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First allow me say that I’m totally okay with most of my “friends”’ kid pics. Or at least the images I happen to catch snippets of as I scroll, scroll, scroll. I genuinely savor my relationships with of a lot of the social media-savvy moms and dads (and grandmas and grandpas, and aunts and uncles) in my life – and at my age, most of my “friends” have children of one kind or another. As with all of the wildly diverse (read: “frequently misguided”) opinions on sports, politics, food, art, and music packing my newsfeeds, I don’t mind learning about little Liam’s latest “Picasso” or little Brooklyn’s new cowboy boots. (I live in Texas.) Seeing a special-needs boy or girl break through to another level also touches me. The accomplishments and/or general cuteness of some of the offspring in my orbit may even inspire me to re-share some of the photos and stories with my wife. Who is not on Instagram. Or Snapchat. Or Facebook.
“It’s like high school,” Dana says of the social network, “and most of the people I know are in my past for a very good reason.”
This is the same woman who also loathes Twitter ipso facto. (“It’s completely useless unless you’re famous.”)
While I certainly dig, to the extent that any non-family member can, many of my “friends’” kid pics, I choose to stay on the sidelines. To me, there’s just something about social media and children that does not go together. And online predators, sexual and otherwise, aren’t my only concern.
Speaking from the perspective of a middle-aged, married U.S. citizen and father of one, the most popular social media portals in my little world –Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat (in order of significance) – appear to be mostly adult-oriented. Political commentary, high-minded art and thought, people looking angry, people looking sexy, people falling down – this is what my news feeds are filled with. From a 25,000-foot view, my news feeds are basically a dive bar on the outskirts of town. And much in the same way that I wouldn’t bring that sweet child o’ mine into Sarah’s Place or The Office, I’m not bringing him into my news feeds. The intellectual juxtaposition of innocent and worldly, good and bad, clean and dirty would just be too much for my feeble noodle.
From a 25,000-foot view, my news feeds are basically a dive bar on the outskirts of town.
From the perspective of the guy standing/wobbling in the worn-out Clarks® boots from Kohl’s, I really don’t want your child there, either. Though I like to think of myself as intellectually adept, I can’t help but be thrown off by a “friends’” kid pic after posting another 200-word spleen-o-gram about my favorite team’s porous defense or reading about another easily preventable tragedy. Or gawking at @suddenlypuppies. No, I don’t want to see a post about little Ethan or little Emily right now, dude. I also don’t want him or her around when I’m happy hour-ing with my posse at The Boiled Owl Tavern or Lola’s Saloon. Scroll, scroll, scroll …
Okay, confession time. Maybe my egomania is to blame, but my child is too important to me to be the source of someone else’s irritation or passing “awww.” I wouldn’t know what to think or feel if my entire complement of Facebook friends, all 500-ish of them, and Instagram followers (about 300) did not “like” a photo of Apollo. Every one.
“Hey, Steve,” I could see me DM-ing one of my “followers”/alleged “friends,” working my way down a long list. “I haven’t talked to you in a while. Hope you’re doing well. Real quick. Why didn’t you like that photo of Apollo splashing around the pool? Just curious. I mean. Have you gone blind?”
“Friends'” likes, comments, or silence matters. A lot. Their nature has a huge effect on new moms who feel societal pressure to be perfect, based on a recent study in the journal Sex Roles.
“Mothers who were more prone to seeking external validation for their mothering identity and [were] perfectionistic about parenting,” write the coauthors, “experienced increases in depressive symptoms indirectly via greater Facebook activity.”
Again, “Are you fools blind?! I’m gonna go cry now.”
Not bragging, but my Facebook page also sometimes gets a little professional – in addition to posting nonsense related to yacht rock (“Heart to Heart”-era Kenny Loggins rulz!), Pittsburgh/Texas sports, memes, local music and art, and working out, I sometimes upload links to news stories I’ve written. Thus, as the steward of a professionally afflicted Facebook page, I feel that I should stick to posting information that is helpful, insightful, or funny only. My son is merely super-awesome. Scroll, scroll, scroll …
I feel that I should stick to posting information that is helpful, insightful, or funny only. My son is merely super-awesome.
I’m also a semi-private person and a bit of a people pleaser. I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a conversation with a “friend,” online or in person, that didn’t end up with him or her doing all the talking and me doing all the listening. The only times I feel I can speak freely about myself is when I’m among my immediate family. Virtually or physically. You could say I’ve earned the right to bore the life out of Ma Mariani, Mama Boo and Papa Boo, Aunt Virginia, Uncles Lenny and Adam, and a few others, who all know what Apollo’s looking like these days (gorgeous) and what he’s doing (awesome-izing the world). Kinfolk have been in the loop since the start, and they will remain there for as long as Dana and I are alive. Whether they like it or not. (They like it. Well, at least they’re kind enough to say they do.) I can’t imagine our social network expanding any further, and I’m fine with that. Completely.
And before you ask, no, I do not have anything to hide. I couldn’t care less that our boy’s skin color is a rich, lustrous deep-dark brown while Dana’s is pinkish and mine sort of tan. Okay, manila envelope-hued. And greasy. My skin is greasy.
“Well,” I can hear the naysayers snarl, “you must be embarrassed of your son, because who doesn’t post at least one pic of their kid on the internet?!”
Kemosabe. Not only are Dana and I not embarrassed of Apollo, but we are so not embarrassed of him that we feel that posting a single photo of his glacier-melting smile or a video of his well-nigh legendary “Booty-Booty Dance!” would result in his being taken away from us by Creative Artists Agency or William Morris Endeavor and deposited into the hearts and minds of the general public, because that’s how special he is. (See? I can say nauseating shit like that because neither my wife nor I had anything to do with his intelligence, beauty, or star power.) Posting pics of Apollo Joseph Kofi Mariani now would simply be irresponsible.
No one likes a braggart.
And no one likes a liar even more.
Most of us are all probably well aware by now that most of the purported happiness we see on social media is thickly concealed misery or insecurity. And, let’s be honest, while many share-friendly moms and pops might merely be looking for some semblance of community or a support network, some are probably just trying to make a love connection. Some because they’re single, others perhaps because they’re attached but restless. And some of them might not even be aware of what they’re putting out there. Social media often lead to hookups and less frequently though still consistently to long-lasting relationships. And though husbands and boyfriends have historically been vilified as the stray cats, their partners of the fairer sex aren’t exactly angels.
“Hey, ladies/boys!” Mom/Dad says without actually saying it while posting yet another pic of Junior. “My cute kid got you to look at this photo, but now that you’re here, make sure you check out or remember the responsible, nurturing, handsome/pretty adult in this child’s life. In case my current relationship doesn’t work out. Or in case you’re down with O.P.P., yeah, you know me!”
I really don’t want to create the impression that I’m unhappy by posting about how happy I am. Happy or un-, we avail ourselves to predators or predatory behavior by declaring our emotional conditions on social media, explicitly or implicitly.
Looking for the source of our discomfort, social media-related or otherwise, all we need to do is remember our childhoods.
A lot of us are screwed up in some way. Maybe we’re addicted to booze, drugs, or sex. Or violence. Maybe we’re addicted to “likes” or little red heart symbols. Our parents, especially for us children of Flower Children or for Flower Children, are probably to blame. (They’re to blame.)
Maybe my egomania is to blame, but my child is too important to me to be the source of someone else’s irritation or passing “awww.”
Fear-based parenting, which up until only recently was the only kind of parenting anyone of us knew, “has been shown to lead to an increased risk of future antisocial behavior, including crime and substance abuse,” according to Attachment Parenting International, a 7-year-old nonprofit devoted to developing children into empathetic adults.
Kids who aren’t taught to self-regulate or control their emotions but who are constantly told by parents/guardians how to feel or act may learn that comfort comes not from within but only from external sources. Like whiskey. Or heroin. Or a ton of lovers. Or “friends’” “likes.”
Perhaps worse than a bar, social media are as my wife describes them: like high school. My kid’s only 4. I can wait another 50 years before his freshman year.
Anthony Mariani, editor of and art critic for the Fort Worth Weekly, regular contributor to the Fatherly Forum, and a former freelancer for The Village Voice, Oxford American, and Paste magazine. He recently finished writing a memoir that is obviously “too real, man!” (his words) for any U.S. publisher, reputable or otherwise. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org