My son turned two months old yesterday, yet nothing was posted online about it. Not a single photo, video or comment was seen or heard. Friends and family ask why there aren’t more pictures of my little one on Facebook, and I’ve always given the same answer: “I’m respecting his privacy.” I also suspect that my son is an introvert, but there’s more to why I rarely post pictures, videos or even tweet about my baby.
Almost every parent I know and follow online, post things about their kids almost every single day. So I thought I’d explain the reason I’ve chosen to go a different way, and show you how to give your child the digital adulthood he deserves.
Firstly, I have nothing against seeing my friends’ cute babies online. In fact they are usually the first posts I’ll “Like” on Facebook or Instagram. But here’s the thing: Posting too much about your child online makes it impossible for him to have future anonymity. Kids become adults, not all of whom will want to be public figures which, lets face it, we almost all are online. The way in which digital data is catalogued and content created is changing in ways that will affect our kids in the future. Setting up a potty training YouTube channel for your toddler is sure to get a lot of “Likes” and comments, but what if those embarrassing moments – found easily with a quick search – could hinder his chances later in life of getting admitted into a good college, or landing a job? It’s not as far-fetched a claim as it seems, considering how background checks and personality analyses are commonly conducted by the best schools and companies today. With all the emphasis we place on giving our kids the best possible start in life, it’s a wonder we don’t consider this very real possibility when we share their private moments online. I know it sounds crazy, but we all did Psychology 101 and ought to know that many take things like cognitive development in early childhood to a whole other level. I believe that all children (at least) should be allowed a “digital adult self” free from the pre-judgment of others. Especially as what we share about them is something they have no control over.
Another aspect of the digital world our kids have little control over but which affects their futures are the algorithms that are (and will increasingly be) able to analyze every comment, person and place attached to their pictures and videos. All of this information will then lead to suggestions to things that will “naturally” come to form the circles and environments they are influenced by as adults. I work in Advertising, which means I know very well how the whole psychology of “You may also like this” works. I fall for it all the time. For example, a vegan mum who posts pictures of her daughter eating delicious home-cooked meals may actually be ensuring that only other vegan children are recommended as (future) “Friends.” I for one want my son to expand his horizons beyond those I’ve given him. And that means preventing him from meeting “Potential Friends” and finding real ones.
Of course like any other mum I can’t help whipping out my iPhone every time he wears a new outfit or does something super cute. I also send these photos to loved ones, from my phone to theirs. This not only means that they learn to be mindful about tagging photos of my child, it also makes sharing my little one with them something special – like having a one-on-one conversation instead of a making a public speech. As for the hundreds of baby pictures I already have stored and sorted in iPhoto albums, they will all be given to him when he’s wise (not just old) enough to discern what is appropriate to be shared, and more importantly what he wants others to see. In other words, I prefer to keep the proverbial photo album at home, until his girlfriend comes to meet the parents of course.
Someday my son will be on his own social media platform (when Facebook has become a thing of the past?), and he may well be the guy who overshares the night of his eighteenth birthday party with live streaming footage while I watch in horror from a screen at home, helpless. Or maybe he’ll be the type who lives totally off the grid, backpacking through some third world country with friends, none of whom care to have a smartphone. Either way, I’m going to give him the privacy he needs to decide that for himself.
Michelle Lim-Chua is a banana born in New York City, who fell in love with a boy from Melaka and became a mama of one.