“There’s a problem with my shoe,” my two-year-old son said. “What is it?” I asked. “There’s a foot in it.” I have no idea what he was talking about. But it made me laugh, so I typed it up later and shared it on Facebook. “I’m running a race and I won!” he told me another day. “Wow!” I said. “Who else was racing?” “Only me.” That one went on Facebook too. It was funny, he and I were alone, I wanted to share it with someone. So I did.
Like it or not, social media is a part of our lives. It’s not just the latest fad, like fidget spinners, or bottle flipping. It’s a legitimate change in the way that human beings communicate with one another and the world. And you can sit around, if you want, talking about “kids these days” and shaking your fist and rolling your eyes but it won’t change anything. Facebook may fade away, and Twitter may get replaced with something else, but the fact is we are now a society that uses the internet to connect with people. People we know, and people we don’t. It’s the way of things now. Regardless of what you think of it.
But what will my son think? Before we became parents my husband and I made the decision not to post pictures of our child on Facebook (and social media in general). We didn’t want images of our son shared with people we didn’t know, even if we thought we were just sharing them with friends. We wanted to keep him safe. And we’ve done that.
But I still post about my son online. I share anecdotes and pictures of his artwork. I participate in the current social media culture, even if I don’t share his image. But, more and more these days, my son is becoming his own little person. He has definite ideas about how things should be done, plans for what we should do next. He tells jokes and makes up stories. He prefers Big Red Barn to Goodnight Moon and Winnie the Pooh to Elmo. He has opinions about things. So, what would his opinion be about this? And what (perhaps more importantly) will he think of it in the years to come.
One day my son will find out (just like everyone’s sons and daughters will find out) that I share the things he says and does with friends online. And, knowing him as I do, I’m fairly certain he won’t like it. If I’d asked him to repeat the thing about the shoe to a friend of mine he’d have clammed up. If I’d tried to recreate the conversation about the race when we bumped into an old colleague he’d have looked at the ground and mumbled, “not sure.” He’s shy. And independent. He doesn’t perform for other people. He makes his own choices. But he doesn’t choose this.
On the one hand, I’m just doing what moms and dads have done since time immemorial. I’m sharing anecdotes about my kid with friends and family. If we lived near our extended family (which we don’t) and an uncle or a cousin dropped by, I might tell them the funny thing my son said the other day. Or if, at a summer barbecue, we ran into an old friend from college who asked me about my son, I might tell her something neat he did recently. Bragging about our kids and laughing at the funny things they say is nothing new. So, in that sense, he’s kind of got to deal with it.
But, on the other hand, not all my “friends” on Facebook are actually my friends. I mean, lots of them are. Most of them are. But some of them are acquaintances, old colleagues, people I was friends with long ago but haven’t seen or spoken to in over twenty years. Does my son need to deal with them knowing the things he did? Should his words, or his artwork, or the things he does, be broadcast to strangers on a regular basis? Should those posts be out there in cyberspace, available for anyone more tech savvy than I to find them? When put that way, it seems a little unfair to him.
Having known my son for two and a half years now, I can say with absolute certainty that he is his own person. He has opinions, thoughts, ideas, and feelings that are different from mine. He may have been a part of my body once, but now he’s an independent being. And the more obvious that becomes, the more I’m beginning to feel that he ought to have a choice. That I ought to protect his privacy. For his safety, yes, but for his dignity too.
I’ll be honest. I’m not sure what that will look like for us. Like I said, we live in a world in which social media has become ubiquitous, regardless of what any individual person may think of it. Staying connected to friends and family far away is important to me. But so is my son’s privacy. It’s worth thinking about, anyway. At least I think so. Don’t you?