Recently, university researchers asked children and parents to describe the rules they thought families should follow related to technology. This joint survey from the University of Washington and the University of Michigan found that children are embarrassed and frustrated about the content their parents are posting about them on social media. The results came from kids and their parents from 249 families across 40 states.
In our mind, those rules will be like don’t text and drive or don’t be online when someone wants to talk to you. But there was an surprising rule that the children wanted that their parents mentioned far less often: Don’t post anything about me on social media without asking me.“They weren’t necessarily saying that parents shouldn’t be posting about them at all, they just wanted to have some control over their online image,” Hiniker, a doctoral student at the University of Washington said. The research results revealed a really interesting disconnect. While children ages 10 to 17 “were really concerned” about the ways parents shared their children’s lives online, their parents were far less worried. About three times more children than parents thought there should be rules about what parents shared on social media.
Social media sites like Facebook and Instagram are now baked into the world of today’s families. Many new parents post images of their newborn online within an hour of birth, and some parents even create social media accounts for the children themselves to share photos and news with family. However, some children and teenagers question both past and present sharing.
An eighth grade girl said “I really don’t like it when my parents post pictures of me on their social media accounts, especially after finding out that some of my friends follow them. I worry more about my dad. He doesn’t always ask if he can post things, so I immediately turn away and ask if he’s going to post it. Or I’ll find out later because my friend saw something of me on his Instagram and I’ll have to ask him to take it down.”
Also, a 15-year-old high school sophomore said, “I definitely know people who have parents who post things they wish weren’t out there. There was a girl in my eighth grade class whose mom opened a YouTube account for her in the fourth grade to show off her singing,” she wrote to me in an email. “Finally, on one of the last months of middle school, a peer played the song in class and almost the entire class laughed hysterically over it.”
These two children are the typical representatives. In fact, we all agree that parents intrude on a child’s digital identity, not because they are malicious, but because they haven’t considered the potential reach and the longevity of the digital information that they’re sharing. When parents share those early frustrations, they don’t see themselves as exposing something personal about their children’s lives, but about their own. We should find ways to balance a parent’s right to share their story and a parent’s right to control the upbringing of their child with a child’s right to privacy.
The first babies’ accounts on Facebook started in 2004 and the first stylish kids of Instagram started in 2010. These kids are still young now, but they will grow into teenagers and adults who want to control their digital identities in near future. Families should begin to explore the question of how children feel about the digital record of their earliest years. When parents want to post their children’s pictures and stories on social media, it’s necessary to consider the searchability and reach of the format. If parents want to ask their children’s behavioral questions, skip both the image and children’s names will be a good idea.
I personally think it’s great that parents share pictures of their families. But parents should ask children’s opinions first.