I don’t talk about it much because I don’t want to intimidate anyone, but I am an OG Facebook user. I joined Facebook in 2004 when it was only available to college students from select universities. My Facebook profile synced with my class schedule and connected me to other students in my classes. I could message those students on their wall (direct messaging did not exist yet), and that was about it. No pictures. No link sharing. No news feed.
Back in my day (she said with a grandma voice), you paid extra for one-hour photo developing and took your prom pictures to school on Monday in a physical photo album. If you liked to write, you kept a diary. News could be viewed on the actual television at 5:00, 6:00, and 10:00. If you felt the need to discuss the news, you could talk to any family members who happened to be awake.
Facebook is the single, streamlined place for all of this now.
It’s wonderful! It really is. I can share of picture of my child with family members who live far away. The days of spending family get-togethers flipping through vacation albums are, joyfully, gone. I can ask for recommendations on the best way to catch a raccoon that is living in my attic. The opportunities for meaningful connection and thought-provoking discussions are real and endless.
But I cannot ignore the damaging ways Facebook is being used by many people. Cyberstalking, identity theft, and cyberbullying are all on the rise. As we adjust to living our lives online, we have learned how to protect ourselves. We lock down our profiles to the highest security settings, closely monitor our friends list, and stop playing all those Facebook games that were stealing our data.
But what about our children?
By my calculations, the first “babies of Facebook” would be 14-years-old if born to a college student in 2004. Facebook opened to the public in 2006, which means many children 12 and under had their births shared on Facebook. As smart phones worked their way into every American home, children under the age of eight have had the most exposure on Facebook. Not only their births, but every moment since has been shared by their proud parents.
We haven’t even begun to see the ramifications yet.
While I could go down several rabbit trails on the best way to protect our kids on the internet, I’ve landed on one guiding principle for myself that is particularly relevant during the baby/toddler/preschool years. This is the one filter that I use to separate shareable moments from private memories. Are you ready?
Will this picture or information embarrass my child in middle school?
Let’s do an exercise together. Think back to when you were in middle school. Everything about your body is changing. Social structures are changing. You are awkward and insecure. Then your friends stumble upon a picture of you as a two-year-old, sitting on a potty, straining so hard your face is red, with the caption, “[insert your name]’s first poop on the potty!” Who posted that?! Your mom did. And 87 of your friends’ mom liked it.
Let’s play again! Imagine your middle school classmates find another picture of you as a toddler with an angry red rash all of your body. The caption says, “[insert your name] had diarrhea all week then got this rash. Blisters are raised and leaking fluid. Should we go to the doctor?” Are you feeling mortified yet? That’s just two posts out of the hundreds your mom has made over the first 12 years of your life.
Of course this is hypothetical because we didn’t have to worry about social media posts our parents made coming back to haunt us as teenagers. Our biggest concern was our parents embarrassing us in the drop off line. Current middle schoolers likely do not have a huge Facebook trail. But our sweet babies of the 2010s? Every day of their life has been recorded in a permanent little slice of the internet.
I fear that in the not so distant future, our babies will find some of our posts made in frustration, lack of judgment, or in the name of “being real.”
I fear they will feel exposed in a way that feels shameful and embarrassing.
I fear they will learn they can’t trust us.
Do I still post pictures of my kids on Facebook? Absolutely. Often. Do I “keep it real?” Yes. But I will not post anything that might cause future embarrassment for them. No potty pictures or rashes. I don’t ask graphic questions about bodily functions on Facebook. I don’t shame them with posts of all the bad choices they made that day. No pictures of their tantrums.