Did you know parents’ internet behaviors have gone through an evolution over the last 10 years? With Web 2.0 parents have become far more willing to share sensitive and potentially life-changing content about their children.
But are all types of sharing so bad in an age when our every purchase, every phone call and every move is being scanned, recorded, data mined and geolocated anyway? Could it not be that a well-curated public childhood might ameliorate the unfortunate blips on your reputation which you accidentally may generate when googling symptoms of embarrassing diseases, or when the boyfriend you thought you could trust uses your phone to call his drug dealer behind your back?
Ever since we learned how to surf the vast oceans of Alta Vista on our Netscape browsers, parents’ internet use has to a great extent revolved around children. What emerges over this 10 year time period are four parental behaviors or motivations that can be traced to two variables, 1) Activity level, pro-active vs. reactive sharing and, 2) Internet skills. The following 2×2 matrix illustrate the various behaviors of parents on the web. And where you fall here matters for your child’s future reputation. But don’t worry, many people fall into different quadrants at different times.
1) The Anonymous: This used to be the most common attitude among parents about 10 years ago. People still had a lot of respect for this big “Internet unknown”. If you read an article you wanted to comment on, or you wanted to discuss a parenting issue, or just wage a mommy war about breastfeeding, staying-at-home or some other child related obsession of yours, you would typically go to a site like iVillage or ParentDish and engage in an anonymous or semi-anonymous fashion. No picture or identifying information was common. Nor the opportunity to “befriend” other visitors. You got to revel in sanctimommyish one-upmanship without anybody ever knowing who you are. So if you just went on a rant on a new mom who admits to putting on the TV for her kid a couple of hours so she can finish her project, that mommy is not going to know that you were the one who told her that her child’s brain is going shrivel to useless dust or be sucked into TV limbo land like the girl in Poltergeist when you meet her at the store later in the afternoon.
Today this quadrant consists mainly of highly tech informed parents who are genuinely concerned how the digital footprints of their children can be used and misused in the future. Hence, they become social media teetotalers with conviction.
2) The Curators: When the mommy blogs started to become more popular in the early to mid 2000s the focus started to shift from specific topics to the families and personal lives of the bloggers. It’s as if the family sitcom had moved into cyberspace. This coincides with the opt-out movement among well-educated women when many new mothers left good careers to stay home to watch kids. You kind of have to understand generation X’ers own childhood experiences to understand why so many made this choice. The result was that the blogosphere became a magnet for women (and men!) with creative backgrounds which again attracted volumes of readers and advertisers. Why wouldn’t this become a lucrative eyeball destination for marketers, considering mothers make over 80% of a family’s purchasing decisions? Soon Huffington Post bought ParentDish and the New York Times started immensely popular Motherlode. BlogHer became a network of female bloggers that set up annual conferences with serious sponsors. I think it would be safe to say that Pinterest might not even have been born – or at least have the same feel- had it not been for the mommy bloggers. Soon the mom blogs started to set the norm for how much and what can be shared about ones’ children.
3) The “Over-Sharents”: The blogs set the standard for the quantity (but not the quality) of social media sharing when herds of parents started to populate sites like Facebook. The problem was that not every parent who set up Facebook and Instagram accounts have the same tech savvy or ability to imagine what could possibly go wrong when you load up a picture of your child sitting on the potty. These parents (or grandparents, or other kids’ parents) are sometimes untrained in the art of mastering privacy settings and have almost guaranteed never heard of exif tags.
Yes, the TMI element of this type of “sharenting” is annoying, but our own pain pales in comparison to the ramifications all this sharing has for the kids in question. The problem of course is that these pictures (Leigh Ann Torres wrote an insightful article on which pictures belong to this category) have the potential to haunt these kids forever. This footage are the objects that can lead to taunting, lost romantic opportunities, embarrassment for their future kids or unintended sexual delight in the hands of pervos. But it’s not limited to pictures. This category is also for the parents who “vent” about their parenting hurdles or who for whatever reason thinks social media is an appropriate place to have private convos with close friends.
4) The Shamers: The arguably most troublesome element is the recent trend where the power of the internet is used to shame a child into submission. This is no different than the medieval stock. Oh wait, it is different. Whereas rotten tomatoes and eggs will wash off, these creative acts of internet discipline are there forever. Whether by berating and videotaping a child and putting it on Facebook or YouTube directly, or by leaving it to the mob of onlookers to do it’s job of ‘meme-ifying’ the kid on the street corner with a “confession sign”, this parenting strategy is immensely effective in the sense that it is destined to go viral and usually ends up on the evening news. Especially when carried out by parents who are well-known authors. We are still so early into this latent vulcano of public shaming that we might not be able to anticipate the creative and humiliating acts of revenge that await us in our future nursing homes.
So there you have it. The four types of internet parents and how they evolved!