In a now-deleted tweet, author and entrepreneur Sam McRoberts told the entire world that his son is his biggest regret. “Having a kid is probably my biggest life regret. Wife concurs,” he tweeted earlier this month.
Unraveling the narcissism of McRobert’s tweet would be like peeling back the layers of an onion — complete with copious tears. Anyone who’s had a child knows that parenthood demands sacrifice. You give up time, energy, sleep, money, experiences — the works — but what you gain is so much more valuable (unless you’re a narcissist).
But McRoberts is allowed to be a narcissist, and he’s entitled to his opinions (however abhorrent we might find them). That’s not the part about this that bothers me. What bothers me is that his son — a real human being — will one day read this tweet (if he hasn’t already) and know that his father wishes he’d never been born.
What bothers me is that his son — a real human being — will one day read this tweet (if he hasn’t already) and know that his father wishes he’d never been born.
McRoberts’ Twitter faux-pas is an extreme example of something that’s gone wrong in our culture: the publicizing of our children for our own benefit. McRoberts’ comments ought never to have breached the circle of his most intimate acquaintances, let alone made it onto a public forum accessible by people throughout the entire world. Not because his comments were so vile (though many might feel that way about them), but because— regardless of how old his son is — McRoberts has a duty to protect his son’s privacy.
Our children deserve our protection
We all have that duty. But all you’ve got to do is log on to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to see that — while most of us aren’t as cruel as McRoberts — the notion of our children’s privacy has mostly gone the way of the VCR.
Kids are funny, and frustrating, and fabulous. As parents, we’re looking for ways to connect with people who understand this crazy phase of life. Nothing connects two people more than realizing they have children the same age. Moms who just met can speak in a sort of shorthand no one else could understand. (“Napping?” “Ugh, dropping the morning one.” “The worst, so sorry.”) It feels good to reach out to other people who get it. And we should reach out, even online — that’s what social media’s for — but our actual children (as opposed to just the fact that they exist) shouldn’t be exposed in the process.
And we should reach out, even online — that’s what social media’s for — but our actual children (as opposed to just the fact that they exist) shouldn’t be exposed in the process.
At the most basic level, sharing photos and videos of our children online is dangerous. Your child is just a screenshot away from having his image used by a stranger for anything at all, entirely without your knowledge or consent. You may think your Facebook group is private, or that all your Twitter followers are friends and family, but it only takes one share or retweet for the photos or videos to be disseminated more widely than flyers on a street corner. We wouldn’t hand pictures of our children (complete with their full names and ages) out to strangers on the street, so why are we doing it on the internet?
Sharing photos about our children is about us, not them
But, on another level, sharing photos and videos of our children online is disrespectful. There’s no doubt that that time your toddler fell asleep with his head in a bowl of spaghetti was funny. But sharing a photo of it with strangers is purely about you, not him. You’re using your child to get laughs and likes. And the photo — though he may not care one way or another about it now — is probably one that, eventually, he’ll wish you hadn’t shared. Same with the video of the tantrum he had on the floor of CVS because you wouldn’t buy him a toilet plunger and a box of safety pins. It may make you feel better to post that video to the world — you’re so exasperated, and the LOLs and the commiserating comments feel good — but it’s not fair to your child.
It may make you feel better to post that video to the world — you’re so exasperated, and the LOLs and the commiserating comments feel good — but it’s not fair to your child.
Even the photo of your baby’s first haircut, or your daughter’s gap-toothed smile when she’s lost her first tooth or that video of your son scoring the game-winning goal ought not to be a public viewing. These things aren’t embarrassing, necessarily, and you’re posting them because you’re proud, but these posts are still about you, not your child. You’re showing your kid off to the world — which is a totally understandable thing to want to do — but the world has widened somewhat since the days when the family photo album was pulled out for every random guest who came to visit.
Now, if you put your photos and videos on social media, they’re accessible to pretty much anyone at all, and exist on the internet forever (like, forever forever). Chances are you wouldn’t want someone posting photos of every single thing you do without your permission. Your kids might not want it either. And, even if your kid seems perfectly happy to have you share photos of him — even eagerly awaiting the likes and shares — he’ll probably be a lot less happy when the video you posted of him as a toddler in the bathtub finds its way onto the school bully’s phone years later.
Chances are you wouldn’t want someone posting photos of every single thing you do without your permission.
Sharing photos and videos of our children has become the norm. But perhaps it’s time to question that. Our children aren’t props to be used to our advantage; they’re people. And, while we certainly want to connect with other parents, and share the funny, and infuriating, and wonderful things our children do, it might behoove us to think carefully before we share photos and videos of our kids to the entire world.
It’s hard to imagine that our toddler — or even our five year old — will one day wish we hadn’t shared that picture of them running topless into the ocean. But the frightening and wonderful thing about children is that one day they’ll grow up. Let’s make sure we’re protecting them until they do.
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