My name is Bent and I’m currently an intern at JC Social Media during my first summer holidays of studying Business Management and Informatics at the University of Sheffield. You can follow me on Twitter here.
To be honest, when I was asked to write something on the topic of babies and social media, I felt a little under qualified. It’s been a while since I’ve been a toddler myself and my memories of that time are fuzzy at best. I also don’t have any children of my own, of that I’m pretty sure. I’m also not friends with that many young families on Facebook, so I haven’t really been subjected to the huge flood of cute pictures of baby’s first bath or day out, something which has been a growing trend for at least as long as social media has been on the rise.
I still think that all this actually gives me quite a good point of view from which to address this subject. It’s not like I cannot imagine ever having children of my own, so getting into the subject is something I might as well do sooner rather than later. More importantly, I feel like I have neither the overly positive nor negative preconceptions about the issue, so perhaps I’ll have an easier time considering both sides of the argument. The argument in questions to me seems to stem from two conflicting feelings about the notion of involving your newborn child in the world of social media and networking. On one hand you have the desire to document every little milestone in this tiny person’s life and share it with the ones you love, or, to a larger extent, with anyone who’s on your friendlist.
On the other hand there’s the fear of the unknown. I know this is pretty vague, but it really is the best way to encapsulate all the worries involved. Mainly we don’t know how it would affect someone later in life if their entire history up until then was permanently archived on the web, and we couldn’t possibly know, after all, the technology didn’t exist before.
Both these sides are perfectly reasonable. Posting pictures and sharing them with grandma and grandpa, who will certainly enjoy the chance to see their cute little grandchildren’s adventures and exploits, and especially relatives and friends who live far away is a much more convenient solution than the old binder full of polaroids my parents would get out for every family gathering. I’m sure most of you have similar memories, and most of you might recall varying degrees of embarrassment about these mementos the further you ascended into your teens. Now imagine having those photos available at any time, to anyone your parents ever shared them with, and anyone your parents will ever become online friends with in the future. That is, by the way, a potentially very large number, dependent on the network chosen and the parent’s savvy regarding privacy settings. But even if your parents are doing their best to keep everything in the family, perhaps even using networks uniquely dedicated to those precious younglings, like Babyzilla or Totspot, chances are they’re not the only people sharing those potentially (depending on your level of teenage angst) ‘life-ending’ pictures. These days pictures are among the most shared medium on the planet, and in all likelihood your aunts, uncles and friends of the family are doing it as well.
I’ve heard the argument being made that in the future, our kids would find themselves unable to say, run for any political offices, since their competitors could easily produce embarrassing photos of them in their onesies. Conversely, some parents take very careful precautions to secure their kid’s name on Facebook and Twitter as well as relevant URLs as soon as they’ve decided on a name. To me, these things show what I perceive to be the main thing people seem to be forgetting in this discussion. To be precise, both these points assume that our culture does not change for the next twenty-something years. But if you think about it, what would prevent anyone from countering the picture of your first baby meal with a photo of your opponent’s first bath? In a world where the majority of people have their lives documented on the web, would it not be odder if such photos didn’t exist of you? At the same time, are the same networks that dominate the market now going to still be around in 15 to 20 years?
I’m not saying you shouldn’t worry about or want to protect your child. Quite the opposite, actually, I think it is every parent’s responsibility now to be very, very much in the know about the pros and cons associated with our ever-more connected culture. It seems almost impossible, because you would have to be even more apt at handling online life than your kids will end up being, something many parents struggle with already. It is an incredible balancing act, with you having to consider your child’s safety without limiting their possibilities, your own desire to tell the world how awesome your little wonder is, without losing track of their own right of self-expression, all the while equipping them with the best tools to one day manage fine on their own.
I guess what I’m saying is that parenting has always been hard and certainly hasn’t gotten any easier. But if you get stuck in the past and consider your child’s life only what you know of the present, you might lose track of what might be in the future. Consider what will and what won’t be true for them when they grow up. If you think about it, how much is your life now like that of your parents? What has changed? What didn’t change?
As a parent, you’ll know that nothing can ever prepare you for what life is like when a child enters the world. But you also know that there is absolutely nothing that could ever stop you from trying your hardest for them, no matter what. You will struggle. You will want to scream with frustration. But you will also love, unconditionally.
And, you know, maybe read up on those Facebook privacy settings again.