Parenting and Social Media: A Five-Point Manifesto

Avoid oversharing, mommyjacking, and privacy fails with our handy guide.

We're in a moment of raging debate about parenting and social media. On the one hand, some parents like Slate's Amy Webb, in an extreme bid for privacy, post nothing about their child online, ever. On the other hand, some media figures like Nightline anchor Dan Abrams tweet as their babies and kids as a natural brand extension. Some of these accounts have tens of thousands of followers. Of course, baby videos are right up there with cats as a YouTube mainstay.

And Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr are all crowded with parents who've turned cute baby pictures into a kind of cottage industry.

I post to social media for a living, more or less, so I'm hyperconscious of the need to respect both my child and my networks. Yet my kid is freakin' adorable! What's a parent to do? Try this:

1) Be Safe

A baby can't give consent, so don't make full name, location, or other personally identifiable information easily searchable on the web. This applies not only to any posts or public profiles made on their behalf on social media, but to the devices that will be in their sticky little fingers before too many months have passed. The FTC reported last year on data collection by mobile phone apps marketed to children. Sixty percent of the apps surveyed were transmitting information to a third party like an advertiser network, while only 20% disclosed anything about such transmissions to users.

2) Pick the Right Channels

Respect your own and others' time and use the diversity of platforms out there to maintain professional as well as parenting personas. My Twitter followers sign up to hear about educational technology and cronuts, not about the cute thing my kid did. I use Google Plus for the ease of sharing photos to specific circles. A friend of mine just split his Instagram accounts into a "papa" one--password protected--and an "illustrator" one to avoid privacy fails.

3) Be Funny

If you want to talk about your kid, be totally hilarious. Read The Honest Toddler if you want to know what I'm talking about. As a bonus, you can use creativity to vent tough feelings without exposing your vulnerable child.

If you want to know how not to talk about your kid on social media, read the STFU Parents Blog, which categorizes such offenses as "mommyjacking" (making every single conversation about the baby).

What's really not funny? Using your child as a sock puppet to say cutesy stuff. Don't subject the Interwebs to that.

4) Apply the "Rock Star or Senator" Test

When we were choosing a name for our child we gave a thought to what would be easily Googleable, as well as what would sound right as the name of a future senator and/or rock star.

The ultimate point of shielding our children on social media is so that their lives can become what they make of them, and not be overshadowed by any statements or images we put out on their behalf. Greg Pembroke learned this lesson the hard way when he started the Tumblr Reasons My Son Is Crying, featuring photos of his sobbing toddler with captions like “because the milk isn’t juice." Ironically, Pembroke started the standalone Tumblr to avoid spamming his friends on Facebook, but the idea then went viral. While hilarious, it provoked quite a lot of discomfort, judgment, unsolicited advice, and second-guessing. It also landed him on television, which may discourage as many parents as it encourages.

5) Be Personal

More and more I feel like the best approach for dealing with parenting and social media is to have more private, password-protected venues for sharing, whether that be over Flickr, Twitter, Instagram, or even the age-old listserv. Rather than posting parenting dilemmas to Facebook, I get a lot of support from parents' email lists. Many of us know each other in real life, which makes the exchange even more valuable. Because in the long, hard journey that is parenting, I'd really rather get support from my friends than my followers.

[Image: Flickr user Travis Swan]

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1 Comments

  • Bellabooboo

    After reading your 1st sentence, I had to forego reading the rest of your article, because it was a...lie, for lack of a better word. Ms. Webb DOES post stuff about her kid, and plenty of it!