We make mundane daily decisions about children’s sleep, food, and clothing. One of the small but longest-lasting parenting decisions may be how much we share about our children. Unless you’re a blogger writing a column about your child in the local newspaper, the most likely place to create a digital heirloom for your child is social media.
The digital heirloom probably includes photos and videos. Kudos to you, if you’ve pulled this one off, and extra points, if you’re printing out photo books as keepsakes. I’ve got two caches of photos—for a while I stashed them on a hosting site and I printed books, though that habit of creating books only lasted about two years. I’ve got another set on Facebook. Oh, yeah, and a third set stored primarily on my phone, where they are automatically backed up. If our daughter gets interested in pictures from childhood, which seems likely, I hope I can patch together a good biography.
Some people are bothered when other people post pictures of their children, especially with tags that identify them. Some are even annoyed when the child’s own grandparents post pictures, for fear of pedophiles or other criminals, or feeling that the poster violated a private moment inside a home. In researching this column, I read about “an unwritten rule of parenting that you don’t post pictures of other people’s children.” I haven’t heard of that rule and would have to scroll through my own history to see if I’ve been violating it.
Far-thinking parents try to rein in their child’s online identity by grabbing online names on sites like Twitter and Facebook and then prohibiting pictures of children or limiting the pictures to ones which wouldn’t be embarrassing or humiliating down the road. To me, it’s very challenging to determine what could be fodder for a bully or a teaser in 10 years—in my own childhood they were amazingly innovative and could even makes jokes about common American middle names—but it’s worth considering.
Then there’s the “words” part of a digital legacy. This one is more fraught with concern for many parents. How much should we be sharing about our kids for both safety and privacy?
Sometimes my daughter hangs out with me while I scroll through my Facebook news feed on our huge home monitor, where she can easily read over my shoulder. Should she be seeing what other parents post about her friends?
When we post, even if it’s banal, should we be using our children’s names? When we do so, we’re leaving behind a digital footprint that may live on indefinitely. I’ve partially addressed this by not using her first name online. Surely that’s not foolproof, but it seems like a logical step to take and one that a few friends employ. Perhaps it’s a tiny hedge against “bad guys” out to hurt kids or a hedge against embarrassment with future friends or even potential employers.
I often notice that it’s easy to feel uneasy in this new territory. Digital habits are one of the more difficult areas to navigate for ourselves, and now we need to guide our children as well.