As a parent whose children came of age prior to the social media boom, I often congratulate my husband and myself on our impeccable timing.
We lucked out. Of all the stresses inherent in child rearing, certainly the use and abuse of social media is high on the list.
I mean the parents' use and abuse.
Here's the question I ponder sometimes. If I had been able to share information about my young children on social media, would I have?
Of course, is my answer.
Might I have been one of those parents guilty of a little too much "sharenting"?
Sharenting is a recently coined term referring to parents who share information about their kids on social media and is mentioned in this report from the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital. Based on a survey of 569 parents with a child or children ages 0-4, the study found that 54 percent of mothers and 34 percent of fathers discuss child health and parenting issues on social media.
What do they discuss? Sleep issues, nutrition and eating tips, discipline, daycare and preschool, and behavior problems, among others.
So, what's the big deal about parents reaching out to others to seek advice and support? What's so bad about wanting to share a questionable photo on occasion? Maybe, after a long day in the trenches, parents need to vent. Or share a laugh.
Totally get that.
As a young mom, I would have enjoyed chronicling the special moments of my three kids on Facebook. Bath time, for instance, or losing a tooth, or blowing out birthday candles. I would have found comfort in a community of parents with similar issues and concerns. If I was in search of advice, or I needed to share a chuckle, why not blog about it, or post on Facebook?
Harmless enough. But what issues? What about tantrums? Or potty training? Sibling rivalry? Meltdowns after school?
That's where the sharenting line in the sand is blurred. Where should that line be drawn, especially when your kids are too little to have a say in the matter? And even if you get their permission, what does a 4-year-old know about the implications of sharing personal information on social media?
What seems benign now could be a psychological tsunami someday, with aftershocks for years to come. We parents are essentially imprinting our kids' digital footprint in the sands of time without their consent, with no understanding of the potential ramifications down the road.
Are we preserving memories, or exhibiting obsessive behavior ourselves?
I have seen photos that make me squirm, like a photo of a child pale and glassy-eyed with the flu. I have seen children with frozen smiles whose parents seem to document every bit of their daily activity. Are we forcing our kids to pose instead of just be in the moment?
Photos can be deleted. Not so easy, however, to remove blog posts and Facebook conversations about bed wetting and bullying and discipline issues at school. Does that set our kids up for ridicule? Even if their names aren't used, I mean, all you have to do is Google the parent's name and there it is. It is there. Will this come back to haunt not us, but our kids?
I don't have the answer.
In its early days, social media was a fun game with few rules and boundaries. Now we know that there is a dark side. With that in mind, is it incumbent on us parents to err on the side of safety and keep our kids' information off the Internet as much as possible, until they have the maturity to make these decisions themselves?
Or is it too late, and our children's digital profiles are but a Google search away?