Stealing Dignity

Our Children and Social Media

By Rebekah Largent

The rise of social media has its own distinct pros and cons. On the plus side, people have been able to communicate faster and more effectively, maintaining connections with friends that may have fizzled out through different seasons of life. We're able to meet new people and get to know them better than old-fashioned pen pal letters would have allowed. Families who live countries apart can share live updates, pictures of kids, jokes, and even play games together.

But there's a darker side to social media. Predators and stalkers now have easier access to their targets and even have the ability to pose as someone else in order to get closer. Many people's natural tendencies toward conceit and narcissism have been fed by the instant gratification of someone "liking" or sharing an ego-boosting comment on one of their many selfies. We participate in "comment wars" that can degenerate to name-calling, hatred, and real-life rage.

Strangely enough, many of the individuals who experience the negative side of social media are the ones who aren't even allowed to use it in the first place — our kids. These helpless victims are taken advantage of every day, albeit in a subtler and more socially accepted manner.

I'm talking about how we steal our children's dignity through social media.

Most of the time, our posts about our kids are innocent and fun: "Little Johnny just took his first steps! Such a big boy!" or "Mary starts her first day of kindergarten tomorrow. Childhood passes so quickly." Sharing the excitement over our kids' milestones and achievements is a natural part of parenting; and, because of social media, it's a great way to update grandparents, aunts and uncles, godparents, etc.

But then we post this kind of status: "I thought 3rd grade meant you don't have to worry about 'accidents.' But Paul wet his pants at school today and I had to drive all the way over there with clean clothes," or "Jess is grounded for a week. She has such a smart mouth," or "Emily spent the entire evening throwing up. Guess she can't tolerate Mexican food." And then there are the pictures and videos: A 30-second film of the time Billy streaked through the house after his bath. The picture of your little darling sitting on the toilet. The "essential" sibling photo of all your kids stark naked in the bathtub. The newborn series of your baby wearing only a hat and his birthday suit.

These might seem harmless. After all, they're just kids. They don't care! They might not even have developed body features such as breasts. And again, we want to share our excitement over our children and think that everyone else should be as excited as we are. But we're forgetting something very important. Sure, our young kids don't care right now that they're displayed on people's newsfeeds in an undignified position or with little to no clothing. They probably don't even know we've posted these things. But eventually, our kids will grow up. And as they grow up, they'll go through what everyone else experiences — self-consciousness, embarrassment, body issues, and a growing need for privacy.

This is why, when we were kids, that old bathtub picture in the shoebox was such a great weapon. Mom and dad would threaten to bring out that picture in front of our new boyfriend/girlfriend and our mortification at even the thought of such a scenario motivated us to do what mom and dad wanted. And there was nothing more embarrassing than when dad brought out that Polaroid of us with snot streaming down our face, even with close family.

How have we so easily forgotten that? Even from a young age, we had a desire for dignity, a desire to keep our secrets among our immediate family, and a desire to present the best side of ourselves to the people around us. Our own kids are (or will be) the same way. At four years old, it's likely your child won't care about the naked picture or the TMI status. But as the years progress, she will begin to realize that people she doesn't even know have seen her in all her naked glory. Family friends or even acquaintances will bring up an embarrassing story about her that she hoped no one would ever hear. And she will be humiliated.

There's another factor we don't consider when we post these dignity-stealing snippets. Most of us have a variety of people with access to our social media profiles. We have current friends and acquaintances, family, old flames, high school buddies we don't even talk to anymore, people we talked to at the coffee shop for fifteen minutes, and sometimes even coworkers or our boss. At the start of 2014, 50% of adult Facebook users had over 200 people in their friend list. [1]

Please imagine with me for a moment: you're standing in a room full of 200 people culled from your Facebook network. Some of these people are closer to strangers than friends. Now picture your child, maybe about age 12, standing there with you — in front of everyone — while you project that "harmless" nude/snot-filled/potty picture on the wall for everyone to see. It might not bother you — in fact, you might get a chuckle out of it and think it's cute. But how would your 12-year-old child react? And would you be familiar enough with everyone in the crowd to know how each of them would react? Would it even be safe for some people to see this picture?

Is it wrong to post pictures and statuses about our kids? Technically, no. A sweet, clothed picture of your child, an exclamation of how much you love him, or news about his latest milestone is never amiss when posted in moderation. And chances are many of the people in your friend list will enjoy seeing those. If they care about you, they'll care about your kids. But we cross the line when we begin to post things that will potentially embarrass our kids or destroy their modesty and dignity.

Our kids are people. Not playthings or trophies to be used as we wish. They're not symbols of our social status or mere examples of our excellent parenting skills. They're not objects meant to garner more "likes" or comments. They have their own personalities, their own desires, and their own need for basic human dignity. If we want our children to treat themselves with dignity and modesty, it's important we model that for them, even on social media.

1. Pew Research Center's "6 New Facts about Facebook."

Image Credit: Original: Natashi Jay; Creative Commons; photo of computer by S. Michael Houdmann

TagsChristian-Life  |  Current-Issues  |  Family-Life

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Published 7-9-14