Our children's right to privacy is a real thing we parents must constantly consider when we're online.
Do you remember how, when you were a teenager, your mom would pull out old, embarrassing pictures of you and show them to your friends and they would laugh? Or how she would repeatedly tell a story about something you did or said as a child that mortified you? Maybe it was a picture of you sitting on the toilet or taking a bath. Maybe it was that phase of your life when you wore braces and had a terrible complexion. Maybe it’s the sort of information you’d prefer would remain discreetly hidden away until the end of time.
I don’t know about you, but I’m fairly discreet about the information I share about myself. I’ve already written on the dangers of oversharing because, clearly, not everyone needs or wants to know everything about my life. This especially holds true for social media where I might not even know the people reading my words. It’s funny, though, because a lot of us parents who are cautious about sharing embarrassing information about ourselves are more than happy to share information or photos that may embarrass our children. It’s like that time your mother told everyone your darkest secrets when you were a teenager. Maybe the person telling the story thought it was okay, but it really wasn’t.
Parents might unthinkingly reveal their child’s learning disability, share a photo that should be kept private, tell a story without consent, or even actively complain about their child. Maybe these stories are fine and cute and not a problem at all, or maybe they cross a line that violates our children’s right to privacy. I think about this a lot with the stories I choose to share in my articles. I’ve described, for instance, the time my son tried to transform into a horse, how my children tried to start a bonfire in our urban front yard, and I’ve shared a bunch of super intense birth stories. Who knows, maybe my children will grow up and resent me for it, but before I shared any of these stories, I did think about that possibility and decided it wasn’t likely. Those stories are amusing – and kind of odd – but in the end I shared them because they’re examples of ways in which I’m proud of my children. Each child of mine is a unique, quirky, thoughtful individual who endlessly delights me. Hopefully, that’s the way they’ll see it when they’re adults and reading through dear old dad’s essay collection.
Everyone has a different opinion and level of tolerance for how much information to share about their children publicly so this isn’t to pass judgment if you have a higher tolerance than mine for public storytelling. The important thing is that, as parents, we’re thinking about it and taking seriously our children’s right to privacy. Because we know everything about them and share the most intimate details of their lives, parents can be blinded to this boundary. We change their diapers, answer their awkward questions, give them baths, hold them when they cry, and support them as they struggle with the transition to adulthood. We shouldn’t take this intimacy for granted — it’s privileged and it is special.
Really, it’s an honor to be able to share these moments within a family. Protecting the trust of our loved ones, those with whom we are most vulnerable, is extremely important. A funny story or conversation may be entirely appropriate around the family dinner table but would violate all sorts of confidentiality to share with the whole wide world.
Because our children are dependent upon us, we might not recognize that these little people have autonomy. They have personalities and concerns of their own, even from a very young age. Just like any adult, they deserve to be respected as individuals and not have their secrets shared with strangers. They may not be able to express it in this way, but that’s all the more reason for us to exercise caution on their behalf.
And seriously, Mom, stop telling that embarrassing story about me.