I have five kids ages 16 down to 5, and my girls are getting to that age when they mostly look at me like I am crazy. It’s a thing. They are actually growing up.
And as they’ve grown, I’ve learned to change and adapt a lot of things, including my own use of social media. It’s like a negotiation: they allow me to take pictures of them on their first day of high school, but I promise I won’t share it. It is a little hard sometimes to curb my desire to post about them on Facebook, but I keep my promise because they are getting close to adulthood, and I’m beginning to think about life after they flee the nest: Will they be proud to link their social media accounts to mine? Have I shared things that honor who they are? Have I shared more info than they would want other people to know about their childhood? What will their future employers think about their upbringing? So, even though I want to show the whole world how proud I am of these girls, I keep it to myself. I have to let go. And it’s fine…it’s time.
But what really caught me off guard was a pattern I started noticing in my nine year old. Sometimes, we would be out and about—at a Royals game or picking apples at a local orchard—and I would line up my crew like I always do for a selfie. But before he would jump in, he would stop me, look me in the eye, and say, “Mom, are you going to post this?”
At first, I shrugged off his pleas. He was too young to care what I shared about him on Facebook. That was a fish we could fry when he got older. But the more it happened, the more I began thinking about him, and really trying to see the world through his eyes. He is a private guy to begin with—the type that doesn’t like to be called on in class if he doesn’t know the answer. He withdraws into his shell if he thinks he might make a mistake. He doesn’t want to feel exposed or embarrassed. (Who does?) Anytime I put the spotlight on him, he feels like he’s in his underwear in public. It just isn’t how he is wired.
One afternoon last fall, when I went to pick him up at school, he walked outside at the same time another mom was telling me how “hysterical that post was.” ( I had posted about his five year old brother stacking 22 rolls of toilet paper and I’ll be honest, it was funny! ) I posted it because I thought it was innocent. No one was exposed. And it felt good to make people laugh.
Until my nine year old caught my arm, looked me in the eye, and asked, “ Mama, what did you post? What did you share?”
So, the thing is, this mom and I were laughing at what my five year old had done, but my nine year old? What he heard was a couple of mamas poking fun at a member of our family. Without permission. To a crowd of over 1,000 “friends.” I was putting my little guy out there for all to see. I could feel his anxiety rising and his trust wavering.
I share this because I think so often when we talk about social media, mental health, and kids, we tend to think the only thing affecting today’s teens is how they interact with other teens. But I’m learning from my little guys that the pressures don’t only come from their friends; it can also come from me as a parent. And it starts way earlier than I was hoping.
So have I gone dark on Facebook altogether? No. But I have started trying to make sure I always ask my kids for permission before I post. Even my little guy. Most of the time, they feel totally fine about me texting a photo to aunts/uncles/grandparents. But if I am being honest, they usually say no when I ask if I can post to the infinite audience of Facebook or Instagram.
I’m learning to be okay with that… just as long as they give me permission to take their picture on first day of high school.