You know her. Let’s be honest, you might be her. She floods your newsfeed with hourly status updates and pictures, every post centering around her pride and joy, the apple of her eye: her child. Never mind if the photos are blurry and borderline inappropriate, or three-fourths of her status updates fall into the TMI category. She’s documom and she’s on a mission: to detail her child’s every move on the World Wide Web.
“I post everything,” Sachse mom Danielle Lico says. She’s been told she takes it too far, but this self-proclaimed documom insists she has limits: no bodily fluids and no nude photos. Pictures of her 2-year-old daughter Audrianna on the potty, however, are fair game. “I can say, ‘Look at what Mommy had to go through to get you there!’” Lico says. “It’s life! She’s my life. This is what I thrive for. My child is my everything.”
While other parents may share Lico’s sentiments, not all feel inclined to post on social media. It’s the millennials, who grew up on social media and are now becoming parents, for whom constant sharing – and in some cases – oversharing, is the norm. Long gone are the days of yellowing photo albums on closet shelves. Twenty years from now, many kids will be able to relive their childhood with a quick visit to mom’s Facebook wall or Instagram feed.
Janet Johnson, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor at The University of Texas at Dallas, is uncertain how the overshared kids of today will fare as adults, but she says she fears many parents are taking it too far. “After awhile you get tired of seeing everything about someone’s children,” she admits. Johnson says she enjoys the occasional family photo or “cute Halloween picture” shared by a friend, but she takes issue with parents whose posts revolve solely around their children. “Are your children your only identity?” she poses. “I know you’re proud of them, but sometimes I want to know what you’re doing.”
For millions, Facebook and similar social media sites serve as valuable tools — not just for parental bragging — but for connecting with long-lost friends and far-flung family. “It’s a way to keep in contact with people you don’t talk to on a daily basis,” Lico says. For Lico, that’s the draw: the ability to share her daughter’s day-to-day with relatives in Orange County and in-laws in El Salvador.
Caroline Knorr, parenting editor with the California-based nonprofit Common Sense Media, also sees the value in social media, saying it’s a fun way to stay connected. “If you have small kids, that can be isolating,” she acknowledges. “Documenting their lives validates your experience.” But she says there are also pitfalls: namely, the intrusion of privacy and compromise to safety that can occur when a parent shares about their child too freely.
Concern over Internet safety is nothing new, of course. We’ve all heard heartbreaking tales of children lured out of their homes by online predators, kids cyberbullied into suicide and teenagers kicked out of school for posting risqué photos. Recently, California enacted a law to go into effect in 2015, which will require web companies to remove online activity should a California minor request it. Time will tell if enforcing such a law is feasible, but many agree that it’s a small win for online privacy and hope other states will follow suit. Unfortunately, the law doesn’t extend to adults, who can be just as guilty of oversharing as their tween and teen children. Twitter and Facebook may allow you to hit delete on that regrettable rant about the terrible twos or bathtub picture posted on a whim, but Knorr emphasizes the importance of remembering that everything shared on the Internet lives permanently somewhere, and can be stolen and repurposed with a simple right click and save.
“Parents should think critically about whether or not what they’re sharing is something good to share or to remain private, and how what you’re sharing might affect your kid down the road,” Knorr says. “When you start by sharing your ultrasound images, you’re starting that digital footprint before your kid enters the world. You’re creating this record of your kid before they’re able to provide consent.”
Lico may be a documom, but, well aware of the dangers lurking on the Internet, she uses privacy features and filters her audience for each post. She also thinks before hitting send, weighing the pros-and-cons of what she plans to share. “I don’t just post and say, ‘Oh, I hope this doesn’t come back and bite me,’” she says. “I think about it.”
She admits the difficulty lies in striking a happy balance. The line between a proud parent sharing about her child and a proud parent oversharing about her child is fine. “Sometimes people go overboard,” she says. “Great, you’re going to the park. Great, they got juice at the park … and then my whole feed is 24 minutes at a park. I just click hide and don’t show it in my newsfeed.”
Entire websites are dedicated to poking fun at oversharers, who post everything from updates on the remnants of their baby’s last diaper to placenta photos (yes, people do this). But the consequences of oversharing may be more substantial than annoyed – and grossed out — followers and friends.
With every “A” and first place ribbon being documented, Johnson worries that children will feel burdened by performance anxiety provoked by their parents desire to share their child’s every achievement online. “I don’t know what that’s going to do for a child other than put false expectations on them,” she explains. “‘What if I fail? What’s mom going to say then?’” Knorr is concerned about how the overshared kids of today will feel tomorrow when they’re dating, vying for a spot at an Ivy League school or trying to land their dream job.
Lico is more optimistic. “I don’t think [Audrianna] will ever look back and say, ‘Oh, I didn’t get this job because my mom posted this,” she says. “I think she’ll look back and thank me for sharing some of her moments.”
Whatever the outcome, those in the social media know urge parents to err on the side of caution, remembering that privacy is golden and safety invaluable. Knorr suggests parents be tactful in what they post and how they post it, keeping in mind that every social media platform has one thing in common: they’re moneymaking entities with little regard for your right to privacy. “There’s nothing wrong with using those tools and having a good feeling about connecting,” she says. “What’s important is that we understand that nobody else is going to protect your kid’s privacy but you.”
Published December 2013