Our children, most of them, have been online since they were in utero. We continue to shamelessly post our children the internet, images of pudgy faces, missing teeth, first days of school. They grace the our Facebook pages in all of their glory from daily events to profile pictures. Regularly, we snap "selfies" with our children in the grocery store, on their birthdays and in an instant, they are uploaded and all a-glow on social media. Understandably, we want to share and show off our pride and joy(s). The good intentions are not in question here.
What could be the harm?
What happens if you are a child growing up being posted on social media by your parents?
Our realities differ from that of our children because we were progressively introduced to this alternate social sphere. We were exposed incrementally and it grew exponentially. Our children were born into that exponential growth.
This societal trend and behavior will have long term consequences as it is shaping our children on a developmental level. Our children are growing up without the internal concept of self-protection. The internet does not equate "strangers" to them. It is what they have grown up with. They do not register concern or a conceptualization of what we may consider over-sharing. Our children consider social media a stage with a limitless fan-base!
The value of protection and privacy as related to self-worth & value cannot be implemented in the same way that it was in the past because it doesn't exist anymore. Their concept of personal privacy is either corrupted or non-existent.
When we we feel worthy of protection and when we are surrounded by privacy, and our right to privacy, intangible edges of identity and self-worth are formed. In an environment where people ask permission, respect space, where there is a possibility of privacy- there is potential to "download" that value for ourselves. Unfortunately, with social over-exposure, the concept of protection and preservation are not internalized. It is their normal to be on display, to want to "show" pieces of themselves and to "post" themselves. They see us doing it, they are creating their own "pages" and their sense of self-worth is linked with the number of "likes", views and reactions gleaned from various sites. As a result, identity formation can become skewed. Sense of self becomes infused with external validation.
This is not all about parenting. We have no choice but to expose them and to educate them about the internet and social media. It can be a hindrance if we do not expose them! However, over sharing and over-exposure as the norm can impact just how much of themselves they are willing to share of themselves. What we valued as sacred and off limits territory, they just do not comprehend.
How do we impact it now? I think it is never too late. I ask my son permission before I post a picture of him, if I do. He is a person, with rights, including the right to make a choice about where his picture is and if he even wants his photo taken! I think this concept alone is a good start to letting them know that we value them and that it is not a given that they are posted on the internet. We also know that our children are a "right click away" from being snagged by anyone who wants their photo.
Our adult and human need for admiration and validation is real. We have been posting our children (among other things) for over a decade without much reservation. Our children have a need for validation that is external instead of internal. This, in combination with the lack of self-protection and awareness can lead to negative social situations and decision making in real life.
My goal is not to make people feel badly or to make people defend their position on what and how they post. It may be more of an AND which means not stopping certain things all together, but adding something to what you are doing. It is time to consider on a family level how we model social media usage, photo sharing, and display of our children.
Some ideas: Ask permission before snapping their photo. Snap their picture less. Put less emphasis on social media usage. Change how and what you display on your page. Educate on internet self-protection by implementing those things yourself. Encourage "private" accounts vs. pubic, eliminating their option to "share" photos and videos online in settings. It will look different for everyone. Doing any of the above can begin to create some buffer between real life and social media.
Demonstrate and educate on self-protection. They are the future.