can even comprehend what is happening.
Have you ever heard of a digital footprint? A quick google search gives this definition: "the information about a particular person that exists on the Internet as a result of their online activity." I emphasized the word "their" in the definition to make a point. Most children have a digital footprint before they are even born, and I am guilty of this! We post pictures of their ultrasound images, thus creating our child's digital footprint. "Sharenting" is the term used to describe the overuse of social media by parents to share content based on their children.
In a survey from 2010 (yes 8 years ago), 90% of 2-year-olds had an online presence. TWO YEAR OLDS!! Let's think about this, that means these two-year-olds have pictures of them probably since birth out on the internet, and they have no idea. They have not given consent (please don't go off on a rant about kids giving consent, I will talk about this more further down). There are pictures of their bums, of them in diapers, or just of their daily lives. Normal every day pictures that most parents take, nothing wrong with them. And if you were born before the digital age, you probably have these same pictures... in a box at your mom's house. The difference being: they aren't all over the internet.
While I was still pregnant, a friend asked me how I felt about social media and my kids. We talked about all the pros and cons, but she said something that really stuck with me. "There are so many pictures of cute babies out there, especially on Pinterest. But when you think about it, that is someone's kid! We have pictures of random kids on our Pinterest boards, and it's not weird to us." Well let me tell you, after she said that I really started thinking about whether I was going to post pictures or not. Every parent thinks their baby is the cutest of all time, and if we're honest, having others think the same thing is a great feeling. But I also don't want my child's picture on someone's Pinterest page in Canada, or really anywhere.
Stay with me on this next part, because I know the next couple of reasons to stop "sharenting" could be extreme cases. But personally, they are enough of a reason for me to keep things off the internet. I'm going to be honest, if you saw my personal Facebook or Instagram page, there will probably be pictures of my child; however, I have drawn the line on posting IDENTIFYING pictures. No pictures of her face, no locations, nothing embarrassing. Basically, no way to prove it's even my child. I'm a millennial, I struggle with social media comparisons, and will struggle with mommy-shaming. But as of right now, my line is drawn at identifiable photos. Much like foster parents who decide to post pictures of their foster children, they aren't allowed to show the child's face.
Reason #1: Privacy
It doesn't matter how many privacy settings you set up, privacy is not a real thing on the internet. Oh you have a private Facebook/Instagram account with only close family and friends? You have no idea if they are taking screenshots. You will never know anyone's intentions, and to me, that is enough of a reason to keep my child's face off the internet.
Reason #2: Consent
I'm not talking about asking a 6 month old if they want their picture taken. I'm talking about posting pictures of someone without them knowing. To me, that's creepy. I don't care who the person is. I remember being in high school and my dad asking us not to post pictures of him while we were on vacation. At the time, I though he was trying to get me off my phone. After talking with him later, and now being an adult, I realize that no matter what his reasonings, he just didn't want pictures of himself out there.
Reason #3: Safety
Posting about locations gives people an easy target. If you want to post about your recent zoo trip, or lunch date, maybe wait till you're back home, or even a few days later. People don't really need to know a play-by-play of your day. Back to the story about my dad and not posting about him, another reason might've been since we were on vacation, that told others we weren't home. When you go on vacation, who do you tell? Usually close friends and family, maybe a neighbor so they can watch the house. Would you want 200+ people to know you're gone? Well that's what you're telling all your Facebook friends. Okay, that was a rant about a personal feeling towards social media posting, but it could be something someone hasn't thought about before.
Another safety issue, which ties in with privacy, is that once a picture is out there you lose control over it. It isn't yours anymore. Which means anyone can use it for whatever they want. They could use your child as a way to make money, or in an extreme case, pedophiles or stalkers can get a hold of it. Blame that on all the crime shows I watch, but we don't live in a perfect world.
Reason #4: Identity
Growing up before the digital age, we had the opportunity to create our own identity. We could be whoever we wanted, and the only people who knew of our childhood behaviors were our close family. We didn't have our conversations posted on the internet, no matter how cute they were. We didn't have continuous records of our whereabouts out there for anyone to follow. We were able to create our own identities: business professional, photographer, artist. Psychologist Aric Sigman says that we should be concerned: "Part of the way a child forms their identity involves having private information about themselves that remains private. That is being eroded by social media. I think the idea of not differentiating between public and private is a very dangerous one." Some people are a little to free in what they post, and social media has turned into their diary. Some things just need to remain private.
Those are my personal reasons for where I draw the line on "sharenting." And to me, they are valid. You can disagree, think I'm crazy, or even overreacting. That's fine! You can have your opinion, and we can agree to disagree. But if I ask you to keep my child off of your social media page, I hope that you respect me and my opinion enough to follow it.
Five questions we need to ask before we share pictures of our children.
1. Why are you sharing it? The picture isn't of you, even if you happen to be in it. It's of your child. Think about why you're sharing it. To "show off" (honestly a main underlying reason many people post on social media)? To share with family and friends and keep them up to date (there are other ways to share without using the internet)? I challenge you to get in the habit of asking yourself why you're posting before you do. Maybe wait a few days to post, because the "urgency" to post might have gone away.
2. Would you want someone to share it about you? There isn't a scale to use, since some people are more extroverted and happy to share, but their child might grow up to be introverted and not appreciate the sharing. But let's think about the future. Would awkward stage you be bummed to find a picture of you in the tub shared for all to see?
3. Could your child be embarrassed by it, now or in the future? Yes, it's part of the parental code to embarrass our kids. But it's different to post something on the internet forever instead of doing a silly dance in public or telling a story at dinner. Honestly, we should ask that question every time we post any picture, even of our friends. Sometimes pictures can be mean.
4. Is there anyone in the universe who shouldn't see this about your child, now or at any point in the future? If the answer is yes, don't share it. This is extreme, but it's more and more common for employers, college admission staff or even potential significant others to do an internet search. If what you are thinking of posting could ever come back and bite your child in any way, don't post it.
5. Is this something you want to be part of your child's digital footprint? Even if it's not embarrassing, how does it portray your child? Think about it for a little bit. You'd probably like your child to come across as smart, well-behaved, successful, etc., right? Does what you are posting help that - or hinder it?
Make sure you are also talking with your spouse, and that you are both on the same page. These are also great questions to ask when posting about anyone. Once your children are older this opens the door for a family discussion about social media, digital footprints, and online etiquette.
Okay, so I've given you a lot to think about. And I know not everyone is going to receive it the same. And that's fine. I believe it is our responsibility to be informed and to raise our children to the best of our abilities. Not how other people tell us how to raise them. We know our children, and God has given them to us a gift.
As long as we are following God and training our children in the way they should go, I believe we will make the right choices for our children.
So, what do you think? Let me know in the comments!
Jesus lover, wife, momma, teacher, and hopeful writer.