In January 2013, when Cora was 2.5 years old, I wrote for the first time about my desire to retire Cora from social media. As I explained in that post and several posts proceeding, I had been rolling the idea around for awhile, ever since I read about another blogger, Ryan Marshall from Pacing the Panic Room, who planned to stop blogging about his kids as they turned five.
There are other people and other articles out there about parents who are choosing not to have their children be a presence on their blogs, social media, or the internet entirely. In the Ethical Implications of Parents Writing about their Kids, author Phoebe Matlz Bovy details some of the most recent articles and "confession" type writing in the new genre of parental over-sharing. Quoting writer Sarah Kendzior, Bovy makes the case that "[t]he greatest threat to children's privacy online does not come from corporations. It comes from parents."
In a Sept 2013 Slate article, Amy Webb published We Post Nothing About our Daughter Online and went into depth on why she and her husband choose to post not a thing about their daughter on the internet. They ask this of their friends too. They have a "nothing about our kids online" policy and their close friends know and understand their reasons. While Webb's main reasons focus on why she and her husband are trying to avoid facial recognition, Facebook profiling, and corporate data mining, she also touches on the idea of parental overshare and its potential negative affects.
It’s hard enough to get through puberty. Why make hundreds of embarrassing, searchable photos freely available to her prospective homecoming dates? If Kate’s mother writes about a negative parenting experience, could that affect her ability to get into a good college? We know that admissions counselors review Facebook profiles and a host of other websites and networks in order to make their decisions.
I can relate to the arguments asserted by Webb and Malz Bovy and herein I add my own considerations:
Cora's Childhood is her Own
From her birth until she turned five, I participated in the 'sharenting' that so many of my Gen X peers love to do on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. From even before her birth, I had images of her ultrasounds, and then her birth, smack dab on my blog, this blog. There are videos of her crying, singing, sailing, paddleboarding, swimming, and her very first zombie-crawl.
I've now drawn a line in the sand, and I realize this line is completely arbitrary. I picked five because so many children start kindergarten at five, but really, there is no rule book for this. At some point children should be allowed to control their own life story, including the narrative of their youth.
If I write about and document every memorable, (and non-memorable) moment of her life, I feel as if I will mute her own interpretation of her childhood. I also take away the opportunity for Cora to share moments of her youth when she wants to. When Cora is 13, 23, 33, or 43+, and wants to share her memories of her first lost tooth, her kindergarten crush, the time she fell off a slide and broke her arm, really any memory from her OWN life, I don't want her to have to write it as a comparison to my interpretation of those events.
I know people my age enjoy Throw-back Thursdays (#TBT) on Facebook because they get to share hilarious images of the past when they were gangly and awkward or when they are finally able to laugh at their old mullets. Parents who share intimate photos of their own children online don't seem to realize that they are taking away this same opportunity for their children. And not just the opportunity for their kids to share the geeky photos from their childhood, they are actually removing their kids' ability to curate their online lives the way their parents can/could.
My Self Worth is Not Wrapped up in Sharing Things about my Kids
While I LOVE sharing photos of my kids and documenting their growth into incredible human beings online, my self-worth is not validated by doing it. I don't need to to publicize what my kids do and don't do in order to feel like I have something worthwhile to share with the world. I have my own life, thoughts, and feelings. I CAN post pictures that aren't related to my children and I have more to say than commenting on the daily progress of my kids as they grow. In fact, I think my daughters will be better served by being able to look at my social media footprint and what I wrote about and posted that wasn't about them, than if I spend the next 13 years documenting them publicly. Personally, I'd be fascinated to look back at what my parents were posting and talking about on social media as I was growing up. Which leads me to...
I'll Still be Documenting their Lives
People have privately messaged me and asked if I'm going to stop taking photos of the girls when I retire them. And if I'll stop writing about them too. This is crazy-sauce. OF COURSE I'M NOT GOING TO STOP TAKING PHOTOS AND VIDEOS OF MY KIDS. They're the cutest kids in existence! Why would I stop? I'm just not going to be sharing these pics and vids with the whole wide world. I guess this is the 'ole "If you didn't post it on Facebook, did your kid's childhood really happen at all?" argument.
YES. I'm still taking pictures and videos of Cora. I frequently send her emails about what she is doing in life currently and how proud I am of her. I do not make those emails and pictures public. If Cora decides to share these photos and my writings to her one day, she is free to.
Future Education and Employment
The numbers of companies who do social media research on job applicants continues to rise. Do you really want things you post about your children online to potentially interfere with employment opportunities? What about universities who may do the same searches? If your child wants to be a politician or participate in the public sphere, and you've already shared online that one time you came home and caught her/him skipping school and smoking some sweet, sweet, Mary Jane, well, how will your musings as a parent potentially affect their lifelong digital profile or career aspirations?
Never has it been so easy for someone to be found in this world. When I think about all the reasons why I SHOULD protect information about my daughters' whereabouts, it takes only a nanosecond to recognize that not discussing where my child may or may not go to school, where my child may or may not play sports, or where we live and where we frequent on a day-to-day basis can only serve to keep my girls safer.
The Mean Mom
If retiring my kids from social media is 'old fashioned' or 'mean' or 'selfish,' I've perfectly fine with that. I'd rather my daughter be upset with me for not sharing pictures of that time she got a nose bleed and oh-my-gosh-blood-was-everywhere-lol, then have my online postings about her childhood color her memories or her own voice when it comes to remembering them, or have my postings negatively impact her future life in any way. If that makes me the Mean Mom, then I am SUCH a meanie.
You Don't Need to Know
Ultimately, my child is not here for your entertainment. Every time I have mentioned Cora's upcoming retirement there are people who leave comments like, "but I'll miss hearing all these updates!" and "I REALLY hope you change your mind" or "how will I get my Cora fix?"
I realize these comments are not intentionally possessive or dismissive of my child's right to privacy, but they do exemplify people's implied ownership of shared online content, in this case the content is my children's lives. I greatly appreciate anyone who has responded with "I get it," or, "I very much respect your decision." OR, "This is interesting, can you tell me more about why?"
Not posting about my children online means that my children's lives will be shared with whom they are meant to be shared with, our close friends and family. If you want more of a "Cora fix," then you need to be or become a close friend, and call me old fashioned, but that means making a friendship the old fashioned way, not by 'likes' and picture comments on Facebook.
What Cora's Retirement Means
I have no guidebook for how to effectively retire my kids from social media at age five.
- I will begin referring to Cora online as 'C.'
- I will only occasionally post photos and any accompanying commentary about her online on any platform.
- C will still appear in our blog and in photos of our lives, because C is still in our lives, what will no longer be present however, is my own narrative or interpretation of her life events. You may see her in glimpses in my 1 Second Everyday (1SE) monthly video clips, though the 1SE I make specifically about C will now be private and only sent to her for her to share or not share one day as she sees fit.
- I will not discuss information about C, including her schooling, her friends, her hobbies, or her location(s).
For my friends and family:
- I ask that you do not post photos of C online without my permission, nor tag photos of her as well.
- I ask that you call her C online.
- I ask that you do not discuss details of C's life, her schooling, her hobbies or her location(s) on social media.
- If I email or message you privately with news or photos of C, I ask that you do not reshare those messages.
- When we deem C old enough and mature enough to enter the world of social media with her own voice, than we will let her do that and we will guide her and mentor her as she navigates the internet and begins to narrate her digital life.
- If C ever decides to pursue acting or a sport or hobby that will garner her a greater social media presence than we had originally planned in her youth, we will cross that bridge if we ever come to it.
- I'll still be blogging and posting about Lyra as I did for Cora until Lyra turns five as well.
The I Don't Care Clause (IDC Clause)
I've learned that no matter what I do in life, there is always someone who disapproves. If you don't like that I'm retiring C, or you find it hypocritical that I shared her life with you for five years and now I'm stopping, please know that I don't care what you think. And please know how creepy it is that you do care.
Additionally, my husband is his own person. I do not control him. He knows how I feel and agrees with me on the reason for C's retirement. If he posts differently than I do about our kids, I don't care that this bugs you, oh-weird-person-on-the-internet-who-has-invested-entirely-too-much-time-into-thinking-about-me-and-my-family. Please know going forward that if you are one of the internet commentators who will inevitably say at some point "I THOUGHT YOU WEREN'T TALKING ABOUT C ONLINE, " I will instantly refer you to Clause IDC of this blog post, and to the Rules for Me section where I distinctly state that I still may occasionally post photos of C online. You creep-a-rific internet weirdo.
Questions | Comments | Like-Minded Individuals
I'd love to hear your questions and comments on Cora's retirement. If you also plan to retire, have retired, or never had your kids enter the digital world, I'd love to hear your thoughts on how it is going for you.
More on this subject:
Give Your Children a Chance at Privacy, Amy Webb
Be Mindful of Sharing, because Toddlers Grow up, by Stephen Balkam
Learn to Avoid the Traps of 'Sharenting', by James Steyer
How to Raise an Adult, by Julie Lythcott-Haims, Sunday Book Review, NYT
Don't Post About Me on Social Media, Children Say, KJ Dell'Antonia
Why I Decided to Stop Writing about my Children, Elizabeth Bastos
Read This Before Posting Photos of your Kids Online, Quentin Fottrell
Why You Shouldn't Post these 8 Photos of your Kids, Melissa Willets
Why I Don't Talk About my Kids Online, Wellness Mama
Teen Sues Parents Over Potty Training Photos, Jamie Schram