Link copied to clipboard

Of course your friends and family want to see your child in your Facebook posts and on other social media sites. But it’s easy to cross the line between sharing your child’s life and exposing his life unfairly or even using his lives as part of some sort of exhibition. There are reasons why social media restrict users to people over the age of 13. One of those reasons is to keep kids from being exploited, even by their parents.

A five-year-old is an Instagram sensation because of his fashion-conscious clothes. Surely this boy doesn’t choose these duds himself. He also doesn’t photograph himself in precociously sophisticated poses. The New York Magazine article that discusses this child’s social media fame reports “There are now five fan accounts dedicated to his style, two of which have appeared in the last month.” Other children didn’t create these fan pages. Adults did. Only adults are responsible for creating this boy’s alter ego and for publicizing his exploits for their own purposes.

Of course, your little posts don’t go to such extremes. But this child’s story is just one of a long line of cautionary tales. Christopher Milne, whose father wrote the Winnie-the-Pooh books describing his childhood exploits, spoke of feeling that his childhood was stolen from him. He wrote, “It seemed to me almost that my father had got where he was by climbing on my infant shoulders, that he had filched from me my good name and left me nothing but empty fame.”

Children should not be the foundation of a parent’s next career. Parents who create a role for themselves by thrusting their child into the limelight steal their child’s potential. It’s obvious to us that this happened to Christopher Robin. It’s part of the horrifying fun of watching shows like Dance Moms and Toddlers in Tiaras. And maybe it’s clear to us that’s what’s happening in the family of the five-year-old fashion star.

But it’s not always obvious when we’re posting to Facebook or Flickr or other sites. The Internet has a long memory. Images and commentary never really go away. You can take things down but they already exist somewhere else, if other people have copied or shared or even just “liked” your post. So have a care:

1. If your motive in making a post is to expose or embarrass your child – or if it could have that effect someday down the road – then don’t make that post.

2. If your motive in making a post is to demonstrate what a good parent you are by using your child as an example or object lesson – then don’t make that post.

3. If your motive in making a post is in any way to make money from your child – by using her face on your book cover or by repeating her cute sayings or whatever – then don’t make that post.

Your child is a star, of course. She’s a wonderful person with a marvelous future and because she’s your child there’s a bit of pride and glory that shines onto you. That’s lovely. But don’t exploit your child in an effort to capitalize on her in any way. She is your child but you don’t own her.

Only children own children’s lives and it’s up to them to decide, when they’re old enough to make such decisions, what parts of their lives they want to share. No child should be a social media star. It’s a parent’s job to make certain this is so.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.

Does your small child have an Internet presence right now? Is he featured on a website, are his pictures posted in a public spot somewhere, or does he star in a YouTube video? An astonishing number of infants and little kids are already public figures, thanks to their parents. Maybe your child is one of them.

And that could be a problem. Christopher Robin, the boy in the Winnie-the-Pooh stories, was the real son of the author. As an adult, he said he felt his childhood had been exploited. He wrote, “It seemed to me almost that my father had got where he was by climbing on my infant shoulders, that he had filched from me my good name and left me nothing but empty fame.” Of course, you don’t intend to sell books using your child as the main character but what about daily or weekly posts featuring your little one? Aren’t you using your child as the main character in your presentation of your own life?

Goodness knows Facebook and other sites would be a lot less interesting without pictures of cute babies and videos of their antics. Certainly using YouTube, Flickr, and other public sites is a convenient way to store media and to share them with friends and family. But at some point a line is crossed. That point might be an age or it might be a type of content. Sharing the details of your baby’s first bath is one thing, but sharing the same child’s bathing habits (or lack of them) at age nine is entirely another. Be aware of that line. Posting the details of your child’s life is something you should do only with the greatest hesitation. This is not your life to share.

Which leads us to the more common complaint about kids’ relationship to computers: that computers are dangerous portals to child exploitation. They certainly are.  At the same time, computers are marvelous tools for thinking and creative expression. We don’t want to over-react. We don’t want to restrict computer use to protect our children to such an extent that they (or we) live in the modern equivalent of a log cabin. But stopping child exploitation starts at home. Don’t exploit your child by posting her daily life for everyone who surfs by to see.

The time to start modeling safe Internet use is now and it starts with how you portray your children online. Begin by keeping your child’s face and stories to yourself, sharing them only with friends and family. Don’t be the first to exploit your child.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.