Imagine it: You’re alone in your home with the person you trust most, and it's been a rough day. Sadly, the two of you are having an argument about an issue you truly care about. Despite how emotional and vulnerable you feel, your loved one just doesn't seem to understand how important this problem is to you. He's not hearing you, and he's insisting that you need to get over it.
You're feeling overwhelmed and upset; your tears are flowing.
You're trying to figure out how to calm yourself down and move forward when he grabs his cell phone and starts taking pictures of you. (Did I mention that you're also in your underwear?) A few days later, without notifying you or asking your permission, he posts these photos on an extremely popular website, adding a caption that mocks the fact that you were upset in the first place. And he adds his first name and last initial, as well as the city where you both live.
And now, you hear, it's all going to be published in a book.
If not, then why are we continuing to worship at the altar of Reasons My Son Is Crying? This wildly viral blog is a collection of hundreds of parent-submitted photos of their toddlers crying for, well, various and typical toddler reasons. A book compilation is coming soon. And basically, each and every photo represents a situation not so different from the one I described above.
Trust me, I understand not just the humor within the collection, but also the strong temptation to submit a photo. I've got three kids, one of whom, by the time I finish this paragraph, will no doubt be crying about…never mind. So I get it: As parents, we are stressed, we are fried and daily life with toddlers can be like waterboarding (if the water involved were urine). It feels good to laugh it off, to remind ourselves that other parents are in the same boat. So, yes, I thank my lucky Pull-Ups for friends with whom I can gather with to blow off steam; the stories they've heard of my kids have fueled many a margarita-riddled guffaw. But those gatherings are private and impermanent. We're not documenting the details forevermore in an enormously public space. If your spouse posted a pic of you at a vulnerable moment without your permission solely so that he (and hundreds of thousands of others) could get a good laugh, I'm guessing the laughter would die down quickly.
I realize we live in an age in which smartphone cameras are ubiquitous, pointed at our kids in moments both high and low. Technology is changing parenting more rapidly than can yet be explained. The difference between my experiences with the child I had before the advent of the smartphone and Facebook, and the two I had after, is striking. And I certainly understand that social media and the Internet and smartphone cameras aren't going anywhere, and have many positive qualities.
But let's not permit this technology to eclipse the responsibility we have to be deliberate and mindful when it comes to our children's trust and dignity. Let's not revel in violating our kids' privacy so brazenly and unnecessarily, seeking publicity and drawing attention to them in their most emotionally vulnerable moments. What might they say when they see it years later? What would you say, if it was you? We're real parents first, and air-quoted "parents," in the caricatured, hilarious, meme way, dead last. Our responsibilities are to our kids, not our social-media audience. And yes, it can be life-saving to laugh about them sometimes—but why not do it in a way that can't hurt them?
If Reasons My Son Is Crying was anonymous and without photos, I might just throw in a few quotes when I've had a bad day. But to plaster my kid's specific misery across the internet so that it can sit there for the next century, alongside my apparent joy in his distress?
Seems to me that's actually something worth crying about.
Andrea Bonior is a licensed clinical psychologist, media commentator, professor, and author of The Friendship Fix and the Washington Post Express's longtime advice column "Baggage Check." Follow her on twitter @drandreabonior or Facebook.