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Actually, You Really Don't Want to Go Viral. Here's Why.

Key parenting trend of 2020? Less social media presence. Here's why that's good.

According to data released by Facebook IQ and reported by South China Morning Post, one of the key parenting trends to look out for in 2020 will be parents moving away from Instagram culture. Parents are becoming more mindful of the dangers of “Insta-Parenting” and oversharing. The negative social comparison aspects of being on social media are starting to take their toll, and parents are starting to take notice. Parents are posting more and more about resisting FOMO ("fear of missing out") and not checking feeds, reminding themselves that what we see on social media isn’t necessarily reflective of people’s real lives, and committing to action plans like “social media cleanses.”

The Worst Part of Insta-Parenting

One of the essential aspects of a healthy personality is the awareness that other humans exist in an independent reality, outside of our own. In other words, our children are not merely extensions of ourselves. They are independent entities, with their own thoughts, feelings, opinions, and most importantly, future lives. Just as they lack the ability to consent to medical treatment, tanning beds or tattoo parlors, they also lack the foresight to provide informed consent for the images their parents are posting of them online.

A video of a toddler on the potty, singing “Let It Go” as she defecates might be extremely funny. It might garner thousands of likes and go viral. Viewers everywhere will chuckle. But did we consider the long-term implications of that post? How will the child feel in ten or fifteen years, when some person in her class decides to post that video to the class chat? What about videos of meltdowns, children playing with their own poop, using inappropriate language, or eating bugs? Is that the kind of thing your fifteen-year-old would want plastered across every locker in the classroom?

Putting a Twelve-Year-Old In The Stocks

yiorgosgr/123RF
Children have the fundamental human right not to have embarrassing videos shared on social media. Parents, take notice!
Source: yiorgosgr/123RF

This is especially true when parents post images or videos of their shaming techniques as part of their parenting. It’s the need to prove to the world that you took a stand against your child’s “mean girl” behavior. I’m all for the taking a stand part, but the public shaming part, not so much. It’s like the medieval public shaming square.

Imagine your parent came into a board meeting, loudly proclaiming about a bizarre rash you have on an area of your body you generally don’t display in public or complaining about your habit of leaving the toilet seat up. How would you feel? If your dad came into your current place of business and showed a video of you being rude to a bus driver, and then being made to pay for it, would you see that as a violation of your boundaries? Sure, you would.

So why would we do it to our children? Even if the three-year-old consents to having his video shared on Facebook or Instagram or YouTube, does he really understand the long-term implications of what he is agreeing to?

Who Will He Be in The Future?

As parents, we can’t just focus on who our children are now and what they want now. We must look into the future and think about who they might one day become and whether their fifteen or thirty-year-old selves will really want that video as part of the public domain. Yes, it feels good to document your child’s epic meltdown, and get all the likes and the hug emojis and the “been there” comments. But do we really have the right do this? Do we own our children the way we own our own images?

Unfortunately, I can predict a worst-case scenario of children committing suicide after being shamed by a classmate bringing in an embarrassing video or social media post. Yes, some children are so resilient that they can’t really be shamed or mocked. Their internal sense of self is too strong. But how can we predict “fifteen-year-old child” from the current behavior of “three-year-old child”? Trust me, as a child psychologist that sometimes attempts to do that very task, it’s an inexact science at best. The most confident and outgoing toddler can sometimes become a painfully shy or severely depressed teenager.

Inadequacy, The Mommy Wars, and Burnout

Insta-Parenting is also harmful because it instills a sense of FOMO and inadequacy, and that can also be problematic. I’ve posted before about the Mommy Wars, and how online interactions can include parent-on-parenting bullying, blaming, and shaming (Read more about how we have weaponized parenting here). I also believe that social comparison can make us feel guilty and depleted, and that leads to burnout (To read more about parental burnout, click here, here, and here).

I think we’re aware of this problem, however. The problem with the social comparison that social media engenders is that while I can do as well or better than any one of my friends, which would make me feel adequate, I can’t do as well or better as all of them.

In an effort to compete, we post these videos or pictures of our children, and this competitiveness can sometimes impair our judgment. Let’s try losing at social media but winning at parenting.

Call to Action

I honestly believe children have the fundamental human right not to have potentially embarrassing or harmful information posted on social media. I believe in many ways, posting such images points to a lack of emotional awareness on the parent’s part. It is a narcissistic outlook to see a child as “my” child, whose images “I” get to post about. Our children are ours to nurture, love and guide, not to exploit. They are their own humans, with their own future and their own rights. Let's respect them.

© Robyn Koslowitz, 2019

References

Asian Parent, The: 2020 parenting trends: more self-care, more hands-on education, less social media time. South China Morning Post, December 30, 2019. Accessed December 30, 2019 from https://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/family-relationships/article/3043868/202…

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