May

20

2013

Jen Wilkin|12:01 AM CT

Parents, Do You Think Before You Post?

My entire childhood is documented in the space of three photo albums. Two photos stand out in my memory: one, infant-me having my diaper changed from a rather compromising camera angle; the other, 2-year-old me seated triumphantly on a potty chair. I remember them because my parents teased that they would show them to any prospective suitors. Even though I knew they were joking, the possibility that those pictures would ever be viewed outside our family horrified me as an adolescent. The written record of my childhood is fairly small, too—a baby book with notes about my weight gain and first words, a collection of birthday cards and letters from family. How different this is from the record many parents are making of their children's early years now.

The internet and social media open up new possibilities for us to record and share the lives of our families on a much broader scale than ever before. Because of this, parents of young children must think of themselves differently than in the past. Photos like the ones my parents lightheartedly joked about revealing are now revealed routinely to our virtual communities. The off-the-cuff comment my mother may have made to her neighbor about my 2-year-old sassiness is now made by parents to hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of virtual relationships. How many parents realize that they are the custodians of their children's virtual identity until they are old enough to manage it on their own?

Thinking Ahead

Most discussions of children and online protocol center on privacy settings and password safety for school-age children, but my concern starts earlier. Are we parents protecting and preserving the future privacy wishes and best interests of our small children in our own online posting choices?

Every day parents use social media and the blogosphere to offer up photos and posts chronicling all manner of child misbehavior, parental frustrations, and mishaps involving bodily fluids. I think these posts are made by well-meaning parents, unaware that they are creating an online identity for their children. But with every post, we construct a digital history of our child's life—a virtual scrapbook for public viewing—and we might want to think harder about the trail we are leaving behind. Do our comments and photos preserve our child's dignity or gratify our own adult sense of comedy? Do we post our thoughts to satisfy a need to vent? Do we miss the truth that our families need our discretion far more than our blog followers need our authenticity?

There is a reason we don't vent about or post potentially embarrassing pictures of our spouse or our mother-in-law: the real possibility that they will see what we have posted. No such danger exists with a young child . . . or does it? Cyberspace feels fleeting and forgiving, but it is neither. Consider that your toddlers will likely one day see the online identity you have created for them. And so may their middle school peers, their prom date, their college admissions board, and their future employers. But far more important than what the outside world will think of this digital trail is what your child will think of it.

Imagine Them Older

Parents, before you post about your small children, imagine a 13-year-old version of them reading over your shoulder. Your child bears the image of God just as you do. Does what you communicate honor them as equal image-bearers? Does it provide short-term gratification for you or honor long-term relationship with them? Does it potentially expose them to ridicule or label them? Does it record a negative sentiment that an adult would recognize as fleeting but an adolescent might not?

I am sure my mother had days when she wanted to give toddler-me to gypsies, but no permanent record of these moments existed for adolescent-me to find. A few of those stories do survive in oral form, but they are retold with laughter, face-to-face, where tone and facial expression give them context. If my mother vented to my dad that I was sneaky or sassy, I never saw or heard those labels. And that's a good thing, because parents may experience moments (or seasons) of deep frustration toward our children, but we would never want them to think that our love for them was ever in question.

In school my children were taught a memory tool to help them make wise choices when speaking, writing, or posting:  

T-H-I-N-K: Is what I have to say True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, or Kind?

As stewards of their stories, we parents need that memory tool as well. Maintaining trust in the parent-child relationship should outweigh any other motive for posting. Think before you post. By all means, have a safe and appropriate place to vent and "be real" about parenting—just recognize that place is probably not the internet. Let everything you share with those outside your home strengthen the bond of trust you have within it. Tell your story without compromising theirs. Execute well the custodial duty of managing your child's online identity until its precious owner is ready to assume the job.

" . . . whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."  Philippians 4:8

Jen Wilkin is a wife, mom to four great kids, and an advocate for women to love God with their minds through the faithful study of his Word. She writes, speaks, and teaches women the Bible. She lives in Flower Mound, Texas, and her family calls The Village Church home. Jen is the author of Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds (Crossway, forthcoming). You can find her at jenwilkin.blogspot.com.

Categories: Christian Living
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  • T.Newbell

    Good word here, Jen!

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  • Emily

    Such a good point! I cringe at how well I am aquainted with many of my friends' children via social media. I understand parenthood has many frustrations, challenges, and difficulties (along with many joys!). That being said, I am very saddened when I hear parents seemingly complaining about their children online.

  • http://philippians314.squarespace.com Kim Shay

    Another aspect of this is when we post and write about our marriages, sex lives, conflicts, etc. Our children may see those things as well when they are older. I cringe when I read some of the personal, intimate details that are shared about the sex lives of couples. Who wants to read about the sex lives of their parents at any age?

    Discretion starts with ourselves, and our children learn from it.

  • mary

    thank you so much for this article. GUILTY :( It really made me rethink the sharing I do about my grandchild. While it is funny innocent comments (5), I do need to rethink --would I share this if it was someone else? (laughter at their expense)
    thanks

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  • http://twitter.com/jeremyetaylor Jeremy Taylor

    "Our attitude towards children consists in a condescending indulgence, overlying an unfathomable respect; [we reverence, love, fear and forgive them.] We bow to grown people, take off our hats to them, refrain from contradicting them flatly, but we do not appreciate them properly. . . If we treated all grown-up persons with precisely that dark affection and dazed respect with which we treat [the limitations of an infant, accepting their blunders, delighted at all their faltering attempts, marveling at their small accomplishments], we should be in a far more wise and tolerant temper." GK Chesterton

  • Jen

    AMEN! Well said!

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  • C. Rogers

    Thanks, this is wisdom done gracefully.

  • http://www.everybodyelse.etsy.com Melody

    Yes, sometimes I cringe at the things people post online about their children. On the other hand, a lot of it is sweet and loving.

    And none of it is going to be permanently connected to that child's online identity. It's not got their first or last name on it - or usually any at all. People won't find it when they google that child. And if people have appropriate privacy settings they won't find it when they google the parents either.

    • Kristin

      We have no idea what we will be capable of searching for on the web in 20 years. Facial recognition (pictures) is certainly not a fantasy. Some day the names of the parents may be connected to the names of the children, and algorithms can extract which posts are about who. The fact is, nothing online is EVER "private."

  • Katherine

    Wow, this article is so pertinent in today's society. I constantly see parents posting embarrassing stories about their children and teenagers, and as a young adult myself...I imagine the feeling of shame that these stories could create. I even saw one mother post the clothing size of one of her teenage daughters who was struggling with her weight. Social media is public, it is not designed to be a personal family journal.

  • http://www.prettyknittyjewelry.blogspot.com Pam

    Great post! Thank you, on behalf of the pre-teens, teens, and young adults of 2022!

  • http://www.cglorioso.blogspot.com Callie @ This Glorious Maze

    I really liked this post! I've been blogging for some time and, after our son was born, I found myself naturally sharing pictures and talking about him a lot. But the whole time I felt uneasy about it for the same reasons you mentioned. I felt like I wasn't honoring my son as his own person, instead I was only focused on how he related to me. We ended up making a separate private blog for family members and friends where we could still share pictures of Hadden and tell our our lives (e.g. trips to the zoo). I still do sometimes write about him on my public blog, but I try to be more careful. I liked your suggestion to imagine that a 13 year old version of our children is looking at everything we post.

  • Will

    I think a distinction should be made here. We should consider at least two things when posting about our children: our child's age and the content of the post. For instance, I see no problem with posting video of pictures of my one year old as she goes through major developments. Some of these may be very funny. Put this way, I do not think a college admissions office would deny my daughter admission because I posted a picture of her wearing her spaghetti bowl rather than eating it.

    But as my daughter grows older and gains the ability to think about these things herself, I think it right to give her more control of her privacy. At the same time, it is important to safeguard her privacy as she continues to learn discretion. That will mean preventing her from posting compromising information, and it certainly means refraining from posting compromising information myself.

    Second, as my daughter grows older, much of her misbehavior will be sinful and not funny. We should never post in a way that broadcasts our child's sinful behavior. Rather than focus on venting our frustrations, we must focus on shaping our child's character. This requires patience and trust, not posting our frustrations.

    So I think we should be careful not to post about our child's sinful misbehavior. But my daughters first words, or first steps, or some funny incidents at the dinner table do not necessarily fall into this category.

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  • Carm

    "honor them as equal image-bearers" WOW, thanks for the reminder

  • Julia

    My rule about online things is if I would not say it to them I will not type it out to everyone else. I do tell my kids that I'm frustrated, mad, having a rough day, or feeling irritable. I try to be honest about what I feel in a way that isn't condemning them for it or name calling. I wish I knew more fun stories of my childhood. Even the slightly embarrassing ones make me laugh and I share them. They aren't adolescent forever and embarrassments change too. You don't stop saying i love you to your kid because it is embarrassing to them for three years. and honestly, how many stories embarrassed us that secretly inside we liked hearing or seeing our parents enjoy about our quirks. It's good to think of them but not let them lead by bending completely to every mood or stage that they go through. I guess its a balance in knowing what is truly dishonor isn't or simply a fun memory or story they will be glad you saved for them to read. I forget they also need to know how to navigate the online world because unlike us, they will be in it from day one as that's how the world communicates.
    I find most people post with this lack of respect about politicians which is also biblically wrong. I use my rule with that as well.

  • Lynn

    Good points. Very valuable. It all starts even before the child is born. No need to publicize and get excited before the baby is actually born. There's a tendency to post every single ultrasound picture to keep everyone "updated"??? On the other hand, with the way IT and social media world have been developing, there's no telling what social networking will look like when our kids grow up. It may be totally different. It may be extinct. It may evolve into some other form or shape.

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  • Belle

    Thank you for sharing this! I blog, and I LOVE to blog about my kids! But there was one post I never got to publish because I asked my daughter and she said she wasn't comfortable having it where others could see. As I was talking about it with her, her older brother said, "You aren't going to post that, are you?" When I told him his sister didn't want me to he said, "Good! If it was me, I wouldn't want people to know about that...that's embarrassing!"

    It was a good reminder that my kids have opinions of their world, too.

  • Esther

    Wow. Absolutely SPOT ON! This should be read by all parents creating virtual twitter accounts for their toddlers. Well said.

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  • Shirley from VA

    Thank you - I reposted the link to my facebook since I have a lot of friends who are parents/grandparents. One area you did not mention was the possibility of pics used as pornography. Even with "limited to friends) many times I have been able to access people that I am not friends through 2 generations simply because it shows up on their page, With the increase of sexual addictions why put it out there under their noses? Also what kind of testimony does it leave? Many times I withdrew from a possible friendship simply because of the types of pics that they display in their photo albums. And I have to ask WHY is it necessary that so many Christian parents seem to have this need to even take pics of their baby nude??? I have always wondered about that. If it were to identify physical abnormalities I could understand. But what kind if message does it send ? Also the toddlers in the bathtub pics. Sexual predators use these to say " your parents took these so its ok if I do it". I just see too many victims happening here.

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  • http://www.thecamelshump.org Justin

    This is good stuff.

    Too often we adopt new tools and use them without thinking about the long-term consequences of their use. Thank you for posting.

  • Melissa Schulman

    I have shared this same sentiment for a long time. Thank you for writing this article.

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  • http://londonwithatoddler.com Kate

    Err, my parents did show the nudey photos of me to my now-husband. And guess what - I survived! Just the other day, my mother insisted on telling our lodger all about how I used to say I was going to marry my Uncle Wayne. Again, I coped cause...that was me as a kid - it doesn't have any bearing on me now.

    Parents will always embarrass their kids, this is just a different medium in which to do it...

  • https://www.facebook.com/jbone128?ref=tn_tnmn Godtalkradio

    I see the point of this post and think in large part that there is a lot of wisdom in it. However, if parents are simply trying to electronically journal and record their childrens lives then I have no problem with real life things being posted as long as they line up with the 1 Cor. 10:31 test of glorifying God.

    I for one have looked back at several pictures of my childhood and asked my mom and dad to explain to me the pictures and what was going on in my life. Their memories aren't as crisp as they used to be and while their intention wasn't to forget, time seems to cloud the realities and stories.

    Is calling a sassy child sassy an issue? Is making a point that your son or daughter is stubborn somehow changing their identity? I think that if a parent is telling the truth, they are only recording that portion of their child's history, not writing it.

    I love what J.E.T. had to say in her Facebook post today about our lives and the story they are actually telling,

    "We all have a story – some chapters are long, some are cut far too short; and others are restful interludes between pages of discouragement or drama. But we only see the meaning of our story when it fits into the context of a bigger, far greater Story." | Joni Eareckson Tada

    To have a well documented and accurate history for our children is arguably one of the most valuable gifts we can provide to them. When our children are old enough (and wise enough) to discern things on their own, they will have the ability to look back over their childhood and see the choices that they made and how they helped mold their identities. If parents are being wise in how they record and present this history, it can do a lot to show our children what their natural condition is...and why they too need a Savior. There must be wisdom in how parents capture and record these stories...and as the author alluded to, we must also be considerate and careful how we are telling (spinning) the story, but I for one am thankful for the gift of social media and the way it provides me a platform to communicate a Christian worldview and other important things to my son and my new baby daughter, so that when they are old enough to understand, they'll appreciate me for the time I invested in their lives, their stories and the eternal significance of both of these things.

    Jason

  • Pati

    Whereas I agree witih the premise here, I do wonder if there is more at play than just identity. There has been much written about kids today just wanting to be famous. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/yalda-t-uhls/kids-want-fame_b_1201935.html). Could it be that we are just feeding into our kids obsession with themselves and our desire to live through our kids? As a person into papercrafting industry, I see proud moms and grandmas put hundreds of dollars into one scrapbook covering maybe 1 year of life. Is every event of a child's life that important. Why do people know and agree with what Jen is saying, but really don't see it in what they are doing? Somehow they have the impression that the way they do it is appropriate. Why do I get jealous and wish I had the courage to tell everyone what my son is doing? Why do I typically restrain myself from such posts? Sometimes I wish I had journaled all the cute things my son did, but then it occurs to me that I don't much of the cute things I did as a child and I survived. Oh the pull of the carnal self. May I desire to tell everyone of the great things that God has done more than the small things of my own life. Ps. 126:3 "The Lord has done great things for us and we are glad."

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  • Betsy

    I'm a mom who also blogs, sometimes about my family. i try and keep a high line of privacy around my children's lives, but I do share stories sometimes. As my children have begun to leave babyhood (my oldest is 4), I've realized that I do not want to continue revealing things about them online or blogging in a public sphere (i'm not really a facebooker and i don't use any other social media). But I do want to continue writing about my own life. How do I navigate the intersection of the two?

  • Kathleen

    I keep a totally private online blog so I can jot down all the things I want to remember for my children, then every so often I have it printed into a book that I will give them later. I make sure that everything I write even in this private blog honors them. I mostly write about the delightful things they do and say, and how they are growing. I don't write about their sin, not because it isn't real, but because I'm not trying to keep a record of their wrongs. This is for them to see how much their father and I love them and delight in them, and know that God delights in them even more.

    On facebook, I don't see a problem with sharing their creative stories and adventures, and sweet, loving, and funny words. I don't at all see that as an invasion of their privacy, especially because it's strictly limited to a select set of actual friends, and I have even stricter rules about honoring them on facebook than on my blog. They routinely interact with these very people in real life too, so their actions and words cannot exactly be kept secret from everyone.

    I have almost no record of my childhood, other than a few photos my aunt gave me, because my parents have chosen not to be part of my life, and I feel like my roots have been cut off. Recording the joys of your children's lives is not turning them into self-obsessed brats, it's helping them to see their place in your family and in the world.