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We are about 10 years out from a revolution. That’s about the time that the first kids forced to live online against their will will be old enough to fight back. While we wait for the backlash, let’s vanquish one misconception the Mommy Bloggers and Daddy Facebookers of the world trot out as justification: “Sharing.” As in, “I’m just sharing our story!” Or, “I’m just sharing these moments with our family and friends!”
You are using your kids to bolster your own online ego. Every time you check Facebook, you spin the notification slots. “Did someone like my photo? How many comments? Quantify my worth in little red-bubbled numbers!” Scouring for Twitter @’s and Instagram <3’s is the same story.
The game you’re playing is simple — you’re gambling pieces of yourself for gratification. The Harvard study linking pleasure to self-disclosure is part of the explanation, but when you add in your kids to the pleasure equation, your harmless night at the nickel slots becomes “All in.”
Silly smiles, chubby legs in swimsuits, perky pigtails — what’s easier like-bait than that? Kids are endless content generators — the problem is, they’re not the ones sharing. They’re not the ones clicking “post.” And yet they’re the ones who have to become adults with a picture of them on the potty cataloged on Google Image Search.
If you post a photo of your own chubby legs in a swimsuit, I bet you’ll get just as much response.
“But my family likes to see photos!” I’ve seen the photos, too. Strangers’ kids in the tub, just born and still bearing the evidence, crying at the camera instead of comforting arms, or the subject of a hashtag and joke. Keep the snaps for yourself — or if you must, presumably if you are able to access Facebook, your email works too. Set up a mailing list. Share with your world, not the whole world.
“I just want to use my experience with my kids to help others!” Hogwash. Babies are babies. They crawl when they’re ready, they blow raspberries in their smushed carrots, and yours is adorable, I’m sure of it. But your post on sleep training with a screen shot of your baby monitor is not a necessary addition to child development academia. Save your advice for your local parents’ group.
Even worse are the babies and kids who are playing starring roles on their parents’ for-profit blogs. Child actors have labor laws. Child internet personalities do not. If your child is recognizable by face and name by a stranger on the street, he needs protection. Legal, and otherwise.
“Whatever. You should see what teenagers will share on the internet. These babies aren’t going to care what their parents posted.” Those social-media sharing teens still get the “self” part of “self-disclosure.” The Babies of Instagram do not. Every time you post your kid, you’re jacking someone else’s content, someone else’s identity.
If you find yourself in need of winning a big social media pot, here’s a wager — if you post a photo of your own chubby legs in a swimsuit, I bet you’ll get just as much response.
Zoë is a broadcast and print journalist, currently stationed in Germany. With a Master’s in Speech Communication, her work has been featured on the Pentagon Channel, broadcast Europe-wide on AFN, and published in titles including Women’s Health, Self, and Every day with Rachael Ray. You can find more of her posts here: