"Oh, a new friend request!" I noticed recently. As I've spent less time on Facebook lately, my requests have similarly dried up: a stranger who clearly just wants me to support their new cupcake business, a person who mistakenly thinks I was their high school lab partner; a woman two continents away who is amused we have the same last name. But this newest friend request was from someone I actually knew.
Never mind he was still in diapers.
His proud mother had created a complete Facebook profile for her two year-old, right down to listing his interests (quite wittily, of course. Technologically-savvy new parents are nothing if not meta-ironic about their children's exploits.) I love this kid, and his Mom is awesome. So why did I think twice when pressing the "confirm" button?
It seems that this is the natural extension of Facebook's popularity. A year or two ago its formidable reach was enveloping your Great Aunt Phyllis and (ever more cringe-worthy) your not-very-tech-savvy mother. Now that it's taken over the senior circuit, though, now it's working its way down the age ladder. As a Mom of young children myself, don't think that I don't understand the allure of broadcasting to the world (or at least my friends and family) that my kids are worthy of their own page, and their outsized personalities certainly seem to deserve status updates all their own. But this temptation lasts less than a minute. The psychologist in me worries that this practice is terrible, for the following reasons.
Privacy Concerns: The Internet is the Internet, and no matter what safeguards you feel you've put in place, if something's on Facebook, it's simply not that far out of reach of corporate data mining abilities (or that pimply hacker who is bored in his Mom's basement.) And I'm not generally an alarmist about sexual predators, but putting hundreds of overly detailed postings and photos of your child's daily life on the most popular website in the world simply doesn't feel completely right.
Lack of Consent: Yes, it was hilarious what a mess he made, or that unintentional pun she created about the contents of her diaper. But is it really your right to put that out into the permanent public record? It's one thing to share happenings here or there with a close circle of friends. But to create an entire profile means that day in and day out, you're choosing to create a consistent public record of your child's thoughts, feelings and activities that he or she has absolutely no control over, and never got to choose to say yes to.
Questions About Segues: What a power struggle it will be to hand the reigns of your child's Facebook page over to them ten or twelve years hence. Will you have a coronation ceremony? Will you attempt to delete it altogether? What about the fact that an eight year-old is officially too young for a Facebook page, but your child will already have one? Will you deny their access to their own page? And once they come of age, they may not only want a Facebook page but will want you to have your nose miles away from it. How's that maneuver going to work?
Future Resentment: I don't think I have to spell out the fact that someday your daughter might not love that her recurrent struggles with urinary tract infections were catalogued for all her friends and family to see. And how will you justify having done so? And how will she handle the fact that she can never undo it?
Glorification of Helicopter Parenting: Let's face it; presuming to know your child's every thought and feeling, and then deciding to broadcast them, pretty much fits the definition of "hovering." And I can't say it sets the most healthy precedent for your role as a parent. It's arguably harder to engender independence when you're ready and waiting to continually narrate their development with an audience in mind. In fact, it starts to look a little Truman Show.
Am I over-reacting? Perhaps. But with all things parenting, sometimes a lighter hand is better than a heavy one. Sure, sprinkle in status updates about your kid-- it truly was hilarious what they said at that wedding. But bringing them into the Facebook fold via an official profile? Perhaps it's better to take up scrapbooking.
copyright Andrea Bonior, Ph.D.
Dr. Bonior is the author of The Friendship Fix: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Losing, and Keeping Up with Your Friends.