Digital Dilemma

It can be difficult to remember life without social media – a time where we did not share both the big and small events of our lives with our friends on-line and our online friends. But in reality, Facebook and Twitter have been around for less than 10 years, with  the other social media sites such as Instagram, SnapChat and Pinterest following along more recently. Regardless, we are the generation who embraced our digital lives with gusto, relentlessly posting the details of our days and creating an on-line life that may or may not realistically reflect our actual lives.

A few days ago Amy Webb, a US based author, blogger and digital strategist wrote a post on Slate that raises some interesting points in regard to posting our children on the internet (The Article by Amy Webb and the The Rebuke by Thomas Beller).

Her approach has been two-fold and seemingly contradictory.  She categorically does not post her child, or any identifying information about her child on the internet. At. All. And secondly, she has created what she has dubbed a ‘digital trust’ for her child which will be handed over when they (the child’s parents) deem her mature enough. This digital trust consists of a domain name, email address and accounts on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.  Assuming this ‘trust’ will be handed over when her daughter is about 16 years old, we can guess that will be in about 10 years (as she reveals no information about her child this is a pretty wild guess). As neither of the social media ‘old hands’ have made it to their 10th birthdays yet, we are also going to guess that both will either have morphed into something unrecognisable or be obsolete by the time this digital trust is passed over. It may be one of the best time capsules ever created – who knows – the internet-for-everyone is barely out of short trousers itself and already we are seeing things like Google Glass and the fore-runners in the smart watch race.

Which is a rather lengthy prelude into what looks to become a digital dilemma for thinking parents. To post our poppets on-line or not?

Beyond the slightly (but perhaps not totally) neurotic “what if someone Photoshops my child’s face onto an inappropriate image” there are two main considerations to take into account before you start uploading your offspring.

1) Choice:
As a parent it is our job to make choices for our children until they are old enough or mature enough to make choices themselves. Society and governments also impose decisions on children – mostly for their own safety. However posting images of our children essentially takes away any option for anonymity they may want later. As adults we defend our right to personal privacy – but do we give our children’s privacy away?

2) The mean girl and the boy they fancy:
They could be boys, or girls – but at some point your child will probably encounter someone who wishes them ill in some way – the availability of an entire life of photos on-line and searchable via face recognition apps such as Face Recognition (not a great example but an indication of what is to come) means that your child can be searched by the mean girls, or the boy they fancy or anybody who fancies them. Data mining has been around for a few years now and while it isn’t part of the way we currently use the internet – what will become ‘normal’ in the future isn’t something we can predict.

3) The example:
This is an interesting one because it calls our actions as a parent into the spotlight. We post photos of the good times, the milestones, the happiness – as our children grow up they will see us posting the good times, they will see themselves on the screen and the message they absorb is that it’s good to post the good times. But as they hit the teenage years, their idea of what a good time is and what is really appropriate to post on-line have a dramatic parting of ways. If we want to teach our children how to behave responsibly on-line, we need to show them what that looks like.

On the other hand, back in the day when we lived in smaller, more intimate communities, everybody ‘knew everybody’s business’ – it was just the way life was lived – with an eye on what everyone else was up to. We are by nature voyeurs. The internet has turned the small isolated village into a global village where we have unfettered access to each others lives and – given the success of social media – we love it. We love creating connections and keeping them and sharing and finding our tribes and sub-tribes.

So somewhere between the two extremes there has to be a medium – a middle ground that will teach our children what is and what isn’t appropriate to post on-line. But how to do it and how to keep some of yourself off-line, away from the voyeuristic hedonism of social media and the ever encroaching internet is a discussion that is only just starting.

What do you think – should parents make the privacy choice for their children, could joining the internet be a rite of passage as they mature, how can we teach on-line responsibility?



The Family Beast’s Top 3: ways to responsibly share your children’s lives on-line.



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