I recently met my friend’s daughter for the first time in person. I already knew what she looked like and snippets of her personality through her parents’ posts on Facebook. I have essentially been her friend on Facebook for years, but it will be another decade before she has her own profile.
Similarly, my college buddies keep me posted on their daughter’s adventures via Instagram, posting photos of her on the trail, on a bike, and outside in Montana living the life of a mountain girl. Or, at least I assume she is a mountain girl because these are the only pictures I have ever really seen of her. I haven’t made it out to Montana since she was born.
And don’t get me started on the absolutely adorable pudge on my honorary nephew in New York. At six-months-old he is already slated to be my son’s best friend, as soon as we find time for a trip to the city.
I know more about my friends' children through social media posts than real-life encounters. Children today are part of the first truly social generation whose lives will be documented from birth to adulthood on social media sites. So, what is my son like to those who only know him online?
As adults, we put our best selves online (or a tightly managed, pleasantly self-deprecating version of our flawed selves). Like the “casual” picture of me sitting on the porch with my son that was taken and re-taken four different times by my husband before I accepted that it looked ready for mass consumption. Do we edit the information we share about our kids in the same way?
I think we have to behave online as if we are posting on behalf of our kids, not about our kids. It’s already hard enough for many folks to be friends with their parents on social media, as Mashable points out in this list. Now fast forward a decade or so and think about how your kid will feel seeing a post about his failed attempt at potty training. I want my son to appreciate his online profile before he takes it over.
When it comes to posting and sharing on social networks, plenty of resources exist urging teens to stay smart and safe online. Facebook has an entire division dedicated to online safety and a Safety Advisory Board. However, few resources teach parents what to do when posting on behalf of their own kids.
As a marketer, I’ve put together a few thoughts related to how to think about posting on behalf of your kids. Facebook is referenced a lot (especially as the number one network among my mom friends), but these tips apply to Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Google+, and other social networks as well.
What not to post:
- Please don’t share detailed descriptions (and DEFINITELY no photos!) of explosive diapers, vomiting, bloody noses, potty training mishaps, or any other bodily functions gone wrong. If you want sympathy, call a friend. If you genuinely need medical advice, I’m inclined to suggest that it won’t come from your former sorority roommate’s “hang in there!” comment.
- Never post nude photos of your kids online. I can’t believe I have to make this point, but I have seen one too many bare buns shots to gloss over the subject. There are definitely risks associated with predators who search for and use these kinds of photos, but more importantly, your kid will probably never want that picture in the public domain. I’m all for breaking out the cringe-worthy baby on a bear skin rug photo, but only in private when my son can defend those dimples in person.
- Avoid extensive and lengthy complaints about your kids. I have been reminded (repeatedly) by generations of mothers before me that I have it easy. I would tend to agree. I know there are always exceptions, but if I have time and the means to use social media to share commentary about my kids, odds are I’m not keeping busy tending the farm, darning socks, or working in the mine. So, I have implemented what I will call the “grandma rule” for social posting. If your grandma wouldn’t complain about it when she was raising kids, don’t go complaining about it yourself.
Tips when posting
- Make sure you understand how Facebook and other social media sites use the photos you post. For instance, look here for a primer of how photos are used by Facebook, and specifically in advertising.
- Know your privacy settings. Select the right group to share posts with when they include information about your kids. Consider tailoring who can see your posts from a Web-wide audience to a group of close friends and family.
- Ask before posting pictures of another parent’s kids. I’m not saying you need to ask your play date sign a photo release, but check in and make sure other parents approve you posting pictures including their kid. Feel free to share this tip with your child’s grandparents (ahem, mom and dad, I’m talking to you), who in their zeal to embrace social media, might post more photos from an afternoon of babysitting than you would post in a calendar quarter.
Where to share that isn’t all out there:
- If you like the ease of social media sites, but want to keep posts including your kids private, sign up for online and mobile tools like 23snaps that let you create “profiles” for your children. You can easily upload pictures, videos, and text, which is delivered in a newsfeed only to invited friends who have subscribed to your updates. 23snaps also provides options for sharing your updates with other social media sites.
- If you still want to use larger social media sites, consider creating private groups on those sites. Google+ and Facebook offer ways to build private, invite-only groups that allow you to share with a particular group of friends. This is a great way to access contacts only maintained through social networks, without worrying about making a public post.
- Use an online photo-sharing site like Shutterfly to create a Web site for your family. Send updates newsletter-style to select friends who can access the site through a username and password. And as a bonus, tools like Shutterfly and 23snaps allow you to create albums and other photo gifts, so you can combine archiving great memories with keeping friends and family up to date.
Hopefully up to this point I have done my son a favor and approached his online introduction responsibly. As far as I know, there are no bear skin rug photos floating around online. There might be a post or two of me looking a little feral (hat tip to mom blog “eating over the sink" for that descriptor) due to adventures in motherhood, but no tushies have been exposed in the filming of his childhood.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Lane Brown blogs at Mudlatte.com.