It’s difficult to figure out where the line is in sharing our children with the social media world. Of course, some sharing is natural and good. Parents are proud of their children and those children can inspire and bring joy to other people. But when the sharing is not organic— when it happens on these exponential planes, so quickly, and without children having any say in what is being shared— we risk violating their dignity. I don’t want my children to become cute Instagram commodities. I don’t want my children to become advertisements for myself.
Here are a few guidelines I’ve employed to try to avoid this problem:
1. Only entrust intimate photos and details about your children to people who truly love them. In most of life offline you have to have a relationship with a person in order to know a lot about them. (Celebrities are the most common exception and we all know what kinds of struggles child celebrities face.) A few photo updates every now and then for your wider community makes sense, but the weekly highlight reel should be reserved for the people who actually talk to or visit with your children and have ongoing relationships with them.
2. No pictures or details that they’ll be embarrassed about later on. Most young kids don’t get to have a say in what their parents post. So when we do post, we ought to think about what our children would actually want. There are some things that just shouldn’t be shared publicly— like unflattering pictures or anything to do with diapers or the toilet or temper tantrums. This is just basic respect of human dignity, which we want to have for our children and teach our children to have for others.
3. Children are not characters. This is important for everyone on social media to remember, but especially for bloggers. It can be good to share the ways in which our children inspire us. Additionally, some families have found real, supportive community online for their children— especially children who are suffering—and sharing the details actually builds relationships and facilitates care. But we have to be on guard to our children becoming like reality TV stars— shared with the intention of charming strangers into reading something or buying stuff.
4. Your children will do amazing things. The whole world does not necessarily have to know that and often, it’s actually better if they don’t. Your child might be a genius or super athletic or hilarious or gorgeous or insightful. Your child might even be a little saint. And sharing that naturally with the people around him is great. But sharing that with thousands of people might very well ruin it. Beautiful things do not necessarily become more beautiful simply by being shared with more people. If my child is meant to share his wonderfulness with a broader scope he can do that when it’s his decision to make and he’s mature enough to handle the mesmerizing temptations of vanity and power and glamour.
5. When in doubt, seek the counsel of other people who love your child. Maybe he/she really is meant to change a broader world than the one directly around him. But you’re inevitably going to be biased. Ask your spouse what he/she thinks. Ask your parents. Ask God. Either way, in the end, you can always post those adorable toddler videos later, if your child does become the next president or pope or superstar.