In this digital age, the idea of privacy is one that is oft discussed. How can we protect our information? Who has access to our social media profiles? When is a good age for our children to enter the digital world?
In many of these discussions, however, we often overlook a crucial topic: what boundaries must we set around “sharenting”: sharing stories, videos and images of our children on social media? In the past decade, it has increasingly become the norm to share details about our child’s daily adventures on social media. From first steps, first foods, to family vacations, performances and graduations – a child’s life can be documented entirely on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. However, before we share details and stories from our child’s life, there are three questions that we should ask ourselves:
1. Who is this for?
Attend any child’s performance, pumpkin patch, or birthday party, and you will no doubt see parents snapping photos or recording videos with their phones. Once upon a time, photos and videos were taken with the purpose of keeping these recordings for posterity’s sake – to walk down memory lane with your close family members. Today, these memories are captured often with the intention to share them with an online circle of friends – a group that can be anywhere from a small circle of ten to followings of 1000+ people.
The trouble with constantly recording our experiences is that our phone often removes us from the experience. Rather than crouching down and inspecting a pumpkin with your son, you are instead hovering above, watching the moment through a screen. Instead of soaking in the “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy” being performed in front of you, you are instead intently focused on getting the right angle or zooming in on your little performer. You become detached from the moment; your eyes are looking at a device, and not into the eyes of your child
When recording a moment, pause and consider: who is this for? Am I snapping this photo so that I can have it for myself later? Will I watch this video years from now to revisit this moment? Or is my intent just to create content for sharing in my “social media world”? Am I immersed in this moment, or have I let a phone act as a barrier between myself and my child? If the answer is: “So that other people can see this”, take some time to consider WHY you want to share these moments on social media, and if the reasons are worth removing yourself from living the experience authentically.
2. Is this post at your child’s expense?
Viral posts often circulate featuring the mishaps of children. Whether it’s a toddler who has discovered a Sharpie or a teenager who is forced to wear a sandwich board on a street corner, various “shamings” of children gain immediate responses from audiences. It has become an unfortunate trend for some parents to manufacture “punishments” that are recorded and posted on social media in order to inflict feelings of shame on their child.
In this moment, a parent is no longer viewing his or her child with compassion and understanding. Instead, the parent is relying on the fulfillment of “likes” and comments in order to support his or her punitive parenting style. Unfortunately, the damage to the relationship with his child far outweighs the worth of this public support. A parent who is filming a meltdown or a serious conversation with his child has removed himself from that intimate space by inviting in a recording device. Immediately, this conversation becomes less authentic, as the parent becomes focused on capturing it for an audience, rather than with the intent of identifying a child’s needs.
Before you post something that colours your child in a negative light, consider this: if your partner videotaped you snapping at him or her after a long day at work and then posted it on Facebook, how would you feel? If you burned dinner, and then burst into tears in the kitchen, would you want your partner to post that on Instagram? Children are people – beautiful, sensitive little humans – and they are deserving of the same respect that you would want for yourself.
3. Have you asked?
When a parent first embarks on her parenting journey, absolutely every precious moment begs to be documented. Parents become accustomed to sharing the minutiae of their child’s life on social media, often without considering whether the child is comfortable with her life being broadcast for all to see.
When a child nears adolescence, she will begin to develop her own sense of self. During this period of monumental brain development, your child will be focused on forming meaningful attachments with peers. At the same time, impulse control will decrease while feelings of self-consciousness increase. The term “imaginary audience” refers to the concept of feeling that everyone is watching you (even if nobody really IS watching you). So, with this heightened sense of awareness and insecurity, you can imagine that images and videos of your pre-teen or teen on social media have a bigger impact than you might think. What might seem like “no big deal” to you can actually be a BIG HUGE DEAL to your child.
Before posting something about your child – whether YOU believe it is potentially embarrassing or not – ask. Asking your child if you can post a certain picture or video shows that you respect her boundaries and her sense of identity. Asking also demonstrates that you value your relationship with your child more than the content stream that you’re putting out on your social networks.
How you choose to approach your relationship with social media is also a great opportunity to have a conversation with your child(ren) on responsible social sharing. Start the conversation with your child about social media usage early, and discuss how they and their friends think about sharing images and videos across their platforms. In our ever connected digital world, it’s important to discuss the role of technology in our every day – this can range from apps, to location sharing, and much more. Use this time to promote connection and understanding as you and your child navigate this new world together.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe joined Life360 in March 2019 as a Family Expert to help further the company’s mission of keeping families safe and connected. Dr. Lapointe is an Author, parenting expert, and registered psychologist.