A New Dilemma: Facebook Parenting

We can put our kids’ misdeeds on Facebook. But what does that mean for them tomorrow?

It is no news that social media has become an incredibly prevalent form of communication during these last few years. When I recall my high-school days—they days of that old AOL instant messenger or Comcast email address or even the internet connection that tied up the phone line, I am astounded at what a decade or less has done with our lives.

So much can be said on this topic – and so many have said it. But something that I have been pondering lately was sparked into thought by a recent article by Heidi Stone, entitled “Destroying your child’s heart one picture at a time.” (Full article here.) I admit, I was a little frightened when I read the title; I knew more or less what it was going to be about – some people have already been kicking this idea around on social media.

But it was such a poignant description, that I felt that if I read it, I would be guilt-ridden. Not because I have kids, but because I want kids, and have already thought about how fun it would be to share pictures or post descriptions on facebook of the naughty little thing my Abigail did, or the ridiculously funny (but ill-intended) retort my Jonathan gave me when I scolded him for not cleaning his room. After all, kids are sometimes cute when they’re trying to be mischievous, and I’ve been looking forward to sharing those moments with my world of friends on facebook. And many of my friends have done these things, and I’ve gotten to laugh with them in a sadly, somewhat lofty “you’re still a kid and you’re making a fool of yourself and it’s kind of cute” sort of way.

But is that right?

Just today, in fact, I read a facebook post by a mother who described her six-year-old girl as “conniving” and explained the whole situation that allowed her mother to give her that label, and it really did make the little girl look very bad! I did wonder…

In Heidi Stone’s article, she raised a question that a lot of us with 2,3,4,5 and 6-year-olds haven’t thought of yet: What will my child think of these posts when he’s trying to explore adulthood and prove himself to the world? Won’t it be hard for him to make a respectable name for himself when his mother (or father) cut and pasted his bad behavior into the void for the world to see? For example, if he makes a mistake in public when, say, he’s an early teen (like perhaps talking back to his mother in a fit of frustration, or complaining loudly about something that really annoys him), won’t his parent’s ‘friends’ who were on social media when he was a child, say to themselves, “He always was a wayward child,” or “I guess old habits don’t die,”? Now that adolescent teen will have to work extra hard to prove that his behavior was just a fluke and he really isn’t still that 8-year-old child who refused to walk the dog that peed on the carpet due to his negligence.

This is a new ethical dilemma–kids have always been kids, but now the world can forever see them as kids, if we let it. Shouldn’t we be considering the future of our children and their own reputations as we post snippets of their lives on facebook or instagram, or any other social media venue we happen to choose? And aren’t we really doing our child a big disfavor by displaying publicly that we don’t “respect” them or “love” them enough to keep their misbehavior and dirty secrets within their immediate family?

As I thought about this more and more, I came to the realization that “disciplining” my child is more than just rebuking him and punishing him for his misbehavior, but it is also an act of discipleship, which, as I realized, was the root word of discipline. Our children are our disciples, which means that we are their teachers, their elders, their leaders, and early on, (and hopefully forever), their heroes. If my hero humiliated me in public, again and again, wouldn’t he become less of a hero, less of a respected leader, and more of an enemy? Not that we shouldn’t discipline our children, of course – respect often comes from a leader disciplining a pupil. But I am disposed to think that it should be done privately – scrupulously – but privately.

For example, when I was a child, my siblings and I were always fairly well-behaved – I thank my hard-working, stay at home mother for that. And we knew especially how to behave in public. The four of us, (the eldest being eight) would take our books to the doctor’s office and sit in the waiting room for an hour plus while Mommy underwent a long examination. After my mother emerged from the examination room, the doctor’s office attendants would loudly exclaim our praises to her about how extremely well behaved and disciplined we were – how studious and sweet we were. What did my mother say? She didn’t say, “Yeah, but they can be little hellions at home!” No. But she did say, “Oh thank you! They are good kids. I love them.” She praised us in public to complete strangers – affirming us in our good behavior and exclaiming her love for us without hesitation. And that’s how we knew what our mom thought about us. She loved us. She thought we were good kids. And her discipline in the home suddenly became more significant. Since we knew she thought we were good kids, then clearly when she was scolding us, it was for our own good.

I think that is part of what discipleship looks like. We, as children, know our parents love and respect us, and in return, we adore and esteem and greatly respect them. I want those little eyes that look up at me to ask, “are you proud of me Mommy?” to get a response that affirms everything they are and want to be for me. And I want that knowledge to remain safe and secure with them as they progress into adulthood.

I have come to believe that part of that result is directly related to how I display my child’s character to the public. Discipleship, not denigration.

1 Comment

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    February 5, 2014

    Heidi Stone

    Thank you for writing such an elegant and thoughtful response to this article. I am honored to be a continuing part of any conversation that helps us, as parents, to recognize the value of our children’s dignity, the importance of our voice in their lives, and the long lasting results of our actions.

    Your recognition of our children as “disciples” is a beautiful image of the mentor/mentored relationship we can enjoy within our families.

    Blessings to you!