Parenting in the Time of Viral

I aim to connect with people through sharing stories. But where do my rights as a parent end and my children's rights as digital citizens begin? In a huge gray area of unknown, that is where.
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It happens almost every week. Someone spots the faces of my beautiful girls peering back at them from somewhere they never expected. Shared on a friend's page who I've never met before. Buried in a newsletter they get delivered through their email. Squished in between advertisements on a parenting website. No matter the location, every time they send it to me, it takes my breath away.

I thought it would feel exciting to have something of mine shared -- and to be honest, lots of times it does. However, when I see the faces of my 6- and 8-year-olds, slyly smiling in the far corners of the Internet, I want to yell at them for traveling too far. How did you get here? I want to demand, but I know the blame fully resides with me. I put them out there and now I can't control where they go. It is the risk of sharing the lives of our children in a time where things can go "viral."

A friend recently asked me my thoughts about posting pictures of your kids on social media, and the greater dilemma of creating an online presence for your child. Despite what it might seem with my children's faces scattered across the web, it is something that I think about often. I am a mother, a blogger and a social being. I aim to connect with people through sharing stories. But where do my rights as a parent end and my children's rights as digital citizens begin? In a huge gray area of unknown, that is where.

As disturbing as it can be to "find" your children in different places, my biggest lesson came from my daughter herself. Both of my children love the spotlight and could spend hours being photographed or recorded. However, when my youngest was 5, I started recording some hilarious conversations with her where she would give life advice and I would post them to social media. I never thought twice about it. Until she came home one day upset and told me to "stop posting freakin' videos of her on Facebook" (she has a knack for for small talk and politeness, much like I do). People had commented to her about them and she didn't like it. I felt horrible. Wherever the line lays between expressing yourself as a parent and expressing something on behalf of your children, I had crossed it. I apologized profusely. I asked her if she wanted me to stop posting videos or pictures of her. She said no, but she wanted to tell me with each one if I could post it or not. Done.

The immediate embarrassment is much easier to deal with than the long-term. Since that conversation with my daughter, there has been very little that she has deemed "un-post worthy." But what about when she is grown? Will her 30-year-old self agree with what her 5-year-old self gave permission to post? Will she still think it is cute when she sings horribly off-key? Will she understand why I shared personal stories about her childhood on my blog? The unknown means the responsibility to make informed online decisions still rests with me.

Because of that each time before I hit "post," I do weigh the consequences. Where could this end up? Could this cause them harm? Is my now--year-old going to yell at me about this? Obviously, I take more of a chance than most parents for having things go viral, since I purposefully write about parenting on my blog. However, there are many stories of parents posting photos to their own Facebook pages and the picture being used without their permission. So it is something we all need to be aware of.

Even though I take it into consideration, I still usually hit "share." For myself, parenting can feel very isolating and lonely. I use pictures, stories, statuses and blogs to connect with other people and to share both my children's progress and my own parenting journey. It is true that I'm starting an online identity for them. I hope it is one they will someday take over and it will be a great opportunity to talk about the considerations and responsibilities that come with it.
At that point, I imagine the amount of personal content that can be found online will be so overwhelming, nobody is going to want to wade through 18 years of updates to find out that one of my kids used to pee her pants on purpose so she could wear skirts. If a potential employer, a hopeful suitor or a school admittance counselor does want to undertake that task, I promise you they will not find anyone who has shared cuter pictures, sweeter stories or kinder sentiments than myself, their mother.

The reality is, we are the first generation of parents having to deal with this dilemma. It is all new territory and we can only do what we think is best. For now, as long as my children aren't physically ending up in someone else's living room, and it is only their picture, I will keep on sharing them with all of you (when they give me permission, of course.)

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