Why I Keep My Kids Off My Social Media

Protecting my kids' digital identity and privacy is a responsibility I don't take lightly

The more things change, the more they stay the same, but I’m pretty sure every new generation faces new challenges and issues related to parenting. With the ever-growing popularity of social media, one of the big things parents must grapple with today is how much information about their children to share online.

For me this was a pretty easy issue to decide. Even though I have been blogging publicly or semi-publicly for over a decade, and have been an active Twitter user for almost as long, I felt quite strongly that I didn’t want to post photos or significant information about my kids on my blog or social media accounts. And my husband doesn’t blog or use social media, so that was essentially a non-issue for him; we were in complete agreement on the issue nevertheless. This isn’t to say I never mention my kids online; I do (I’m writing this, aren’t I?), but not in depth, and not with a lot of specifics.

I came to this decision by thinking ahead to various points in the future. Was it fair to create my kids’ digital identities before they had any say in how those identities were portrayed? I thought that it wasn’t. Navigating the dilemmas and moral questions of online life is tricky enough without factoring in stuff that other people say about you. I didn’t want to saddle my kids with that baggage.

I can’t help but imagine my kids 20 years down the line and their potential dates or employers Googling their names. Wouldn’t it be really, really weird to find a blog post or trove of tweets describing the birth of your potential date or employee? Photo evidence of tantrums they had at the grocery store? The in-depth details of their bodily functions? Yes, these are normal things for babies and kids, but I just find that very unsettling to think about.

Perhaps more importantly, there are privacy and identity protection issues. These days, people share so much online—including the full names and birth dates of their children—and honestly it makes me a little paranoid thinking that anyone could piece together a pretty good image of my kids and all their personal information.

In some ways it feels a bit hypocritical. Many of the blogs I enjoy most are written by mothers who talk about their kids and if they weren’t willing to do that, the writing would be less interesting and relatable. I’ve also read a few discussions of what age parents should stop writing about their kids. It’s clear that at a certain point, kids become aware that you’re writing about them and may be uncomfortable with that. But is it enough to just stop writing about them? What about all the content about them that’s out there already? Even if it’s taken down or deleted at some point, nothing truly goes away on the internet.

More than five years into parenting, my husband and I still stand by our decision. But in the culture we live in, sometimes I find it’s a hard commitment to keep. People used to share photos via email, but it seems that’s been almost entirely replaced by Facebook. For a variety of reasons, I’m not on Facebook, and so there are lots of friends of mine in other cities whose kids I just never see pictures of—and vice versa.

It makes me sad that participating in the culturally-dominant form of photo sharing would require me to sign into a website whose main business purpose is to gather as much information about its users as possible and sell it to advertisers. But from everything I’ve read, privacy settings aren’t perfect and don’t always work exactly as people think they will. I’ve heard too many stories (both personally and in the news) about shared photos winding up in the wrong hands, or causing conflict or tension among friends and family. Knowing myself, I just think it’s easier for me to stay out of it completely.

There have definitely been times when I’ve second-guessed myself. When I’ve thought, “Honestly, everyone else seems okay with it, so why am I making it such a big deal?” I’m sure there are even times when I’ve inadvertently shared more that I normally would. And there have been a couple occasions where I’ve discovered that someone else has posted pictures or videos of my kids to their own social media accounts. Fortunately the posts were fairly vague. In both instances I decided not to broach the subject and later found ways to make my own stance on the matter clear. I think (I hope!) there is a growing awareness of etiquette related to kids’ images and privacy online. I imagine that for most families, sharing photos and stories online turns out just fine. Turns out I'm just cautious enough that I don't want to be the exception to that rule.

I’m not going to lie. In our photo-obsessed society there are lots of days when I wish I felt okay about broadcasting sweet or funny photos of my beautiful children to the world, the way that so many other people do. But in the end I'm more comfortable with a more secure and private way of doing it: sticking to text and email, directly to the people I know want to see them. 

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