Parenting In Social Media and The Gift of Choice

-- By JoannaP - 10 Oct 2019


I can say I’m proud to be part of the human race that wasn’t born in the internet age. I can say I’m prouder to be part of the human race that was ignorant of social media until the last 1/3 of my life. I feel privileged that crafting digital identities wasn’t my preoccupation the majority of my life so far. I feel extraordinarily lucky to have experienced digital freedom at some point. And I feel magnanimously special to know that my kind can never be replicated in any generation. But once upon a time, a choice has been made to enter the social media universe.

Rise of the Digital Native Parents and Their Village

Fast forward a decade after, I am now a parent to a two-year-old. Yes, I have photos of her on my social media. Yes, I cringe when I’m reminded of the cliché that is her first digital footprint: an ultrasound photo. And yes, I joined a more enduring cliché: a parenting group in Facebook. Words can’t quite capture the experience of witnessing the dawn that ushered the first social media inhabitants into the chaos that is parenthood. It was like whiplash of baby photos, baby stories, and parenting advice. But we embraced the phenomena. We congratulated each other, waited for gender-reveals, welcomed the tiny humans, celebrated birthdays, and also mourned a few little angels. We created a community. One that we first loved because we felt we needed each other’s help. We needed a place we feel welcomed to enjoy (or not) the journey. After all, they say raising a child takes a village.

Whether this “village” was a safe place was never a concern. Until the consciousness to create a parenting legacy began. A competition of competence replaced the competition to be relevant. Who can create the best legacies as new parents? It was no longer safe to fumble in our new roles because now we felt we needed to shine and be experts in parenting. We became anxious to always perform our best.

"Sharenting" and The Anxiety of Forgetting

Parental sharing or “Sharenting” means “the practice of a parent who regularly uses the social media to communicate a lot of detailed information about their child.” Why do parents do it? There are a lot of reasons aside from the organic want to just share. One answer is the highlight of my current internal struggle. I say I share photos of my child in social media because it creates a detailed and highly accessible photo album. I feel the need to preserve memories and the anxiety of forgetting is extremely hard to navigate. I know I posted more photos than ever since arriving in New York. I tried justifying that I want to never forget the memories of my LLM year, the only time I will ever get to experience living outside the Philippines with my child.

But why post the photos at all? Photos of her in places she has yet to understand and most often won’t remember. It begs the question: whose memories am I preserving? Do they belong to her alone or mine or both of us? The sad truth is, my other foot is still squarely planted in that village I no longer feel safe in but still want parenthood validation from.

The Power of Choice: A Parent's Gift

Stacy Steinberg, in her article “Sharenting: Children's Privacy in the Age of Social Media,” stated that this is exactly the conflict at the heart of parenting in social media. The stories of children, especially young ones, are intrinsically connected to their parents’ that it becomes hard to separate the digital identity of the child from the parent. Parents end up creating their children’s digital footprint without them having consented from the beginning. It now becomes a conflict between balancing parents’ free speech and protecting children’s privacy rights. I believe that in viewing this as a moral question rather than legal, it is easy to see that there is no conflict. Conflict presupposes the two rights are equal and they shouldn’t be. Even if one argues otherwise, freedom of speech is not absolute, it has limits. If we can’t do away with Sharenting, then setting the limit is imperative.

In my case the limit is safety. It’s immensely disheartening to realize that I’m still affected by how other “villagers” see me as a parent. It’s also disgustingly hypocritical that I perpetuate the illusion that emotional and mental safety still exist. But my child’s safety is more paramount than surviving my own battle with detachment. One solution suggested is to ask the question: “Have I crossed the boundary?” Set boundaries to control what others see and interpret. If they are old enough, the boundary should be their own comfort and consent. If they are young ones, then the boundary should be their safety. When we post as parents, keep in mind that we are cementing not just our children’s digital footprints that follow them when they start making friends, finding dates, looking for colleges and jobs. We are also placing them in the interpretative hands of people who are not invested in their safety and wellbeing. More than ever we have to keep them safe. Safe in their freedom to act without fear of being known to the world they’re not aware of. Safe in making choices and meeting consequences of their own making.

We were presented of a choice once, when we were ignorant of the possibilities. Now, we have the unique privilege of having the knowledge of the past. The best gift we could give our children is the power of choice. It could be a choice between having freedom to be unknown or having control of their interpreted narrative. We have to accept that the choice is not ours to make.

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