If you’ve read much on this blog, you might have noticed that I don’t post many details about my kids online, other than very general information about how my 4-year-old helped me clean or how one of my kids once spilled activated charcoal all over my kitchen.
I am *hopefully* going to give birth sometime in the near future to baby number 6, and while I will share my birth experience and maybe even a picture of the birth or our baby, I won’t be sharing the name, weight, or even the exact birthdate. There won’t be a cute birth announcement online (even on my personal social media accounts), and I’ll just share our happy news with friends and family via phone, text, or email.
But Why Not Share?
I get a surprising number of questions about the lack of photos and details about my children both in the comments of the blog, and on social media, with some commenters even going so far as to claim that I must not really have children or that I am ashamed of them. My personal favorite is when someone comments that I must be a bitter, single old woman using someone else’s photo to make money online. Hilarious!
The truth is that I am super-proud of my kids and would love to plaster my blog and social media with pictures of them, but I don’t. In fact, I don’t even post about my kids on my own personal social media accounts as this was a decision my husband and I made for our family after a lot of thought and research.
Before I explain, I want to make it very clear that this is a personal decision that my husband and I have made for our family. I am sharing because I have received so many questions about why I don’t post about my kids (and in anticipation of requests to share a photo of new baby). This post is not, in any way, a judgement or a reflection of any other parent’s decisions about posting about their child online, just an explanation of my personal policy on this.
It Isn’t My Right
We live in a unprecedented time in technology and face decisions that our parents didn’t even have the need to consider. None of us (unless you are a lot younger than I am), grew up with our parents having smart phones or posting our pictures on Facebook.
In fact, if you were like me, the closest our pictures came to being “shared” or “liked” when we were kids were when friends and relatives would visit and parents would bring out the ever-dreaded scrapbooks. The physical scrapbooks or “baby book” that had hand-cut printed photos and lovingly worded captions to chronicle our early lives.
They didn’t post these online for everyone to see (because the web wasn’t around yet!) and in a sense we grew up in a safe and protected bubble compared to what our children face today. For me, widespread access to the internet and social media took off while I was in college, so while my first employers could have Googled me, the most they would have found is high school or college graduation announcements or achievements in my adult life.
The same won’t be true for the current generation of children. Future friends, employers and spouses will be able to Google them and potentially find pictures of their birth, or when they were potty training, or baby bath pictures or embarrassing childhood temper tantrums. Those personal childhood moments that we can safely relegate to scrapbooks or photo-albums may be very publicly available for our children.
To me, though I have the responsibility and honor of raising these tiny humans, I don’t “own” them as they are individual human beings who will one day be much more in life than just my adorable baby. While I get to make some really important life decisions for them, like what I feed them for dinner or how they are taught about life and morality, I decided to leave the decision of how and what their online presence would look like to them. And I hope that this is a decision they will make carefully after much thought once they become teenagers or adults.
Here’s the thing… I’m a pretty private person myself and while I share a lot on this blog in hopes of connecting with other moms and helping other families, I’d be pretty upset if someone was sharing pictures of my bad days, or going to the bathroom, or even just personal details without my permission.
I want to afford my children this same respect and don’t feel that I have the right to decide for them what part of their lives become permanently available online.
While we, as moms, are somewhat “the Facebook generation,” a lot of today’s teenagers are choosing social media (like Snap Chat) that offers more privacy and anonymity. I want to consider the fact that my children may one day value online anonymity even more than I do, and they may not have wanted me to post about them on social media or other online forums.
It Can’t Be Un-Done
As a child, I read a story about a woman who often gossiped, and to illustrate how destructive this could be, she was instructed to go to the top of a tower and tear open a feather pillow and scatter the feathers into the wind. She was then to come down from the tower and attempt to collect every single feather.
The moral of the story is that painful words could not be taken back, and that the damage can spread far and wide. I think this same analogy can apply when it comes to the internet.
As all too many teenagers have learned the hard way, it is not always almost impossible to undo things that have been posted online. Others can take screen shots of pictures so even if they are deleted, a copy will remain. Harsh words can immediately reach hundreds or thousands of people and not be taken back.
In an online world where everything can be cached, archived, and stored in the cloud, we have to assume that anything we post online will be permanently available in some form. This certainly goes for adults too, but I feel that it is even more important with my kids.
As I said above, I don’t feel that it is my right to share about my child’s life online and a large part of the reason is that they won’t be able to undo or un-share the things I’ve posted about them should they desire to do so when they are teenagers or adults. As we are the first generation to really face this transition, I have to wonder how our children will feel about this when they are older. Only time will tell, but for now, those are some feathers I’m trying not to scatter into the wind on behalf of my kids.
Is Over-Sharing Dangerous?
I am sometimes amazed by how much I know about friends and family members who I haven’t actually had a face-to-face conversation with in years. In fact, it is sometimes awkward to run into friends I haven’t seen in years and have trouble making conversation because thanks to Facebook I already know their children’s names, that their dad died last year, and that their neighbors are having marital trouble.
I don’t say this as a judgement in any way and certainly understand the desire to share on social media. In most cases, the over-sharing is completely harmless, but I wonder if in the hands of someone who didn’t have good intentions it would remain so.
For instance, I’ve read many stories of investigators who (in order to show the potential dangers of social media to parents) were able to find everything needed to abduct a child from a parent’s social media account. Thankfully, in the examples I’ve heard, these were police officers making a point and not child predators, but it raises some interesting questions. But if a police officer or investigator can find a child’s name, birthdate and school from a parent’s social media posts, it seems logical that a predator might be able to as well.
Am I being paranoid? Maybe… but maybe not.
Identity theft is another potential concern for me. Think about this… If the details of a child’s life have been shared on social media from birth, a person could potentially find that child’s date and time of birth, eye color, hair color, photos, school location and home address online.
Think about this too… many people use a child’s name or birthdate or some combination as the password for various internet accounts. Many of us have a maiden name on Facebook to be able to find friends. Many of us list our past places of employment and residence in our Facebook “about” section or LinkedIn profile. How many of your security questions to online accounts could someone answer with that information? How many of us have taken online quizzes or filled out those “21 Facts About Me” that just happen to coincide with common answers to security questions.
I personally know people who have had their accounts and lives hacked and suffered for months trying to clean up the damage. They eventually found out that the hackers were able to get in by using publicly available information that they’d posted online to answer security questions and get into their email. From there, the hackers could reset other passwords and gain access to other accounts.
Is that likely? Hopefully not, but I’ve seen first-hand that it is possible. I also know people who have had their child’s personally identifying information stolen and used in tax fraud, credit card applications, or other fraudulent ways.
I know that I definitely err on the side of extreme caution, but I’d rather do this than the alternative, especially when I’m talking about my children.
Online Privacy is a False Security
I have my personal privacy settings on all social media set to the highest settings so someone can’t even find me or view my profiles without already being friends with someone I know. I feel that this offers a false sense of security though, since many people still post sensitive personal information assuming that it is protected by our privacy settings.
At the same time, these settings are changing constantly. Every few months I re-check these settings and sometimes discover that thanks to a recent Facebook update (or any other social media account for that matter), things that I’d previously hidden from view with privacy settings were now publicly available or that it is no longer possible to stay hidden in some searches. I also actually read the privacy policies and realize that we aren’t really as safe as we think we might be.
With the addition of facial recognition software online and in social media, privacy is further blurred. Online algorithms can now suggest that we tag friends in pictures and determine who our closest friends are based on shared photos and status updates. This creeps me out somewhat when it happens to my own photos, but it is definitely something I want to prevent for my children (because again, it can’t be un-done).
There’s a more insidious problem, though… Myriad applications, websites, and wearable technologies are relying on face recognition today, and ubiquitous bio-identification is only just getting started. In 2011, a group of hackers built an app that let you scan faces and immediately display their names and basic biographical details, right there on your mobile phone. Already developers have made a working facial recognition API for Google Glass. While Google has forbidden official facial recognition apps, it can’t prevent unofficial apps from launching. There’s huge value in gaining real-time access to view detailed information on the people with whom we interact.
Could any of us have predicted when we were growing up what our digital lives would look like today? I certainly couldn’t have.
We truly have no idea what the future of technology holds for our children or what it will look like a decade from now. I’m personally trying to guard their future privacy (and right to decide their own online sharing) in the only way I know how- by keeping their information offline until they decide they want it there.
The Reality of Online Judgement
We’ve probably all seen the heartbreaking stories of kids who were incessantly bullied online. Some of these children have even been driven to suicide by this online bullying (including a girl who killed herself after being shamed online by her father). Statistics show that kids use social media metrics as a real-life measure of their likability and worth as a person. This can certainly have its consequences and is a cautionary tale for us as parents, but many experts think that the same thing is happening (on perhaps a more subtle level) with adults too.
While most parents once reported being secure and relatively not-stressed about their parenting decisions, many parents now call parenting “stressful” and “complicated.”
One possible explanation experts give? That we are constantly being judged by our online parenting choices, since social media has become an un-official second opinion. I’m not just talking about the heated debates that rage on controversial topics where parents blatantly call each other names and claim that CPS should take their children away for their poor choices. I’m talking about the more subtle comments on day-to-day posts, the number of “likes” (or lack thereof) and the more passive aggressive feedback that makes many of us feel the need to constantly showcase our good parenting moments online.
Why do we feel the need to wish our children (even ones who aren’t on social media) a happy birthday or congratulate them on a sports win? Especially considering that our kids are often either too young to read these posts (and not on social media yet) or old enough to be embarrassed and annoyed that we are tagging them at all?
Could it be that we crave the likes, comments and positive feedback?
I get it. Parenting is hard and positive feedback is helpful. I definitely bounce ideas off of friends or ask for advice in person. I just try really hard not to use my kids as a means for social affirmation.
On the flip side, even as an adult and parent, I know the pain of online judgement and how hard it can be to face that daily. We hear the news stories about teenagers and online bullying, but the same thing happens daily among adults. I don’t post much on personal social media but from my years of blogging, I am very aware of just how hurtful and hateful people can be on the internet (and how amazing most people are!).
I have gotten actual hate mail from people simply because they disagreed with my food choices, my outfit in a picture, or the fact that I avoid iodine with my thyroid problem. I’ve actually had someone email me that they hope I “choke on a piece of meat and die and then catch fire in a fur coat” because I posted this recipe. Seriously.
Other People Probably Don’t Care
With all the above reasons that online information can be potentially mis-used, I feel it is important to touch on a much more likely option that my younger (unmarried with no kids) brother often reminds me of.
Most people just don’t care about seeing pictures of my kids (or dog, or house, or anything else) every ten minutes on social media. That isn’t to say it is a reason not to share these things, but it is a running joke of sorts about how the Facebook news feed is just for pictures of people’s babies, cats and dogs.
Harsh though it may be, none of these people really care that much about our kids or pets. They certainly don’t care as much as we do. Of course, there are grandparents and family members who absolutely do and who love to see hourly updates of our kids, and I’m definitely not saying we shouldn’t share them.
I just *personally* prefer to share the pictures and cute things my kids say with their grandparents and aunts and uncles via text or email rather than with the whole world via social media or my blog. My parents love seeing pictures and videos of when a grandchild learns to walk, or read, or anything else really. They love videos of my kids belting out a favorite song and I share it with them. The rest of the internet doesn’t really care (and it’s none of their business), so I don’t share it.
You Just Never Know
I know many things in this post seem alarmist and I don’t mean it that way, but I do think that you never truly know the potential consequences until they happen. Something may be a very low risk, but if you are the one it happens to, the statistics don’t matter.
A few years ago, I hemorrhaged and had an emergency c-section from an undetected placenta previa at 35-weeks gestation. I’d had an ultrasound and regular prenatal care. I’d been checked multiple times. I had none of the risk factors. Do you know what the odds are of an un-detected complete previa at 35-weeks with my risk factors? Really, really low. Unfortunately, that statistic did little to help when I was bleeding. Not to be dramatic, but just to illustrate that statistics are only helpful if you are in the “safe” percentage.
Sure, the *fictional* story that circulated about the mom who posts a picture of her daughter on the first day of kindergarten on her Facebook profile only to have it stolen by a sex trafficker who now knows where her daughter is that day and goes on to abduct her and sell her into the sex trafficking industry is far-fetched and extremist. At the same time, how many of us have posted bath or beach photos of our children nude or almost nude that could end up in the hands of someone we wouldn’t want to see them.
The statistics are small and many stores like the one above are drastic and alarmist. I typically try very hard NOT to be over-protective of my children. They know how to safely use kitchen knives. They play in our backyard without me following 10-feet behind them. When we camp, they take short hikes around the woods without us. They build fires and carve sticks when we camp. Heck, I even let them make the decision to eat “un-healthy” food that I wouldn’t choose for them so they learn about making good choices and accessing risk in real-time. I don’t consider myself over-protective in the least when it comes to these things because they relate to real life skills.
I don’t consider being on social media an essential life skill and have yet to think of a single important life lesson my children miss out on by not being chronicled from birth online. Yes, the real risk of actual harm to a child from being shared online is small, but I also don’t see the benefit of over-sharing. To me, this is one area where I can easily protect my children without them missing out on anything important, so I choose to do that.
We also know that much online data, especially that shared on social media or that can be indexed by search engines, is stored in data repositories and can be archived indefinitely. We don’t (and can’t) know how this information may be used in the future and if we can ever remove it.
I’m not Anti-Social Media
I feel it is important to clarify that this decision does not stem from a dislike or fear of social media at all. In fact, I was on Myspace and have had a Facebook account since 2005, when it was only for college students who had a .edu email address. I still use many personal social media accounts to keep in touch with close friends and family, and for blogging.
I think social media is an amazing tool, when used correctly. At the same time (and perhaps because I’ve been using it for over a decade), I’ve seen some of the negative and unfortunate things that can happen when young children are allowed to share too much online too soon.
I won’t keep my kids off social media forever as I’m not opposed to their using it when they are older and responsible enough. I just don’t personally want to put them on there until they can make the decision themselves since I want to help them form a good sense of judgement and responsibility before giving them a tool like social media to use.
At the end of the day, the central reason I don’t post pictures, names or information about my children online can be summed up in this way: I am not my children and I don’t feel that I have the right.
My children are individuals and I feel that they have the right to this privacy. They may currently depend on me to provide and protect their basic needs and rights, but one day they will be autonomous adults who may not have wanted their childhood chronicled in such a public way. I had the safety of a childhood that wasn’t publicly chronicled and I want to offer the same to my own children.
Don’t get me wrong… I take all. the. pictures. And make all the scrapbooks. They’ll have a detailed photo record of their childhood if they want it… it just won’t be online.
I also feel that there is a balance, even for me. I share pictures of them doing activities on social media, I just don’t show their faces or use their names. I talk about them in a general way. If you want to, you could find more pictures of my daughters’ hair than you’d ever care to see. I’m not perfect with this policy and I did share some pictures early-on in my parenting days (that have been mostly removed now). I just try really hard to afford my kids some online privacy, especially while being a “mama-blogger.”
I know I am in the minority in my decision, as 97% of U.S. moms who use Facebook report that they post pictures of their children online. I also know that just sharing my opinion is likely to open me up to some of the same criticism and online judgement I always hope to avoid, but since I have received so many genuine questions about this, I wanted to share my perspective.
Again, I’m sharing my own research and opinion on this matter and the post is titled “Why *I* Don’t Talk About *My* Kids Online” and not “Why YOU Shouldn’t Talk About Your Kids Online.” I don’t mean for this post to be controversial, though I suspect that it might be. I don’t mean this post as a judgement of any other mom… we all deal with that enough!
If you disagree with my stance on this issue, I’d love to hear about it and talk with you in the comments. All I ask is that we all keep it respectful and talk in a way that all of our children will be proud of.
Do you share about your kids online? How and why did you make this decision? Please weigh in below!