In the last week I have read two separate articles with regards the use of Facebook by parents and the impact on their children. The first of the two posts was posted on BBC News entitled “Should children ban their children from Social Media?” while the second was in The Guardian entitled “I was so embarrassed I cried: do parents share too much online?”. I found the discussion an interesting one and hence this post.
My use of social media for sharing personal info is very limited. I post very occasionally on Facebook, generally using it to send birthday wishes, etc. as opposed to posting my own content. I use twitter heavily however for professional as opposed to personal purposes although I will admit that the line between these blurs; Posting about my morning walk to work I was considering the teacher wellbeing side of professional life however these posts could easily by categorised as providing some insight into my personal life. I have almost never posted pictures of my two children as they have grown up so hopefully they will never have cause to be embarrassed by something that I have posted in relation to them. That said they may still be embarrassed by something I have posted at some point in time, albeit not directly related to them but embarrassing in that it was posted by their dad.
So how can we mitigate against this potential embarrassment. The easy however impractical solution is to stop posting. If I don’t post anything then there isn’t anything to be embarrassed about. Following this thought process, I can think of a few occasions when I have made a comment or said something embarrassing; does that mean I should stop talking? I am sure there have been a few occasions where my kids wish I would. The other problem with this approach to reducing embarrassment is simply that Facebook and social media are now a part of our lives. Updating friends and relatives as to events and milestones is now more common than the old approach of taking a photo, having it developed and then putting it in a photo album or in a shoebox in the cupboard. Social media makes the sharing easy and convenient to do and in doing so it adds to the richness of life. Having moved back to the UK after a number of years in the UAE I am still able to keep up with the events and friends despite them being an eight hour flight away. They still form a part of my life.
This is where things start to become a little more complex as the postings are about my life and therefore in the case of most parents include milestones and events with our children. Milestones such as starting secondary school, walking for the first time, holidays with family and many other memories are eternalised through Facebook for others to see both when they happen but also many years into the unpredictable future. It is in this future space that our children will start to develop their own online identify and social media profile. This profile, through our posting as parents, will however have already started being created long before our children are able to make informed decisions with regards who they are within the digital space we now live in. We as parents will have started to shape our children’s digital identify. I acknowledge as parents we shape our children and therefore shaping their digital identify may seem nothing more than an extension of the parental role however I would suggest digital identify is a little different. We shape our children’s attitude, outlook, beliefs, etc. however these can change over time. In our digital footprint there is an element of permanence as once something is posted to the internet it may be impossible to remove. Also there is the possibility for outsiders such as potential employers to view postings without access to the context within which the posting was made.
I would suggest one of the issues here is that when Facebook first became a hit there was little long term consideration for the implications of posting our lives online. Young adults flocked to use Facebook without any guidance as to the later implications. Consider the advice with regards not posting about your home address and holiday plans as a burglar could use this in targeting your empty home; this guidance didn’t make an appearance until after Facebook postings had been allegedly associated with a few robberies and the implications had been identified. Fast forward a few years and those young users now have families with children complete with a digital record of their children’s early years thanks to Facebook. Today I would say the implications of posting online are a little bit better known due to very public hacking incidents, cyber crime and celebrity scandals relating to social media use or the use of email in the case of certain presidential candidate. We are a little more aware than we were. We still have a long way to go in my opinion plus this is little use to the children of parents who posted every detail of their growing up, warts and all.
So what can we do? Privacy settings are one part of the action we can take in making sure that only those people we really want to have access to our personal postings, and the postings relating to our children, have access. Restraint is another action. Rather than posting we need to consider how the posting might impact our children in future and if in doubt avoid posting. We also need to open up communication with our children so they know what has and is being shared about them. If you shared a potentially embarrassing photo of your child when they were younger do they know the photo exists and also which social media sites it has been shared on? For truly embarrassing photos we can delete them although as with everything on the internet we must do so with the knowledge that everything posted cannot being removed as easily. Any user could have copied a posting or taken a screenshot ready to repost so once it is out there it may not be possible to undo. Another thing we need to do, which is something already well underway, is making sure our children are fully aware of the implications of social media. When they go on to have their own children it would be reassuring to know that we have learned for any mistaken we may have made, and that they will not readily repeat them.
Social media is here to stay, a part of modern life, so the key is ensuring all using it understand the implications both on ourselves but also on the others who might be the subject of our posts including our children, or even just innocent bystanders to a poorly framed photo. And on that note I will stick to limited personal use of social media, for now at least.