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The Curious Case of Bragging Online

Pride in one's children is one thing. Bragging is another. Most readers know the difference. Parents, caught up in posting about their little one's latest accomplishment, often miss it, as the writers know from experience.
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It appears that humanity has a predilection towards a singular behavior on the web. Self-aggrandizement. Boasting. Bragging. Call it what you may, it is most certainly a phenomenon of our time. Lakshmi, a popular blogger, parent and co-writer of this article, opines.

I confess. I had a parenting blog. I posted every sneeze, wheeze, whimper and gurgle of my baby, whom, in a misplaced sense of privacy, I referred to by a pseudonym. I deluded myself that it was "for posterity", to enjoy and relive during my empty-nest days. But that begged the obvious question that I chose to ignore -why put it out there? Why not write a paper journal with a regular pen, which you can tie with a satin ribbon and store in the loft to be read during lonely days?

Ten years, and heartbreaking-blog-cutdowns later, I now have the guts to admit that the only reason I put stuff out there is to (a) make the world realize what an awesome child my little girl is, and, this is more important, (b) what an awesome parent I am. Ten years of blogging has finally made me realize (what most people instinctively seem to know) that (a) my child is indeed awesome as I, an awesome parent, but more importantly (b) no one else need give a hoot-and-a-half about our dual awesomeness. I still blog occasionally about her, under the tag of "announcements" to trick my conscience.

There is a neurochemical reason to parental bragging, it seems. Brain imaging experiments performed in Harvard found that sharing information about ourselves and our experiences triggers the same brain areas as do eating food and having sex. Little wonder then that humans devote 30-40% of speech output solely to informing others of their own subjective experiences. Given that our children are extensions of our own selfish genes, bragging about them is a pleasurable experience, and when it comes to pleasure, enough is never enough. University of Pennsylvania's Annette Lareau, believes that seeing "parenting as a project," something to be managed and organized and programmed, could be the sociological cause for child-centric bragging by parents.

Boasting has been a prerogative of parents ("it's in the fine print", as I quote often), and any congregation of parents has always been a veritable brag fest. But with the advent of Internet and social media platforms, boasting has been taken to global levels; the audience has expanded across borders, most of who couldn't care less, but click on the "like" button through sheer force of habit (and sometimes politeness). Facebook has become the ultimate scrap book, where the parent can not only preserve experiences of her ward's childhood, but also broadcast it to all and sundry. The ubiquitous "thumbs up" button allows momentary gratification, which spawns further boasting, the cycle becomes vicious and almost never ending, until perhaps the child flows the nest, if we are lucky.

Is that a big deal? What if a total stranger (or even a relative or friend) knows that my two year old "used" her bright red potty for the first time (and may heaven forbid, see the output on Instagram) or that my friend's four year old got straight As in his report card? The answer to this question is the same as that to the question "what's wrong in people knowing about my milestones, my achievements?" Profiling. Social networking gives us the opportunity to craft our identities online - we can choose to be what we want, rather than what we are. While it may not be gross deception unless we are using the online personality to gain a job or a life partner, it does perpetrate some level of falsity about ourselves. While we can do what we want about ourselves, it is perhaps a violation of rights and trust when we profile our children online in ways they may not like, be or want. For example, readers of my blog know of my daughter as a budding writer, but what if that is not what she wants to be perceived as? Even worse, what if she feels the pressure of having to "deliver" to keep up the image created about her by someone else?

While the above subjective doubts point to parental paranoia, there are issues that are even more serious. By posting updates about the child, the parent may unwittingly be creating a digital footprint for her kids. A survey by Parents Magazine found that twenty-four percent of parents worry that their post would return to haunt their child as a teen or adult, and 32 percent have gone as far as deleting a post about their child for fear of oversharing. But we all know that what's been posted online has indefinite life no matter how many times we click on the delete button.

Beyond profiling and leaving footprints, digital bragging can be annoying. I once got a troll comment on one of my brag posts that said "This is the most boring post in all of Internet". As a blogdom newbie, I over reacted and responded to the comment at that time. But older and wiser now, I realize that the troll (while being rude indeed) was not too far off the mark - reading that post after a few years, I am aghast at the naval-gazingness of the post that was probably of no consequence to anyone other than the parents and grandparents (maybe) at that time. Even more annoying is what Harris Wittels calls the Humble bragging - the attempt to masquerade bragging as self-deprecation; "I wish didn't have to drive Jess around to her piano recitals every other day". Yes, we get it. Even without the self pity avatar.

Another danger of online bragging is that real life experiences lose importance. Any milestone or achievement of the kid becomes an opportunity to share, rather than savor. While posts, photos and videos can be cues to recall experiences, they could obscure the experience itself in that the brain is occupied in capturing it for Facebook rather than enjoying it for what it is.

Pride in one's children is one thing. Bragging is another. Most readers know the difference. Parents, caught up in posting about their little one's latest accomplishment, often miss it, as the writers know from experience. It would do good to ask ourselves before clicking the post button, if the latest achievement matters to anyone else but the parent and if it will matter a year, month or week from then, even to the parent. The answer to that question may perhaps allow us to enjoy the moment rather than save it in digital amber for posterity.

Writing credit: Co-authored by Lakshmi, a Mobicip blogger who occasionally ponders about parenting and its intriguing relationship with technology and education.

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