Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Curse of Sharenting

Think about an embarrassing photo of yourself from your childhood. Maybe it's that one where you're sitting naked on a toilet as a toddler, or that prepubescent pic with the giant braces and bad hair. Thank goodness that old cringy photo is tucked away in some dog-eared album, right? A sealed-off remnant of your childhood.

Now imagine that picture, plus hundreds more, posted on Facebook for everyone to see, with cutesy little hashtags, day after day, year after year. One of my 7th grade students got me thinking about this issue right before summer break, when she commented that she had deleted her Facebook account because her mom kept posting pictures of her. "It's not that the pics were embarrassing or anything," she explained. "I just don't want my friends seeing what I'm up to everyday. It's weird."

It's no wonder teenage kids have veered away from facebook and are gravitating toward social networking sites such as Snapchat that allow for more privacy and anonymity. Maybe they’re trying to escape the barrage of childhood photos that force them into endless public scrutiny. Maybe they just want to live their lives without being a “celebrity” on their parents' timelines.

If you're an '80s child like me, you’ve never had to deal with the crux of parents with smartphones. Our personal childhood moments--bath time, potty-training, the first day of fifth grade, awkward junior high dances, etc.--were safely tucked away into photo albums and scrapbooks where only a few close friends and relatives would ever see. Yet as parents today, we never stop to question what it’s like for our own children to have all of these moments (embarrassing, adorable, or otherwise) exploited online.

So let’s pause right now and ask this question: How will the adult version of your child feel having his/her entire childhood chronicled on social networking? As Celia Walden (writer and wife to Pier Morgan) states, our kids have “got a lifetime of being subjected to other people's gaze and other people's judgement.” So why would we, the parents, choose to add to this? At the best, even if our kids are comfortable being in the limelight, highlighting every moment of their lives is taking something meaningful away. If every moment is special then none of them are.

The answer is, we shouldn't.

Even taking our kids’ right to privacy out of the equation, there are other reasons why sharenting is wrong. Such as the fact that it’s inconsiderate to your friends/followers. Imagine going to your Aunt Hilda’s house and being forced to endure two hours straight of little cousin Joey’s photos (a phenomenon that we actually endured in the ‘80s). Yes, you’ll insert the appropriate “Awwww”s and “Isn’t that adorable” in the right places, because you’re a polite person. But meanwhile you’re kinda wishing a chunk of acoustic ceiling will inexplicably fall down and gouge you in the eyeball just to have an excuse to escape. And you’re also kinda thinking Aunt Hilda could use some conversational empathy here, because who in their right mind thinks that anyone enjoys this form of torture?

Yet you yourself do the same thing every day on social media. Nice to meet you, Aunt Hilda. Luckily your family and friends aren't held hostage on a couch. They can slap a polite ‘like’ on your posts and move on. But do you really want to put them in this position rather than simply downsizing your posts to interesting, relevant things they genuinely care about? I constantly hear the argument “If people don’t like what I post, they can unfollow me.” Well kudos to you, standing your ground and all that. But close friends and family will never unfollow you because they're decent people, and maintaining a relationship with you is important to them regardless of how annoying you are on Facebook. So now you’re just *that* person. The person whose grating posts they’ve learned to slap a cursory ‘like’ on as they scroll past.

Another interesting fact about over-sharenting? It’s a sad attempt to dig for praise or approval. When I was a kid my mom's parenting strategies (like many moms of the '80s) fluctuated from amazing to downright crazy and everything between. I could write a book on this woman and the complexities she went through while raising me and my sister. Yet one thing that stands out is my mom never felt the need to constantly showcase her good parenting moments online. To be fair, the internet didn’t exist back then, so no mom felt this need. Being a good parent in the ‘80s had its own intrinsic rewards, such as creating laughter, warm feelings, and unscripted memories with your kids...memories that were never cheapened by the rehearsed facade of a facebook post. But many moms today have the mentality that good parenting is wasted if it’s not publicized on facebook. Like, “If others can’t see how much I’m rockin’ it, what’s the point?”

Over-sharing mommies, it's time to face reality. Other than Grandma and maybe that super devoted aunt (who you can easily text), no one cares about your thousands of photos. And on some level you know this, which means you're doing it for yourselves. For the likes. The comments. The dopamine rush you get every time someone reacts to your post. The positive affirmation. As stated by 'Wellness Mama' Katie in her article Why I Don't Post about My Kids Online, “I get it. Parenting is hard and positive feedback is helpful. I definitely bounce ideas off of friends or ask for advice in person. I just try really hard not to use my kids as a means for social affirmation.”

The final (and possibly most important reason) moms need to escape the clutches of sharenting is because constantly being in Photographer-Mode means sacrificing the present for the future. That is, you miss out on so many of life's amazing, impromptu moments in your attempt to capture them on camera--all so you can look upon that snapshot later and reminisce on a memory that you never truly experienced. Instead of fake-smiles for the benefit of the camera, let's embrace the genuine smiles our kids radiate when they're living life for real.

I’m not suggesting that we should never post pics of our kids. Our kids are a huge part of our lives and it would be silly to pretend they don’t exist. In the last few months Facebook has shared memories of my daughter holding a crocodile, my son hanging upside down from a punching bag, and both my kids engaged in an epic shaving cream battle in the bathtub (clothes ON). But there’s a difference between sharing an occasional whimsical or anecdotal moment of your kids, versus turning your timeline into a relentless baby album chronicling every moment of your child until he is now ten-years old and frankly not-so-cute anymore (sorry but...truth). I know the excitement of being a brand new mother and wanting to share every moment of the experience, which is why upon entering motherhood I called my own mom every-other-day and texted her a barrage of photos. But for the sake of social networking, one or two carefully selected pictures a week will still capture the adorableness of your handsome little cherub just as well as a dozen.

Remember, once your child reaches the age of awareness, it is no longer your life and your experiences you are sharing. It is theirs. And frankly, some things need to remain unshared, and precious. Childhood should be one of them. How about we stop feeling consumed with posting a record of everything our kids experience, and just enjoy the moments as they come? My most treasured moments with my kids are the ones you don’t know about. Why? Because I keep them close to my heart--not on Facebook.