As the new school year got underway, we all were no doubt treated to a barrage of pictures from proud parents on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and other social media sites.
While these are definitely fun to see, they also serve as just one more example of how enmeshed social media has become in our daily lives. Moments and events that used to be of interest to mainly close friends and family – preserved in scrapbooks that would be pulled out at holidays and reunions – are now regularly put online for public consumption.
It may seem hard to remember a world without social media, but this is actually the first generation of kids who have grown up with their whole lives documented for the world to see.
The full effects of this are yet to be known, but there have been instances where issues of privacy have come up – with parents sometimes policing themselves – and what is appropriate. One woman in Austria, in fact, sued her parents to force them to remove childhood pictures of her from Facebook.
What are some of the effects of parents sharing so much of their children’s lives online?
John Parkhurst: It’s probably all on a continuum. Worst-case scenario is that something gets shared that has some degree of negative impact on your child that goes beyond just embarrassment in front of the family. Maybe it gets picked up on by kids at school, and kids can be – just like people of all ages can be – very focused on putting themselves up on a hierarchy and lowering other people’s statuses. That’s where bullying or cyber-bullying comes in, or any other type of bullying.
That’s the far end of the spectrum, but it’s also something that could create little cracks in the trust kids have in their parents, especially if the parents aren’t thinking about what they’re sharing or oversharing, and it gets to be too much. It may not seem like a big deal to parents. From our adult vantage point, we can look at it and think, ‘Oh, high school or middle school is just something you have to get through and it all won’t matter soon,’ but for many kids the social sphere is just … it’s everything.
Even if it doesn’t lead to cyberbullying, is there something detrimental to kids in always having a camera on them, and constantly having pictures taken?
Parkhurst: I would imagine that it reduces the level of privacy that you feel. I don’t know though, if you grow up with social media from the beginning, it may be not such an impact. Think about celebrity kids; they may just be used to walking around with their parents and getting their picture taken all the time, so it’s normalized. It’s like parents are the paparazzi. But I guess the question is, should that be normalized, and is there really an impact? I think the bigger thing parents should be thinking about is whether this gets in the way of spending time with their kids. You’re so focused on taking a picture that you forget to be present for the moment and appreciate it. Plus, if you’re getting pictures taken of you all the time, you could get this hyper focus on how you look. That’s usually not good.
What would you recommend as far as a child giving consent to having pictures shared?
Parkhurst: If a kid can’t really give consent, or they’re at a really young age, it’s one of those things that parents have to take into their own hands and think, ‘Oh no, that might be a little too much.’ Or, ‘That could come back and bite us,’ as a family more so than the kid. And then when can you really get consent? I think you can have the conversation around age 10, maybe a little bit before as they start to understand their broader social world. Because they understand their social lives maybe a little bit more.
What would you suggest as a good approach for parents when it comes to sharing pictures of their kids on social media?
Parkhurst: I think it goes back to thinking about quality versus quantity. It’s just good to ask yourself, ‘Is this something that I would want shared about me?’ It means looking at it from your kid’s perspective and also thinking from your vantage point. As an adult, would I want an embarrassing picture of me out for everyone to see? Social media a lot of the time is about standing out, so you’re looking for responses. But are you trying to stand out by using your kids? Ask yourself why you want to share something.