Kids are the latest trend in internet celebrities. From Ryan Kaji of Ryan ToysReview, which has millions of subscribers, to Greta Thunberg, the teenage environmental activist who recently commanded the public’s attention at the U.N., today’s kids are digital natives and are increasingly putting their lives on display online. While your kids might not be Instagram influencers or YouTube stars (yet), the public, including many companies, know more about your kids than you might think.
As parents, we tend to share things online about our children without much thought. And the cute, intimate moments of childhood and adolescence are shown to thousands of “followers” and “friends” online without their knowledge or consent. Yet, have we stopped to think about what effects this will have on our children as they grow older? Do we think about what could be done with the data that has been captured, processed, and distilled? Could it affect how their teachers view them in the classroom, how their future employers evaluate their job performance, or determine if they are accepted to their dream schools or technical programs?
As we seek to raise up a new generation, each of us needs to evaluate what we share online about our family’s life, as well as our motivations for doing so.
Once online, always online
It’s tempting to think that the things we post online will soon be forgotten. Our Facebook and Instagram stories seem to disappear after a certain amount of time, and we can always delete that blog post or tweet after the fact, right? Wrong. Everything we do online, including the things we search for, purchase, and share on social media, is captured in some form—indefinitely.
Our digital life is not like the days of old, where something we share via paper can be destroyed forever or will be forgotten. Everything is searchable today. And while this public availability of data has immense benefits for our society, there are also unintended consequences. Historical data that’s catalogued can sometimes get people in trouble. We see this nearly every day with the rise of cancel culture, where a tweet or image from the past is discovered and wreaks havoc on someone’s present life. Jobs are lost, ministries are ruined, and scholarships can be revoked. This information can be used for the greater good when a fraud or opportunist is revealed. But, on the other hand, it can lead to the canceling of good people who lacked mature judgment in the past.
The best way for us to think about what we post online is by simply asking ourselves if we would write this post or send this picture to thousands of our closest friends or acquaintances in a physical form to hang on their fridges. If not, maybe we shouldn’t post it online. Everything we do, say, or post will be stored in some form on the internet for years to come.
Our motivations for sharing
Connecting with others around the world still is the stated goal of many of the largest technology companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google. This is one of the major benefits of our digital lives online and one of the initial driving factors behind the development and creation of social media platforms. But because we live in a broken world riddled with rebellious people, the reasons we share are often complicated.
Technology has allowed us to create curated versions of our lives online for the watching world. We seek to build platforms and portray our lives the way we hope to be seen. We share the happy and put-together moments of our lives in order to cover up our authentic, broken, and messy realities—marital strife, rebellious kids, or our personal anxieties and depression.
As we share things about our lives, this naturally includes personal and intimate details about our kids’ lives, where we often share details of their lives in order to project the way we want others to see us. We might start a mom blog to give advice to other parents or a YouTube channel about our familes and home to gain notoriety and often even some type of financial gain. But we do these things at the expense of our kids’ privacy and future opportunities?
I’m not advocating for a boycott of social media or a moratorium on posting images and moments of our kids online. As parents, we just need to be aware of the things we post online and realize that these things are not as private as we might think. Regardless of our privacy settings and locked-down online accounts, once something is posted or shared it will be available for a long time.
Keeping your child’s future in mind or choosing to value your family’s privacy over a few extra likes and shares might mean that you choose not to share that cute moment or post that embarrassing picture. The reality is, we don’t know the impact our culture of oversharing will have on our society and families, because our children are the first generation of digital natives and the first to have their entire lives on display for all to see.