When deciding how much to share online about your kids, there’s no right answer. Some people are hyper-vigilant and post nothing. Others are super-relaxed and post anything.
We fall somewhere in the middle. When we talk about our kids online, it’s using pseudonyms (“Little Sweetie” and “Little Peanut”) and taking care never to disclose schools, after-school programs, photos or other identifying information.
Except in one, limited context: Facebook. Not the no-holds-barred, everyone-can-see-your-everything Facebook, but the intimate garden, carefully-managed-privacy-settings Facebook. And in this short series, I’ll explain exactly how I’ve set up Facebook so that it feels like a safe enough space to share kid-related content.
Why Facebook? In an online life where most of my conversations and profiles are at least quasi-professional, I like having one social network that is purely personal. And just for sheer connectedness to the people I care about, Facebook is the easiest one-stop-serves-almost-all option.
Why share kid-related content at all? That’s a tougher question, and one that every parent needs to think through for him- or herself. But here are the reasons I like using Facebook to share my kid photos, videos and stories:
- It’s an easy way to collect and preserve your family memories. Just take this test: When did you last update your kid’s baby book? (If you have a kid over 2 and have added anything to that baby book in the past 6 months, you get a prize.) And when did you last update Facebook? I rest my case.
- It gives your kids an outlet for self-expression. Our kids now ask us to share things they have said or made: “Can you tweet that?” is a common phrase in our home.
- It gives you a cheering section. Parenting is hard work. Sharing stories about your kids, and getting warm comments back, is a great way to get a little encouragement.
- It teaches your kids that they live in a community. Now that she can read, our daughter loves to see the likes and comments that people leave on the Facebook updates that I post with her latest quips, photos, videos and art works. She’s learning that there is a larger community of people who care about her and appreciate her contributions.
- It makes your family and friends happy. Grandparents — and cousins, uncles, aunts and friends — love to hear the latest kid news. If Facebook makes it easy for you to share the latest, you’re bringing them a lot of joy.
Remember that even with a privacy-oriented setup, you need to exercise caution when posting material about your kids online. After all, you can’t be sure that the people who see your kids’ photos/stories online will exercise good judgement about how to handle that information; they could repost that material themselves in a way that makes it accessible to more people. Another reason to be cautious is that Facebook changes its privacy setup from time to time, in ways that can occasionally make previously protected information more widely available. And if your kids are still young enough that their online presence consists of whatever you choose to share, remember that you’re setting the standard for their future online discretion: if you’re Facebooking pictures of your kid throwing up from the flu, you can’t object in 10 years when he posts pictures of himself throwing up drunk.
That said, there are serious issues around child safety online: in particular, I know a lot of parents worry about their kids’ images getting pornograph-ized or having their kids targeted by child predators. In general, I try not to buy into the alarmism over high-hype, low-frequency events like stranger abductions. On the one hand, it’s pretty much the most unimaginably awful thing that can happen, which is why we watch our kids very carefully. On the other hand, it’s pretty rare.
So I try to focus my worrying on things I know my kids are likely to face: Catastrophic climate change. A post-peak oil global energy crisis. Premature exposure to abundant quantities of Internet porn. These are the problems our kids are almost certainly going to face, and one way or another, engaging intelligently with the Internet could help them (and us) deal with it.
For more on Internet safety for kids, I recommend the resources at Common Sense Media.