What did you find the first time you Googled your own name?
I found a few Amazon reviews for Mary Poppins on VHS and the new Limp Bizkit CD. Embarassing, yes, but I had no one to blame but myself. What will children growing up in the age of social media find about themselves when they first enter their names into a search engine? If their parents have active accounts like most Americans do, they will likely find everything, as will anyone else. Videos of first steps on YouTube, complaints about tantrums as status updates on Facebook, maybe even their mother’s live tweets during labor.
If you discovered that every personal detail was freely available on the internet for anyone to read; including potential dates, employers, college admissions officers, it’s likely you’d feel violated at best and furious at worst. This is the realization a generation of kids growing up in the age of social media can look forward to.
Parents seem to forget their children will not always be children and one day, they will decide what they would have wanted posted about them online. Children are not pets, they do not belong to their parents, they will become individuals and will not always be extensions of their parents. It might surprise parents who they become.
One of the amazing things about having babies is watching them grow up into and form unique personalities, some of which we mold, but some they form themselves. My mother wasn’t successful in her attempts to raise me into a liberal Catholic, pro-choice woman, or a Ralph Nader voter. I am instead, thanks to the beauty of free will, a pro-life, politically conservative Orthodox Jew. My daughter will also choose the road she wants to walk when she grows up, not my husband or I.
After a long night of crying or a day filled with bad behavior, the impulse is strong to take to the internet to complain and commiserate with fellow parents. There’s even an entire blog devoted to parents oversharing details of their children’s lives called “STFU Parents.” It details parent’s social media updates involving their children’s poop and pictures of placentas and everything in between. The blog chronicles details that children wouldn’t want shared and that friends of the oversharers would never be interested in hearing anyway.
As some parents forget that their children are human, they also forget their children are also members of their families who deserve respect. No relationship is perfect and no member of a family is on their best behavior at every moment. As most husbands and wives in healthy relationships would never disrespect their partners by complaining about them online, they should also extend the same courtesy to their children. A marriage in which the wife takes to Facebook to litigate arguments and settles scores is, as I’ve witnessed in my own personal newsfeed, not long lasting. In twenty years, will children find themselves emotionally divorcing parents who spent their childhood posting every detail about them online?
Several weeks ago I posted a picture of my husband and me with our daughter cropped out, as is our policy. We have yet to post a single picture of her online and have chosen not to say her name on social media. Partially it is due to public personas, but also due to our wanting to respect her privacy. She will build her online presence as herself, not as the daughter of Seth and Bethany Mandel. Many friends are hostile to our policy, especially given that we rarely remember to email pictures around. One friend asked incredulously if we don’t trust my Facebook friends with her image. At the time I responded saying I don’t trust Facebook, which is true, given the constant unannounced changes to privacy settings.
What I should have said is that I trust my Facebook friends, but they are mine, not hers. If she one day chooses to post embarrassing photos of her childhood in bathtubs and then-outdated clothing to her network of classmates, coworkers and community members, she can and will. But until she does so nobody else will be doing so either. If “Throwback Thursday” is still around in twenty years she’ll have all fresh material to work with. While it’s up to every parent to choose how to best navigate the world of social media, it’s important to remember the internet is forever and think of the lives of our adult children even in their childhood years.