A reader writes:
Bless your heart, Phoebe, for attempting to curb the tide of parental overshare. I am a parent of young children, and I post pictures of them and the occasional adorable quip they make on Facebook. Honestly, I post more than I should of them, but I try very hard to limit it to only the nicest photos of my kids, and not too frequently, for the exact reasons you discussed. I do not want my kids to be searching for jobs and have a potential employer know about their childhood doctors appointments. I appreciate having someone out there pointing out the long term effects if parental oversharing, so thanks for… sharing.
The two genres of parental sharing you mentioned really only account for the high-end posts (I.e., the Times and the Atlantic are the publishers). There is a plethora of other parental overshares on the so-called mommy blogs. So many kids with digestive problems and mothers trying to help their kids understand God and stay-at-home dads trying to be clever and funny. And the larger blogs have sponsored content (albeit often clearly labeled). I once read a post by a woman whose blog received a sponsorship from a razor company, and she talked about the first time her tween daughter shaved. Ugh. And that doesn’t even begin to get to the quick shares on Facebook of potty training successes and failures. Please keep up the good work of reminding people not to start embarrassing their children until they are a little older, like our parents did.
Even with my limited knowledge of colloquial American English from places outside the Northeast, I know that “bless your heart” implies that my cause here is a futile one. Which, alas, it probably is. But this response is reminding me of an important clarification regarding just what that cause, as I see it, involves.
When it comes to parental overshare, two issues get confused. First, there’s the excessive-to-some presence of babies in one’s Facebook feed (a common complaint of many who don’t have kids, whether or not by choice). Second, there’s the question of large-scale privacy violation. “Mommy blog” complaints fall somewhere between the two. Sometimes people are offended by the mere presence online of content that isn’t news, opinion, or mansplanation about the serious issues of the day, and it’s basically part of the standing grievance that exists against all ‘lifestyle’ content. Other times, it’s that some of these blogs are sharing identifiable information about kids, including that which is embarrassing, medical, or both, and are – as this reader notes – doing so for profit.
Anyway, social-media sharing and “mommy blogs” are easier targets than serious publications taking on serious parenting-related issues. But the parental overshare that’s a real concern is precisely the sort that isn’t so readily declared irrelevant. The point here isn’t to dismiss certain types of (largely female-oriented-and-produced) content as boring or frivolous. It’s normal, in an age of online photo-sharing, that family photo albums would be digital, and would include kids. It’s normal to be some mix of bored or annoyed by what long-lost acquaintances put on Facebook, but – as Maureen O’Connor eloquently explained – it’s not unethical to post things others find uninteresting. The issue, as I see it, is not that children are owed a complete digital invisibility of the sort that’s near-unachievable in this day and age. Rather, it’s that parents shouldn’t be profiting from their children’s secrets. There shouldn’t be something to gain, professionally, by breaching that trust.
Another response gets it exactly right:
Tufekci is correct that change needs to come from editors. As it stands, someone with a toilet-training essay to sell will find an outlet; someone with an essay not about toilet-training will be nudged by the market to include an anecdote along those lines. The business model needs to change. Since the demand for really courageous articles of this nature appears insatiable, this will take an act of courage-in-the-non-sarcastic-sense from the gatekeepers themselves.