Our culture is constantly pointing out the evils of kids' exposure to certain kinds of media, and yet most of us embrace these media in some form or other ourselves. How many of us have Facebook pages for our kids? Or post comments and photos of them on our own Facebook pages? We're hyper-aware of the evolving slippery slope of Facebook's privacy policies — and that's a good thing — but, in fact, as a parent, it's all too easy to violate your child's privacy without the help of Facebook.
Some moms, like Angela B., maintain Facebook pages for their kids as babies, which they monitor themselves. A Circle of Moms member who calls herself "OhJessie" has a compelling response to this, one I agree with wholeheartedly. She reminds us that, when our kids are infants, their stories are ours (or at least we think they are), but when our kids get older their stories become theirs to tell — or not.
This raises a much more interesting question than the typical one about our privacy on Facebook. We, as parents, control the exposure of our children both to the world and in the world — and these are two different, if equally important, things. Facebook has parental controls, and lots of ways to customize and block content. But when our kids are really young, we decide what stories to tell about them — and to whom: funny, poignant, embarrassing, proud, etc. We do this both online and off, in the real world. And this is just as worth thinking about as the question of whether or not to give our children access to Facebook.
My son is just over two, and I post photos and stories about him, which I share with a known audience of friends. I block others from reading/seeing these. And I'm quite sure that within the next year or two, Olin will let me know what's okay to tell or show, and what isn't. Pretty soon, he'll no doubt be driving the whole train himself. For now, I make decisions based on what I think would be a reasonable person's standard, much like in medicine, philosophy, or law. I am cognizant that my thinking this doesn't necessarily make it so, but it means that I am very conservative about my choices. I tell funny stories, but not stories that might embarrass him. And I post about his big developments, moments of insight, and physical achievement, evidenced in small ways almost every day.
But when Olin gets to be seven, or eight, or nine, and he wants a Facebook account — or, more likely, Google+ — what am I going to say?
I think this question has been unnecessarily complicated by those who think it's a matter of exposure, e.g., should my child be exposed to the Internet in this way? Because (most of) our children are exposed to the real world every day — and this is a good thing — from rude people in line at the grocery checkout to violence at school, along with grace and joy and love and other wonderfulness that tends to outweigh the rest. Don't get me wrong: I definitely want to be a good filter for reality as my son develops intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. I want him to have a context for everything, whether it's anger, drug abuse, recklessness, despair, or some other negative behavior or emotion that he will encounter. But I don't want to give him the illusion that the real world is an entirely beautiful and fabulous place. I would rather he be exposed to reality than protected from it, and then discuss what he sees, hears, feels, and thinks.
That said, I don't think Facebook is all that useful or relevant. "Social networking" has come to refer to something we do online, but this activity can also occur at a party after school, or on the playground. The brand of socialization that Facebook encourages can be stimulating, but it can also be isolating and potentially alienating. It can also teach us, as well as distract us from learning. So, the bottom line for me is: purpose. If my child wants to use Facebook, how might he do so in a way that encourages his intellectual inquiry or fosters his sense of chosen community? I don't pretend to know the answers. But I very much look forward to the conversation.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.