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.


  1. Preach! ^_^

    I mean, I don't have kids, but honestly, people can be really gross. Like, ONE picture is fine. But not fifty. Not five. Not everyday. Posting that many pictures is gross. I know they had a kid. I didn't forget. And I don't need daily pregnancy updates either. It makes me think having children makes people crazy. (Speaking of crazy, I have some awesome stories about my mom. Dad, too. LOL! True story, I had a "my dad is the most embarrassing dad in the world" battle in the ninth grade, and I totally won.)

    So far, my sister hasn't been excessive about it. I'm a tad worried about my brother's wife oversharing, but my tolerance for family is thankfully much higher.

    1. Krystal, you need to do a blog post about your dad! Well, unless he reads you blog. :P Either way, I must hear some of these stories.

      This post was inspired by a relative of mine who’s drowning my newsfeed with her fifty daily pics of her kids. She used to be a cool, interesting person, but child-rearing has absorbed her entire personality. I see this all over place, which makes me think that there’s truth to the idea that having kids makes people crazy (not all of them, but some of them for sure). This sounds totally sexist, but from my observations it’s the females that go nuts while the dudes stay relatively normal. Most of my female friends have kids, and I’ve watched some of the coolest of them who were so independent, interesting, and fun turn into mombies. They no longer have any hobbies or interests of their own; they are simply consumed with child-rearing and that becomes their whole persona. I wish such woman would realize that you can still be a loving mother and raise awesome kids while simultaneously maintaining your sense of “self”. I’ll get off this soap box now ‘cause when it comes to this topic I can go on and on. ;)

  2. I think these are very good reflections, Jodi. I know I tend to get wrapped up in the future, but I do see some of the dangers of sharing it on facebook and twitter. I try to keep family stuff on the DL. (Do people still say that?)

    Tthe idea of certain memories being unshared, close to one's heart... This is a deep topic. I have all these memories of a past life. It feels almost a million years ago. Part of me even wonders if it was really me that it happened to. The terribly sad thing is, I tried to emails, chats, all kinds of mementos. They all disappeared. I tried to re-build, recapture what I could, but I feel like there are prison bars between me and those memories, somehow. There's a hole in my heart that I won't let heal, because if that formal feeling ever came, I'd probably feel like that freezing person recollecting the snow.

    But I go about my business as best I can and hope for the best. Sorry if this comment is way to self-involved. Feel free to delete it. If you do, maybe you can let me know you got it via the contact form on my website.


    1. I still say DL but I don’t think that counts for much. ;)

      Your thoughts about unshared memories have me thinking really hard. I know that feeling--when you’re trying to cling onto something precious but without any kind of momentos it starts to slip through your fingertips like melting snow and you question the substantiality of the thing. I’ve been thinking about this question for hours: What makes memories real? If there’s nothing tangible to support a lingering memory, then the memory becomes nothing more than a grain in the fabric of one person’s universe, no more substantial than an opinion s/he holds. But then it occured to me that the one thing that gives a memory substance is if someone else remembers it too. Kind of like Disney’s Coco, where the soul of the dead fades away forever once there is no one left who remembers them. Based on your description of your momentos (e-mails, chats, etc.), there’s someone you care about on the other end of your ‘past life’ memories. No matter how many prison bars your mind sadistically erects between you and those memories, it’s an illusion, and the whole thing falls apart once you know she remembers too. Unfortunately I have no proof to offer you that this is the case, so you’ll just have to take my word on this as a female who has unshared memories herself. She remembers.

      Oh and no way I’m deleting such a beautiful reply Thomas. <3

  3. That's a good thing to remember for one day when I have kids!

    1. Bookmark this post Iffy. Don't become one of them. RESIST.

      (FTR I'm still in awe that you're popping in. I'll try to get over it soon).

  4. I think it goes without saying that I agree with you. Perhaps my motivations are different, because as a person without kids, I'm not particularly interested in seeing dozens of pics of kids/pets even if those kids/pets belong to my family or friends. I don't mind it occasionally, kids are a part of the world, but all the time can be a little bit much. I kind of think Mommy Blogs like Dooce started this whole mess and it's just spilled over onto Facebook. Dooce isn't the only one, of course, but is probably the longest running. That blog showed the world mommy blogging could be a thing and oversharing about your kids was not only a thing, it could be a profitable thing.

    I know one woman who posts embarrassing pics of her kids, or overshares about her sons first time using the potty, and I cringe every single time. Like, why is it important to share that? Why do you think your friends are interested in that information? I've actually muted her on Facebook so I don't see her posts because it kind of grosses me out.

    And, When I used to teach, I would tell my students that when you put something online, it's there forever. You can delete it, but it's not gone and never will be. I think that's relevant here. Those kids will grow up into teens and young adults and all that crap their parents put out there about them will just out there. I feel for those kids.

    1. " a person without kids, I'm not particularly interested in seeing dozens of pics of kids/pets..." I think it's cool of you to acknowledge that this might skew your opinion on the matter. That being said, as a person with kids, I'm not particularly interested either. Becoming a mother added another label to my identity; it never overhauled my identity the way it has with so many others. When I'm at a party and some chick starts droning on about her kids, I can just feel my eyes glazing over. I want to talk about current events or a new movie that's out or have some fun philosophical debate, not discuss her two year-old who just lost his tooth. All kids (more or less) go through the same stages of development and I've already 'been there done that' with my own, so the whole thing is just a yawn-fest to me. Now if little Jack pulled his tooth out using a Nerf gun, I'm totally cool with THAT story.

      The embarrassing potty training pics...*shudders* Several of those pop up on my feed too. Some moms have the mindset that they have a right to post about their lives, not thinking about the fact that their toddler is an individual and a future-adult, and it's their lives too. I'm sure Grandma would love to know that Jack just used the potty for the first time but would be equally as satisfied to see a pic of Jack smiling over a scoop of ice-cream over his recent victory rather than squatting over the toilet.

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