Should parents stop sharing info about their kids on social media?

by DaniGirl on March 13, 2016 · 7 comments

in Meta-blogging, Mothering without a licence

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I’ve always taken articles about the dangers of posting photos or personal stories about children online with a grain of salt, and any perceived risk seemed infinitesimally remote, especially when compared with the vast richness that the blog has brought to our family’s lives. That’s why I was taken aback when a few bloggers with whom I came of bloggy age back a decade or so ago have reacted to a New York Times blog article titled “Don’t Post About Me on Social Media, Children Say” by saying it moved them to delete their old parenting blogs entirely after reading it.

The article quotes a study that found that children aged 10 to 17 were three times more likely than their parents to think there should be rules about what the parent posted about the child on social media. It goes on to say,

With the first babies of Facebook (which started in 2004) not yet in their teens and the stylish kids of Instagram (which started in 2010) barely in elementary school, families are just beginning to explore the question of how children feel about the digital record of their earliest years. But as this study, although small, suggests, it’s increasingly clear that our children will grow into teenagers and adults who want to control their digital identities.

While some of the bloggers who have chosen to remove their blogs wrote in a style that was perhaps more raw than mine, I think the early success of the blog was largely due to the personal anecdotes rich with intimate details. Even as I occasionally cringe at how there was nothing too personal or too mundane for the blog back in the early days, I don’t think I could bring myself to pull the whole blog down. There are so many beautiful memories bound in its archives, and one of my favourite things about the blog is coming across an old post in the archives that brings me instantly back to a moment in time that would have otherwise been lost forever.

header history collage

That’s not to say that the blog hasn’t been at the root of a few awkward moments. There was the time last year when my eighth grader casually mentioned that they had had my blog up on the smart board in his class that day. As I asked for a bit of context, I frantically scanned my minds’ eye back on the previous three or four months of blog posts for possible perils. How exactly did that come to be? His English teacher asked if anyone kept a blog, and he casually piped up that no, he didn’t have one, but he was IN one, and provided my URL. And as a class, they examined it. One of Tristan’s friends casually mentioned the next time I saw him how much he likes my photographs. Then there was the time a few years back when the principal called me in to the office to have a discussion about what she perceived as a slanderous post about rain pants. And of course there was the whole creepy thesis debacle. Every now and then I do a search on the boys’ full hyphenated names, and I am always relieved that Google has generally failed to connect them to the blog. Not that someone with time on their hands couldn’t make the connection, but at least it’s not too easy. Until they put it up on the smart board in front of their classmates, at least.

I mentioned the article to Beloved and the boys, and the boys affirmed that they actually like having their stories online. Both of the older boys have used Google to search within the blog to find family photos for school projects, and even Lucas in Grade 2 has used Google to find pictures of him with Willie and Bella. I was particularly surprised by Beloved’s reaction to the idea – you might remember that Beloved almost DID pull the plug on the blog many years ago after the first time a blog reader recognized him and the boys in Costco. We were talking about the idea of the boys’ stories being their own, and he said “yes, but their stories ARE our stories.” Similarly, the article talks about how parents connect and find solidarity in sharing stories online about the challenges of raising children, saying:

But that kind of sharing — about food issues, potty training and tantrums — is exactly the kind of sharing that can be valuable. “Children benefit from the community created when parents have the ability to share their stories,” said Ms. Steinberg. Those posts about picky eating might have helped my friend find solutions, or a fresh wellspring of patience for a behavior her child would eventually outgrow.

When parents share those early frustrations, they don’t see themselves as exposing something personal about their children’s lives, but about their own. As a society, says Ms. Steinberg, “we’re going to have to find ways to balance a parent’s right to share their story and a parent’s right to control the upbringing of their child with a child’s right to privacy.

There are many ways to be protective. Some parents don’t use names, or don’t post pictures with recognizable faces. Some blogs are completely pseudonymous. It’s just a little bit too late for me to consider any of those options, so we’ll muddle through together. I try to think of as many potential audiences as I can while I am writing a post (the boys’ peers, their teachers, my peers, my boss, potential photography clients, the boys’ future bosses, Beloved’s colleagues, and people who might wish us less than well are only the short list of various audiences that make me wary) and I usually ask at least the older boys to read blog posts with references to them to make sure that I’m not overstepping my limits. I admit that the posts I struggle with the most are their annual birthday love letters – it is increasingly difficult to express in unself-consious and fully Google-indexed detail the wonders and peccadilloes of their personalities and my infinite love for them. I almost didn’t post Tristan’s last year, and this year I only posted it when he specifically asked if I’d written one. I only published it after he’d read it and given me explicit permission.

I truly feel that the many gifts that the blog has brought to us, from tangible goods to career paths to the simple archiving of memories, far far outweigh the potential perils. In the end, I’m reasonably confident that I’ve found a balance that works for our family, and that’s the most important part.

For those of you who have blogged about your children in years gone by, have you left the archives intact? Do your kids know about and read your blog? Would you want them to? Have you ever had an awkward moment when something you posted online was taken out of context? As always, I’d love to hear what you think!


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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lynn March 13, 2016 at 9:20 am

Wow, some bloggers took down their blogs? I didn’t hear about that, although I did read the original article and agree with everything you say here. I just love the fact that I have that bloggy record of the early days of parenthood – I’m my own best audience as I’m happy to go back and re-read the old stories over and over again, things I know I would have forgotten all about if I hadn’t written them down. My kids love those stories, too – I actually took the time a couple of years ago to gather up most of my posts (the family ones, not the Dance Show ones!) and print them out and bind them into a book. Now they enjoy flipping through and reading all the stories about themselves – for now, at least, it makes them feel special and pseudo-famous.

I do think, as they get into the teen years, it’s important to keep the focus on your thoughts as a parent – how you are learning and growing with them, and not so much on their own feelings and experiences. I like to think I’d absolutely respect any of my kids’ wishes to stop writing about them. But for now, I intend to keep the blog up, and keep on blogging. It’s how I process!

2 Jenny March 13, 2016 at 3:18 pm

I’ve considered taking down my blog and not using our real names, but when CTV asked me to come on m their morning show… There I am. It’s me. No hiding anymore. I’m going to post my family’s names and share photos. I love sharing. :)

3 jody March 13, 2016 at 8:31 pm

Mine is password protected and inactive because Gemma found it and objected to anything about her being online. She has since moderated her position, and the old version at blogspot is still available (absent a few posts I found too personal in retrospect) but heat — it’s gone.

I’m going to download the entire thing to my computer one of these days. I want it to exist, but it doesn’t need to exist for anyone but us.

Then again, my whole life would be different if not for the blogging golden age. So I don’t regret one bit of it. And I don’t think there’s one right answer, either.

4 Janet March 14, 2016 at 8:13 am

I wonder about that. I try to keep my stuff pretty G-rated, both because my employers could look it up, but also for the kids. It doesn’t get the same laughs as the raunchy ones (e.g., Baby Sideburns), but I try to keep in mind how I would feel if my mom had a cartoon blog about me (even if my name wasn’t used).
I think, like your kids, I would find it awesome and a great memento… as long as it wasn’t really embarrassing (toilet stuff, etc.) or with a tone of mocking me. So that’s what I try to go by. Plus I laugh at myself just as much, and I hope the kids see that.

Plus, my older son is already drawing cartoons of me, so I figure I better be nice for that reason, too!

5 Karen March 14, 2016 at 4:01 pm

I’m with you all the way on this one. How I write about my child has changed for sure. Stories about him are few and far between these days. But he is aware, if not totally understanding of the impact, that I talk about him on my blog/online. We’ve had the conversation a number of times. Sometimes I’ll show him old blog posts about himself that he enjoys.

I get that some people develop mixed feelings or remorse about what they put out there, but I was always pretty cautious, even when I wasn’t particularly intentional about it. It’s been pretty important to me to think about what I say about anyone in my family online regardless of where I’m posting.

6 DaniGirl March 15, 2016 at 8:41 am

Another aspect of this that just occurred to me is that by regularly engaging the boys on the idea of me publishing their stories online, I am (hopefully) making them aware of the ramifications of sharing and oversharing personal information. If we have regular family discussions about it, I’m hoping they’ll be better equipped to think more carefully as they begin to manage their own online identities. Wishful thinking?

7 Kev March 15, 2016 at 9:52 am

Awesome thinking.

Also, I still wait for a SciFi-themed “Mothership”. Just sayin’.

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