Monday, March 11, 2013

parents, do you think before you post?

My entire childhood is documented in the space of three photo albums. Among them are two photos that stand out in my memory: one, infant-me having my diaper changed from a rather compromising camera angle; the other, two-year-old me seated triumphantly on a potty chair. I remember them because my parents teased that they would show them to any prospective suitors. Even though I knew they were joking, the possibility that those pictures would ever be viewed outside our family horrified me as an adolescent. The written record of my childhood is fairly small, too – a baby book with notes about my weight gain and first words, a collection of birthday cards and letters from family. I think how different this is from the record many parents are making of their children’s early years now.

The internet and social media open up new possibilities for us to record and share the lives of our families on a much broader scale than ever before. Because of this, parents of very young children must think of themselves differently than in the past. Photos like the ones my parents lightheartedly joked about revealing are now revealed routinely to our virtual communities. The off-the-cuff comment my mother may have made to her neighbor about my two-year-old sassiness is now made by parents to hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of virtual relationships. I wonder how many parents realize that they are the custodians of their children’s virtual identity until they are old enough to manage it on their own?

thinking ahead

Most discussions of children and online protocol center on privacy settings and password safety for school-age children, but my concern starts earlier than that: are we parents protecting and preserving the future privacy wishes and best interests of our small children in our own online posting choices?

Every day parents use social media and the blogosphere to offer up photos and posts chronicling all manner of child misbehavior, parental frustrations, and mishaps involving bodily fluids. I think these posts are made by well-meaning parents, unaware that they are creating an online identity for their children. But with every post, we construct a digital history of our child’s life – a virtual scrapbook for public viewing - and I wonder if we might want to think harder about the trail we are leaving behind. Do our comments and photos preserve our child’s dignity or gratify our own adult sense of comedy? Do we post our thoughts to satisfy a need to vent? Do we miss the truth that our families need our discretion far more than our blog followers need our authenticity?

There is a reason we don’t vent about or post potentially embarrassing pictures of our spouse or our mother-in-law: the very real possibility that they will see what we have posted. No such danger exists with a young child…or does it? Cyberspace feels fleeting and forgiving, but it is neither. Consider that your toddler will likely one day see the online identity you have created for them. And so may their middle school peers, their prom date, their college admissions board, and their future employers. But far more important than what the outside world will think of this digital trail is what your child will think of it.

imagine them older

Parents, before you post about your small child, imagine a thirteen-year-old version of them reading over your shoulder. Your child bears the image of God just as you do. Does what you have to communicate honor them as an equal image-bearer? Does it provide short-term gratification for you or honor long-term relationship with them? Does it potentially expose them to ridicule or label them? Does it record a negative sentiment that an adult would recognize as fleeting but an adolescent might not?

I am sure my mother had days when she wanted to give toddler-me to gypsies, but no permanent record of these moments existed for adolescent-me to find. A few of those stories do survive in oral form, but they are retold with laughter, face-to-face, where tone and facial expression give them context. If my mother vented to my dad that I was sneaky or sassy, I never saw or heard those labels. And that’s a good thing, because, though parents experience moments (or seasons) of deep frustration toward our children, we would never want them to think that our love for them was ever in question.

In school my children were taught a memory tool to help them make wise choices when speaking, writing or posting:  

T-H-I-N-K: Is what I have to say True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary or Kind? 

As stewards of their stories, we parents need that memory tool as well. Maintaining trust in the parent-child relationship should outweigh any other motive for posting. Think before you post. By all means, have a safe and appropriate place to vent and “be real” about parenting – just recognize that place is probably not the internet. Let everything you share with those outside your home strengthen the bond of trust you have within it. Tell your story without compromising theirs. Execute well the custodial duty of managing your child’s online identity until its precious owner is ready to assume the job.

“…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” - Philippians 4:8


  1. Jen, this is GREAT and a needed reminder! I've been guilty of this in the baby pic department and have some "cleaning up" to do on there. Keep speaking truth, sister!

  2. I love this - what a great reminder to think of our kids' future thoughts and feelings. It's so easy to forget about that, yet it's so important that we, as parents, think about what they might want for themselves at a later date and not just what we want to share now. Thanks for sharing your heart!

  3. I have three young adult children, and I can say quite positively that the are very happy that there are no tales of them or pictures on the potty as children. I've written about this on my own blog, and received emails saying how "uptight" I was. My husband reminds regularly: nothing on the internet goes away. Thanks for not being the only "uptight" person out there.

  4. "Let everything you share with those outside your home strengthen the bond of trust you have within it."

    The entire post is wonderful, but this line stopped me in my tracks.

    I am fiercely protective of my 14-year old daughter's identity online. I blog about her in general terms. I don't mention her on FB or Twitter, other than as "my girl", and I do not post pictures of her. Still, I wonder if everything I post builds the trust my husband and my daughter have in me.

    Thanks for giving me good food for thought.

  5. I constantly feel thankful that facebook didn't exist when I was in high school. I would have died if my parents had posted half the things I see parents posting about their teenage children! This was such a good reminder to me, as a mom of little ones. I want to "be real" so that I don't make others feel bad based on an edited online version of my "perfect" world, but then I think, why am I even creating such an online world? Why do I feel the need to share anything at all, good or bad, with hundreds of "friends"? I am learning what it means to really live, in the real world, and to scale back my internet presence, especially when it comes to my children. I saw a bunch of people I hadn't seen in years at a funeral recently and there was nothing new to tell them about my kids. They knew their ages, the months they were born, names, latest milestone, etc. Besides taking away from all the small talk we could have had, it just plain creeped me out! And these were people I dearly love! It was a good wake up call to me and has prompted me to just quit sharing so much. Thanks for your post!

  6. I needed this reminder! In the end, my children's trust is definitely worth more than any laugh a picture could get!

  7. Love this! When our son turned 3 months old we decided we didn't want anyone else to have control of what is posted online of our son besides us. It has been super hard to explain and not to be taken personally by parents. Social media is such a new part of parenting!

  8. This is a great post, and something we parents definitely need to think about. :)

  9. followed a link from the sneaky mommy ~ Kudos to you for posting and for being thoughtful to care for your children so discerningly! {new word? but you know what I mean, right?}
    Thank you & God bless you and your family!

  10. Thank you so much for putting words to what my husband and I so adamantly feel, but have a hard time explaining to family members about why we don't take part in social media and ask them not to post anything about our baby or any photos. We aren't too popular for that ;) We tired of folks taking photos with her for the only reason to have new profile pic. Our baby is not a prop. She is too precious. You are so correct, internet is not forgiving and her trust is so much more important to us. Wonderful words. Thank you again.

  11. I have shared this view ever since our son was born. We post pics of him every once in awhile, but I am very hesitant for the exact same reasons you laid out here. Great to come across a post that sums it all up so well. Social media is so new that we don't really have teens yet that have their baby pictures all over the internet. I can see this being a big issue in a few years when teens aren't happy with what all their peers can find about them because of what their parents posted. Great post.

  12. This is an awesome piece!! I know people who need to read this!!

  13. Well said! I'm surprised at how few parents even seem aware of this issue and I'm thankful to you for putting it in such eloquent terms. So many of us tend to forget that our children will become adolescents and then adults who will, most likely, have access to the majority of what their parents posted online during their childhood. I love the way you differentiate between a Facebook post and a family story, told with the benefit of hindsight (and humor).

  14. I got a Christmas card this year from a friend that was a drawing by her 5-year-old son with the caption "I want new parents." That's supposed to be cute??? I cringe when I see her FB posts of her children. I totally agree with this article, and taught my own children to T-H-I-N-K! Merry Christmas everybody!