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 “Donâ€™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, itâ€™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.
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 â€” about food issues, potty training and tantrums â€” is exactly the kind of sharing that can be valuable. â€œChildren benefit from the community created when parents have the ability to share their stories,â€ 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 donâ€™t see themselves as exposing something personal about their childrenâ€™s lives, but about their own. As a society, says Ms. Steinberg, â€œweâ€™re going to have to find ways to balance a parentâ€™s right to share their story and a parentâ€™s right to control the upbringing of their child with a childâ€™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!