02 Feb

Do our children want to be on social media?

I cannot help wondering how the post-millennial generation will incorporate social media into their parenting. Millennials are the most transparent, the most connected to social media, parenting in a world where not putting photographs of your children on Facebook, nor offering up a commentary on your broken nights and organic craft-filled days, seems downright antisocial.

But what is the downside of this transparency? And do other generations avoid this must-share tendency? You may not see quite as many baby photographs posted by proud grandparents, and let’s not assume that’s down to technical matters: my partner’s 92 year old grandmother is as IT-literate as I am, and my mother constantly invites me to join her in a game of Candy Crush. My father Richard Hilditch, on the other hand, has been a social worker for 45 years, and says,

“However much you may want to share the adorable cuteness of your offspring, grandchildren or friends’ children, however rightly proud you may be, don’t do it!”

In school IT lessons, children are taught important principles of security, including not to divulge personal information such as their birthday, their address, their school, or the names of their friends or pets. Meanwhile their parents may be posting photographs of beaming pigtailed children in badged school sweatshirts, standing outside their own numbered front doors. Scroll down a bit to find their friends name-checked at a party, and throw in the family dog, and you have everything you ever need to hack their future email and banking passwords, never mind anything more sinister. Today a photo in my feed shows happy new parents at the register office, clutching both baby and a fully visible birth certificate. According to the NSPCC over 90% of sexually abused children were abused by someone they knew. Dad says: “So an ill-meaning adult “friend” could sound pretty convincing… If there is someone amongst your friends, or friends of friends, who is intent on stalking or harming a child, how much more gift-wrapped could you make the opportunity?”

Facebook offers some layers of privacy, but when you post a status or a photograph, you grant them the license to use and display it. There is no guarantee that those layers of privacy will always remain. Even the more apparently private messenger services may not be as private as you think. Even Whatsapp, popularly thought of as a more transient and less indelible service, shares data with Facebook.

Nor do our children get any editorial rights over the comprehensive archive we are creating of their eating and sleeping habits, their first words and favourite games, their embarrassing mistakes, tantrums in shops, and a whole collection of peculiar – cute – annoying whims. Have you ever googled someone you just met? Think what future partners, clients, and employers will be able to discover about this reluctantly transparent generation. Last year an Austrian teenager sued her parents to force them to remove posts about her, citing their violation of her privacy. Under French privacy laws, parents could be imprisoned for publicising details of their children’s private lives.

Social media can offer sanity-saving connectedness and support, particularly during the isolated early days of parenthood, but I implore parents to consider carefully what information they make public. It’s true we live in a world of constant scrutiny, but there is no need to make it easy for those who might use this information maliciously. And by definition, you do not know who those people are.

[Cross posted from the Huffington Post]