In the Ninth Edition of my “Week of Lists” I tackle the high level topic: Offline versus Online Parenting, exploring the collision of ideas parents face when seeking to participate and bridge gaps between themselves and other parents… while avoiding ruining their kids lives by oversharing or mild exploitation. I’ve been dad-blogging for ten years in various forms, so I’ve thought about many of the pros and cons, like…
3 vs 3 Things Wrong (or Right)
with Sharing a Kid’s Achievements on Social Media
You’re a proud parent.
Heck, I’m there with you.
The day before writing this post The Girl (as she shall be known in these documents hereafter) had just danced in ballet competition. Her trio placed second in their category, were called up to receive the award at the end of the finale, and left the weekend with grins as wide as the stage. This dad’s first inclination was to snap an epic photo of her accepting the award and plonk it onto my social feed with a bunch of exclamation marks appended to the description.
She’d done well. And then she looked over my shoulder and asked me: “Did you put that on Facebook?”
“Do you want me to put it on Facebook?” I asked.
She shrugged. At almost ten she already knows the implications. If it’s on my Facebook her friends will probably already know about it before school the next morning (because I’m connected to their parents on the site) and… well… who’s news it is to tell anyways?
I deleted it a few minutes later (and replaced it with a more understated post with the same news post-dated enough that at least it won’t spoil her thunder at school if she wants to tell her pals.)
But what’s right and what’s wrong about this new oversharing world, a world filled with parents whose whole social universe is a global network of parents populating the digital spaces with the epic wins of their kids efforts? Well…
Wrong #1: We’re Turning Successes into a Performance
There is a really fine line that works its way into this equation: one minute we’re proud parents flashing photos of our awesome kids, and the next we’re social media parents generating likes and hearts and LOLs and new followers.
This isn’t a slippery slope argument either. I hate slippery slope arguments. Slippery slopes are for trends in culture or about making assumptions for large faceless groups. What I’m talking about is just a few people. Individuals making a single, in the moment choice to snap a pic and upload it to the net. You. Me. We parents who are posting a couple pictures of what our kids accomplished because… well, that’s the real question isn’t’ it? Why are we sharing that?
No… really? Why?
I look at my most recent example. Did I share it to brag? Or to inform? To elevate her? Or me? To communicate with the relatives (who do genuinely care) or to generate likes for that little endorphin rush that I get when I see the red icon pop up on my app? I tell myself I don’t care about the likes, and mostly I don’t… but then why do I keep posting this kind of stuff? Am I performing? And if I am, is my kid the prop?
Right #1: Social Pressure Can Be Harnessed to Achieve Great Things
On the other hand, life is a performance… of a sort. She was performing: for the crowd in that auditorium where she got handed an envelope with a prize, for the judges called them out for an awesome job, highlighting the efforts of both the studio and their teacher, and that placing in this competition will likely secure her trio a bit of honour at their year end show. Shakespeare would have it that life is a performance, metaphorically. And this dance thing was LITERALLY a performance, with hundreds of people watching. In that respect, fewer people will have seen it on my social feed than in real life.
That kind of recognition, the honour of being called to centre stage after months and years of hard work at something, that pride was bubbling out of The Girl on the way home in the car. She had earned something and was mighty pleased with herself and the often difficult and mature choices she’d made over the season, and in fact just over the weekend (in missing out on some fun friend-time) to have competed.
Recognition is a great motivator, so what’s wrong with trying to add a bit more in via Facebook?
Wrong #2: We Avoid Posting the Bad Stuff
What’s wrong, I guess, is that it’s never a full picture.
For example, just one week prior we had talked and grumbled and debriefed when the same dance choreography got picked to pieces by a different judge at a different competition. We had little parent huddles and blustery phone calls and reality-colliding conversations about the incongruities of life as a dancer and how this was probably a good parenting moment, if only we could get over our own frustrations and convey the effects to our kids of not always winning no matter how much we think we deserve it.
And not once (well, prior to this post) did I post essays or updates or even vague photos of that event. Why not? Well, we don’t post the bad stuff do we? We don’t tell the whole story. We tend not to paint in the darker corners of life, and instead just make sure to keep the detail and attention focused on the highlights.
Right #2: We Become More Attentive
Yet we are painting a picture of a sort. Being social media parents means that for better or for worse we’re always looking for our next post, all with that effort of fleshing out the best story, the fullest image we can convey. And be it a good thing or bad thing, the virtually undeniable positive of that hunt is that we are hunting: we’re watching, attending, participating, documenting, and being there to witness the events so that we can become the on-the-ground reporters of our kids existence.
For example, any parent who shirks game six of a nail-biter hockey playoff game to sit in a stuffy auditorium and watch their pre-teen dance a three minute ballet routine should probably win a few points of parenting kudos. If that motivation is driven by an inclination to have something to post on Facebook that evening… is that a good thing? Does it matter? Because to go back to last night’s dance competition, when the third period ended (during the performance intermission with all those parents checking their phones for an update on the nearby game) and a visible roar happened inside that aforementioned studio, those people, them, all of them were a lot of parents who had made good choices for their kids that night. I’m sure more than one part of that good choice was a direct result of this oversharing culture, moms and dads motivated to attend because deeper parental participation has become more normalized… expected… because that’s what we see online now.
Wrong #3: Except When We Do Post Bad Stuff
Because while we avoid posting the bad, sometimes bad is just too bad to not share. Or bad is relative. Or bad is invisible or just part of the good.
There are a lot of types of bad.
There are lot of things that I’ve seen posted, that I look at, that I judge, that I cringe a bit and wonder if I would have thought a bit harder than the other parent who posted it and, frankly, not have.
I’ve read a lot more than I have ever cared to know about the all-night-barfing episodes, or the food allergies, or the emotional struggles of pre-teens. Oversharing defined. It’s what we think of when we say oversharing. It’s what pops into our brains when the concept is presented.
Sharing that is good… good… good… weird… good… wtf?
We think we know who is reading. We think we know where the information stops, how it vaporizes into the digital whirlwind, or evaporates into forgotten history. Until we don’t. Until something we thought was harmless re-appears as an “On this Day” post or someone trolling through our archived posts on something we’d casually written four years ago and calls us out on it or says something slightly off-colour.
The problem is that this is hard to define. It’s hard to know exactly what is good or bad or what strikes someone else as deeply offensive and wrong. It’s hard to know what will inspire someone to share your seemingly innocent post into a viral fail or write you a nasty comment calling you out for a decision that was seemingly inconsequential.
Until they do.
Right #3: Transparency Builds Community and Bridges for Support
Yet, if they do… when they do… why they do is not always a bad thing.
My motivating factor in writing online has always been net optimistic: there are trolls, yes, but that doesn’t mean we should lock our doors and hide in our houses. As we paint the pictures of our lives on social media, and use our kids as props for our own social fame, one very real thing happens, for better or worse. We build a community of people who know a lot about us.
We become transparent.
We become open to critique, but also open to support.
We ask for applause when our kid wins a dance competition, but maybe we’re asking for advice when the judge grades them a little harsher than we had expected. We extol their grades at school and might seem a little too braggy, but perhaps we just want reassurance from those same people we’ve been bragging at that occasionally having a kid who has been barfing all night is something we all deal with.
So we share everything. Or only a little bit. Overshare. Undershare. Evade. Comment. Like. Or quietly judge in the background. And no one is sure if we’re ruining this next generation or simply fulfilling their destiny as the first of many raised in the new reality of a social media spotlight. Right or wrong?