Deep in our 30s, the thing my friends and I talk about the most at parties is any variation on: “Thank God we didn’t have social media when we were teenagers”. When I was young the worst possible consequence for doing something embarrassing (aside from police intervention) was that everyone at school would find out. But pre Internet, that wasn’t likely to happen. There were no publicly shared photos of infant bath time, and my suspension from preschool for obsessively painting pictures of Dom Deluise was information none of my peers at any age had access to and until this moment, it never crossed my mind that my employers might ever know about this (Hi Predrag and Natasa!).
I was part of the very last group of people (like many of you reading this) who grew up not knowing what it was like to have someone share your entire life on the Internet before you were old enough to know what that might mean. Most of my friends who religiously say “Thank God we didn’t have social media when we were teenagers” are raising small children. Their online parenting styles range from putting your child all over the Internet to not knowing they have children unless you are a close friend or relative.
Sharing your child with the world is an entirely new and highly polarizing concept. Before you begin building an online identity for your child, there are some things to keep in mind – from controlling the content you share to basic safety.
The only situation in which you control and own the content you share online is when you do so through your own, privately hosted website with a personal domain name. This means that when you blog about your children or share photos of them, all of that information is yours to do with what you please. No one can legally share it without your permission. However, this is NOT THE CASE when you post to any social media platform regardless of how strong your privacy settings are. Facebook, for example is technically the “owner” of any photos or information you upload of your child. The revenue model for Facebook as well as many other social sites is to sell your information to advertisers, etc.
Many of my parent friends who are not professional parent bloggers but who chose to share photos, stories and information about their children do so on their own websites, some of which are password protected with access granted to close family and friends only.
You know how you tell your kids not to talk to strangers at the park or get into a windowless van with anyone promising them candy? Well, sometimes the Internet is kind of like a giant windowless van full of candy. And lost puppies. Most people are basically good, but unfortunately the cliché about the bad apples that spoil the whole bunch is true. If you chose to post photos of your child online, in public databases like social media sites, please liberally employ privacy settings. This means private accounts and whittling down your friends list to only people you actually know in real life.
We recommend not posting:
– Your child’s schedule
– Any sensitive identifying information about you or your child
The Internet is exactly like physical reality. Any safety precautions you would take toward protecting your child from harmful strangers in your offline life are nearly identical to those you should practice online as well.
Consent and identity
The biggest complication in sharing your small child’s life on the Internet is its inability to consent to what is being shared. Everything you post online lives forever and with the wide use of facial recognition software, and constantly evolving search experiences everything you post about your child, every photo, every funny story lays the foundation of their online identity. You didn’t just create a person IRL; you are now also creating a personality and history for them online. This early online personality and history will be fully searchable by future friends, partners, employers and bullies. It is kind of like playing Sims but with serious real world consequences.
An infant or toddler can’t say yes to the photo you are uploading or the story you tell about it. But that photo and story will follow them around forever. Be mindful when repeating information and events online that you are controlling someone else’s story before they are able to take it over and make it theirs. Liberally exercise the golden rule and don’t post or say anything about your child that you would be mortified if your parents had been able to share about you.
Mitigating potential shame
Shame is the Internet’s greatest currency. The kindest thing you can do for your child is to ask yourself (every time you share anything online for a child too young to consent) if what you are posting will some day make them die of embarrassment. If the answer is yes, it might be best to keep for a private family laugh to torment them during the holidays.
To recap, when sharing your child’s life online:
– Host your content on your own website with a personal domain name.
– Only share with people you know.
– Dramatically increase your privacy settings.
– Don’t post anything your child will be ashamed of later.
Your child lives in a world where almost every aspect of private life is highly documented and easily searchable. If you can’t give them privacy, you can keep them safe, control where their content is posted and not embarrass them on the Internet. Good luck parents.
This article is part of our series on Generation Alpha
We seek to provide answers to your most pressing questions about keeping your kids safe online, introducing them to the digital world, and helping them be their authentic selves online.
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