Parents embarrassing their kids is a time-honored tradition. No matter how cool the parent, OR how innocent the offense, kids invariably find something their parents do positively mortifying. Growing up, it was the fact that my mother gave me a hug and kiss in public or that she spoke at a school board meeting for which the entire town was present. But if she was feeling particularly punchy she’d show a photo or tell a story from my childhood to my friends, saving the most mortifying tidbits for when she thought I really deserved it.
Recently, on Instagram, I flashed back to those teenage moments of agonizing embarrassment. Actress Beverly Mitchell had posted a photo of her son doing a normal kid thing:
To be clear: this is normal behavior and it appears Mitchell is an incredibly devoted mother. She’s proud of her kid, as is any mom. I’m constantly in awe of my kids and regularly exclaim, “I made that!” Think about the wonder that is human life for a moment: we can create human beings out of nothing. We parents fall into a trap, however: our kids are not really ours. Just because we made them does not mean they belong to us. They are separate human beings who will one day, God willing, become teenagers and adults, with opinions that may differ from ours about how much of their childhood should have been shared online.
One of the most stressful parts about parenthood is the fact that for many years we have sole decision making responsibilities over innocent and vulnerable people. Personally, I find making medical decisions particularly difficult. We are our children’s only advocates and sometimes we have to make judgment calls that will affect their health and happiness for the rest of their lives. We treat these decisions with as much and often more care than we do our own medical choices, because of our love and devotion to otherwise defenseless humans.
Most parents take that responsibility seriously; how could we not? But one consideration few parents seem to be making, especially in our brave new world of internet and social media oversharing, is caring for our children’s future reputation as it appears online. Recently a friend told me that some of her son’s friends confessed that his and other kids’ favorite past time is trolling the Facebook pages of their friends’ parents looking for embarrassing pictures and stories. Consider for a moment all of the posts you’ve seen over the years: kids’ potty training escapades, videos of tantrums, even sensitive medical questions or information posted online. What might that information look like in ten or twenty years to a bully, a boss or a future date?
My husband is one of the most private people I know; I had to force him on Twitter for work, he doesn’t have Facebook and only has Instagram to see the oversharing I do on the photo app. Once, when we were flying somewhere on vacation he forgot to bring something to read, and took one of my celebrity gossip magazines to flip through. I took a photo of him doing so and posted it to Twitter, which he immediately requested I remove. I couldn’t understand why he would find it embarrassing, and to be honest I still don’t, except to say we are very different people with different perceptions of what is too personal to be shared. I think about that moment a great deal while parenting our children.
Whenever I post a photo or anecdote I ask myself: Is this something my husband would be okay with had his mother posted it online about him? I try to keep my posts focused on our general activities as a family rather than the details of the things my kids are doing. I’m purposefully vague when discussing medical issues; pretty much anything involving their bodies is deemed too personal for public consumption.
I’m not perfect and I’m sure some day my kids will find the stuff I have posted offensive in some way. It’s a worthwhile endeavor, however, to seriously consider their future feelings and the implications of what we post when we click “share.” We are not just sharing a piece of ourselves, but our children as well.
Image: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Erica Crossen