Being a Parent or Guardian Extends to Social Media Presence, Too

Oct 22, 2013

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I recently saw a blog post from two parents who had just spent over 50 hours removing online photos and videos of their children from social media and sharing sites. The parents’ given reason for the removal was not privacy or concerns about some “creepy stalker” finding their kids pictures. The reason stated was “identity”. Keep in mind it wasn’t “identity theft”, just “identity”. 

Most people old enough to have children have not been raised from infancy to adulthood in the “digital” era. Most of us have not had every detail or our lives shared online with others; most would agree that is a good thing. Unfortunately, many of us don’t stop to think how it might have affected our lives if everything that we did had been shared online. Part of the journey from child to adult is making mistakes or trying new things. This is normal, but having to share it with the “Internet” is not healthy and usually intimidates kids from trying something new and self-discovery.

I am extremely grateful that there aren't pictures of me as teen with a ridiculous hair cut, a video of my tap dancing, a photo of every girl I ever dated, or pictures of me wearing matching overalls with my siblings at Yellowstone National park posted online.

I could go on for hours about things I am thrilled to have in my past, even if they were “cute” at the time. Although my personal identity may have been formed from these past experiences, I am certain I don’t want to share these things with my current “Internet acquaintances” or worse, my employers.

In the above mentioned blog post, I read well thought out quote from a wise parent. “My wife and I do have ground rules for posting things, the most basic of which being never to post something that we’d be embarrassed about if our parents had posted something similar of us as a child.”

Think of the classic image of the “new fiancée” coming over to the house to meet the family. Mom and Dad pull out the photo album and talk about the time when their son played soccer or went to the Prom.  Sure, “Skippy” is embarrassed, but this also brings the family closer as they share who they are and how they have become this person with close friends and family.

Shouldn’t the details of our lives be something we reserve for close personal relationships? Or, at a minimum, shouldn’t we give our kids the right to decide “who” they want to share their lives with and what they are willing to share?

The term “guardian” is well suited when you think of the need to guard our child’s identity. Not from theft, but from establishment. By this constant “sharing” many parents are actually establishing a permanent “online identity” for their kids without their knowledge or consent. This is a permanent social presence that our kids will carry for their entire life.

I hear many parents say, “Our life is an open book,” and “I have no problem sharing with everyone.” To those attitudes, I have a response:

  1. It is very likely your past adolescent life was not shared online, and I am willing to bet there are things you are glad are in your past.
  2. It is great if you, as an adult, wish to share your life with everyone, but please think twice before making that decision for your children.

Personally, I think we should let our children choose with whom they want to share their lives, including both past and present experiences. We have a responsibility to ensure that they are mature enough to make those decisions on their own before turning them loose on the Internet and a social medial account.

There is a huge difference between the family photo album on the coffee table and the photo album on Facebook that is accessible to people we barely know.

Guarding our kids' identity is more than making sure no one steals it. It means letting our kids grow up and have life’s experiences without the pressure of living in a glass house where everything both past and present is visible to the online world.