This week, for a special companion edition of our Friday blogs, Eve Kidd Crawford and I decided to open up a hornets' nest for you all to try and close: The issue of children and Facebook. I concede that I am fighting well above my experiential weight; not only is Eve a parent (whereas I am not), she is also fiercely protective as such. And yet, it was I who came down on the side of arguing against children using Facebook and their parents’ posting pictures of them on it.
My first contention is the most obvious. One teen’s innocent fun could be some stranger’s aphrodisiac. That statement alone needs no qualification; everybody’s into something, and a lot of people seem to be into teenagers, if recent celebrity arrests are any indication. Facebook itself has a safeguard in place for this—it requires that you be 13 to join. However, there is no verification system. And further, just how savvy is the average 13-year-old? And before you jump on the “I trust my child’s judgment” train, ask yourself, how often have you told your tween or teen to change an outfit or perhaps spend less time with that one friend who likes blowing things up? (Hypothetically speaking, of course. It’s not like I was that friend who liked blowing things up.) And no matter how far you trust your teens’ judgment, they’re at least as fallible as we are, and when you screw up on Facebook—or anywhere on the Internet—it’s public and permanent. Deleted posts can still be searched, although they won’t appear on Facebook, so a regrettable picture, for example, once online, is online forever.
And from a more practical standpoint, with Internet crime on the rise, it's not necessarily the best idea to let children—who are less sensitive to and aware of scams and the possibility of malware—to run rampant on home computers and mobile devices.
This is why juvenile records are expunged, and why children can’t vote or drink or marry. Their judgment isn’t trustworthy. By and large, that parental safety net is there for a reason. (And if my parents are reading this, they’re probably wondering who’s writing under my byline.)
My second line of reasoning is more a matter of personal preference. When I became a teenager and discovered women, they had the annoying habit of digging up old photo albums (anyone remember those?) and cooing over my baby/toddler/childhood pictures. It was embarrassing, and annoying. Eventually I got older and stopped caring (because I finally developed something resembling a sense of humor), but that photographic record of the younger me doing all those disgusting things that the younger us all do remained—but as a physical thing, concealable and destroyable. Nobody could see it unless my parents or I decided to show it to someone. Children growing up as “Internet natives” run the risk of young parents posting those children’s entire youths on Facebook. They have no choice but to admit to being cross-eyed for the first four years of their lives. (Again, hypothetically speaking.)
Now I’m not saying that parents shouldn’t beam and gush with pride via Facebook or Twitter or however else they want to annoy their peers. It’s great that your kid got an A, or made a team, or danced a flawless Macarena, or finally slept through the night (more on that in a moment). But when it comes to items that are specifically about that child, that have nothing to do with your observations or your feelings, what would your child want to post? What would your child, once grown, want to have posted? If you want to share your child's life with family and friends, how do you justify not taking the few extra seconds to share those pictures in a private email instead of publishing them to the Internet?
And as for all you passive-aggressive Facebook posters out there—and you know who you are, because you generally include the phrase “you know who you are” in your posts—stop complaining about parenthood via social media. Whinging about the burdens of being a parent on social media sites makes it look like you want the whole world to know that you hate being a parent and that you resent your child. You may not mean that, but that’s how it comes across. Yes, the internet is infinite, and yes, you have a right to say whatever you want—but just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.
And, OK, you have the right to be whatever sort of parent you choose (within reason). Just don’t tell the world you’re pissed off at an infant who doesn’t know any better and can’t defend himself.
The defense I’ve heard most often from those whom I shall dub “Facebook parents”—people who post constantly about their infant children, photos and all—is that “only my [Facebook] friends can see it.” That argument is imprecise at best; if one of those Facebook friends comments on or likes a post, all of that friend’s friends can then see the post, and the cascade of visibility begins. When I point this out, the ultimate game-ender is always, “Well he’s my child and I know best/will raise him how I want/shut the hell up, you’re not even a parent.” As for that last permutation, no, I’m not a parent, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. And I understand that it’s galling for someone like me to criticize the way in which anyone parents. I understand that parents are generally proud of their children, and are bursting with such love and joy that they, quite literally, want the whole world to know about it. I’m just saying that Facebook might not be the best way to tell the world.
So what's your take on all this?