When my two young children were fighting over a toy the other day, I reflexively demanded that they "share." They both groaned and begrudgingly "shared" for an entire four seconds before they were fighting again. I snatched the toy away and told them that, until they learned to share, they wouldn't get it back.
Then it hit me: Was I right to keep insisting that they share? I use the word "share" endlessly. Share the cookies. Share the book. Share the Legos. Share the toothbrush. No, not that one, but you catch my drift. At the dinner table, I even ask that they "share" what they did that day in school.
But how much should my kids share? Maybe sharing isn't all it's cracked up to be. Maybe it's time to tell them not to share.
Remember the days you'd whisper a secret to a friend at school and then have it thrown back in your face, sending you home crying and humiliated? Or when you'd share the rumor about someone's affair with friends, only to find out it wasn't true and you were blamed for trying to ruin a marriage?
That was all for a contained audience. Now, there's a potential audience of hundreds, thousands, maybe millions that can be summoned by hitting a few keys on your laptop or smartphone.
In just a few years from now, I'll have to warn my kids about sharing too much about themselves online. I'll suggest that they not share. For starters, I don't want them to be like those Facebook friends who feel compelled to share every inane thought and moment. Do I really need to know that their child opted for vanilla ice cream over chocolate for the first time? Or their thoughts during a dental cleaning?
I'll try to convince my kids that it's not worth sharing bits of themselves in cyberspace for anyone to latch onto. I'll have to explain that not everyone can pull off a Miley Cyrus (or whoever's posting naked selfies by then) and get rewarded for it. I'll have to enlighten them about the very real, sad possibility that, by sharing, they will allow other people to exploit or bully them. And that this could lead to life-altering experiences they may deeply regret.
California recently passed a new "Privacy Rights for California Minors in the Digital World" law. Under its provisions, kids under 18 can delete or request something be deleted that was posted. But the reality is, once it's out there, it's never really gone.
A study by Havas Worldwide found that "nearly 40% of Internet users between the ages of 18-35 have regretted posting personal information about themselves," as iKeepSafe puts it. Why? That information all too often comes back with a vengeance.
There's the family who posted that they were on vacation, only to come back home and find their place robbed.
There's the student who didn't get into his dream college because the admissions office scrutinized his social media just as much as his application; they were distinctly unimpressed with his offensive comments about his high school teacher. (According to the New York Times, 30% of admissions officers admit they turn down students due to what they find on their social media pages.)
There's the employee who vented about her boss to her online "friends," forgetting her boss was one of them. Not the best way to get a good referral.
And when it comes to sharing, it's not just about you. It's also the information you share about others, starting with those closest to you.
I personally have chosen to rarely post about my children. I feel like I'm invading their privacy. Sure, I want to brag about them all the time and sometimes think What harm can possibly come from one post? I've even given in on occasion. Well, one adorable photo or comment may actually haunt them the rest of their lives. How do I later justify it as an innocuous post when I knew that there was even a small possibility it could be seen by the wrong people at the wrong time, perhaps years or even decades later?
Of course there are some upsides to sharing. Sharing through social media can be great PR. It can save you time when announcing something to friends and family. It also offers the perfect excuse: "But I thought you knew about the baby shower because I posted it on my page. I was sure you'd seen it there!"
Beyond that, sharing might even give women a leg up on men when it comes to leading healthier lives: they share their feelings much more then men, who usually keep theirs pent up. Talking, gossiping or even taking in a stitch 'n bitch session relieves stress, which in turn helps with cardiovascular disease. As a Time article, "Why Do Women Live Longer than Men" states, "[men] may be more prone to internalizing that stress rather than letting go." Simply put, sharing can make you feel good.
The trouble is that now those who share can suddenly capture the attention of the entire world. When do we share too much? Especially online? Is there a clear boundary to warn us when we're stepping over it? Don't bet on it.
I want my children to grow up to be good, kind and generous. Trusting too -- but only up to a point. And yes, I still want them to share -- but also to know when not to.