Here’s a new word to add to your vocabulary: sharenting.
“Ha ha,” you say, rolling your eyes, “OK, I get it. Sharing + parenting. Here’s some digital Luddite telling us we shouldn’t share so much of our lives online, yadda yadda…”
And hey, you in the back, I feel you. But I’m less concerned with what culture has to say about sharenting, as I am about whether this broadly-accepted practice of posting pictures and video of our children is actually the best thing for our kids.
Real quick before the character assault begins, let me admit that I’m not a saint here. I’ve posted a few adorable pics of my son, because, dangit, in the moment he just looked so freaking cute asleep in his Hamilton onesie. My new papa heart just couldn’t take it. My wife has a private Instagram account where she regularly posts to inspire families going through infertility—but that’s another story.
The point is, yes, I’m a fellow sinner and recovering sharenter.
I’m also a dude in his early thirties who works a lot with other people’s kids. Specifically, I create stuff for kids—online videos, teaching content, musical plays—that hopefully point them to Jesus. I take Paul’s words to Timothy to heart: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young” (1 Timothy 4:12). I also think the metaphor of parenting (God calls himself a Father) and the whole question of how to raise kids is one of the most overlooked themes in the Bible. Turns out both the Old and New Testament have a ton to say, not just about kids, but about the way parents are to teach their kids. I get to help kids and parents keep moving in the direction of Jesus.
It’s work worth doing. I really dig it.
My work also has led me to new research about my target audience (read: your kids). I’m learning how digital content, mostly videos and video games (and weirdly, videos of people playing video games), can affect kids’ minds long-term. If recent upward spikes in teen anxiety and smartphone use are any indication, not everything the internet puts in front of kids is very good for them. Go figure.
When it comes to kids interacting with the internet, there’s a broad spectrum. At one end are the kids (and undoubtedly, their talent agents/parents) who run their own YouTube channels, complete with accompanying Instagram accounts and corporate sponsors. (Don’t believe me? Read up.) These kiddos are proto-celebrities, the Honey Boo-Boos of the social media age. They seem born for the spotlight of an in-home studio and webcam.
And at the other end of the spectrum are kids who, as it turns out, don’t really dig the spotlight of social media. I read last week that teenagers in France are legally allowed to sue their parents for unflattering and potentially harmful photos posted of them on social media. A couple of other countries are following suit. (For almost a decade, Google has warned us that the only way to escape an unwanted “digital footprint” is to change our names.)
And I get it, I really do. I remember the humiliation of my embarrassing naked baby pictures in the family photo album being pulled out when my girlfriend came over for dinner. I posted drunk college selfies (and proudly tagged myself) and then realized upon graduating that I needed to go through a couple of hundred photos and untag myself before applying for jobs. These were examples of me shooting myself in the foot: I had literally, in the fairest sense of the phrase, done this to myself.
In a digital world where perception is reality, perception really, really matters. And here’s the kicker: Our kids have zero control over how they’re perceived online.
And I know the drill because I’m right there with you, Often Tired Parent. I’m on my phone. Swipe, swipe, brief pause, swipe. And then there it is: a super hilarious pic of a friend’s kid, spaghetti sauce or whatever all over their face, with a messy house in the background. Or the shot of a naked toddler in the bathtub crying at the camera. #realitygram #parenting, right? Double-tap to like. Swipe, swipe, swipe.
But if we want to raise kids who know we’re really proud of them, and if we want our kids to be proud of the way we spoke about them to our friends and families, then it matters how we present our kids on social media. If we want to raise kids who have a strong, whole sense of self, then we should be just as intentional (if not more so) about their digital footprint as ours.
Whether you follow Jesus or not, I’d urge you to consider what Paul said in the Bible as he was talking about how to seek joy and conquer anxiety. “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).
Parents, it is as simple as taking these words at face value and applying them to our social media lives.
Before you post something about your kids, run that content through some “godly filters,” if you will. Ask yourself:
Is this true? This statement about my kid, “She always freaks out about nothing,” is this really the truth about who they are?
Say you decide it is the truth. Move on to the next filter: Is this honoring to my kid to talk about them in this way? Another way of putting this: Would my kid feel honored if they came across this post in 10 years?
And so on. Is this just or fair to tell other people this thing about my kid, when my kid can’t present their side of things or defend themselves? Is this reflective of a pure heart? Is this lovely or loving?
Maybe the last one is the real gut-check: Is this commendable and worthy of praise for me to speak these things over my child?
If the answer at any point is no, then I’d say it’s time to delete the post. Maybe this one’s more appropriate for the family text thread and not your public page. Or perhaps you can tell your friend the story at your next play-date.
Or here’s a thought: Spend two bucks, get it printed on a real piece of photo paper, and stick it in a real photo album, where, like fine wine, that pic can age over time.
And hey, in the process you might just save yourself from a lawsuit in the future.