I found myself scrolling aimlessly through my Facebook news feed, again. Hoping to read more on the current political sphere and the cat and mouse game between Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. While I managed to stumble upon one, maybe two articles that met my demands, overwhelmingly my news feed had been flooded by photo upon photo of babies. Cute babies, not-so cute babies, babies walking, babies with bows on, babies in the tub, and so on. Don’t get me wrong, I love babies just as much as the next gal, but it gets to a point where it’s a bit much.
Millennials are the first generation who grew up on the internet, and are driven by the need to document their lives in photos, or as the saying goes, “pics or it didn’t happen.” Pictures of perfectly lit and arranged breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Pictures of a child’s first loose tooth. Pictures of post-gym selfies. All of these, flood social media platforms, as people crave this intangible feeling of being connected to their hundreds of viewers.
Now the first wave of millennials are becoming parents and in hitting this new milestone, they must deal with issues that previous generations didn’t have. These issues include whether or not the privacy of their child’s online identity, whether or not they should make the decision for their child to have an online identity, and this conflicting feeling having to prove your love through “likes.”
Lisa Lynch, a 51-year-old professor of Privacy and Media at NYU, said that with the rise in social media use, millennial parents should be wary in the type of information that they post online about their children.
“Sharing photos of your kids online is not inherently dangerous,” Lynch said. “It becomes dangerous when parents are sharing information in photos such as the name of the school that your child attends.”
Thanks to social media outlets, mainly Facebook, who coerce/encourage people to share more with their “friends,” it is easier than ever for someone to find personal information about you.
Scarlett Ortiz, a 29-year-old mother from Sonoma County, California, deliberately refrains from posting pictures of her young child to protect her identity from those who surf the internet with ill intentions.
“Our largest reason by far is safety,” Ortiz said. “It does [social media] let a lot of people, including strangers, have access to our life maybe in ways we wouldn’t normally allow.”
The U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau Investigation published a parent’s guide to internet safety, detailing the dangers that parents should keep an eye out for while their children are online.
“While on-line computer exploration opens a world of possibilities for children, expanding their horizons and exposing them to different cultures and ways of life, they can be exposed to dangers as they hit the road exploring the information highway. There are individuals who attempt to sexually exploit children through the use of on-line services and the Internet.”
Involuntary engagement with this intimidating, abstract concept that we call the internet:
Some critics believe that millennial parents are hijacking a child’s right to voluntarily participate in social media. This new generation of children ends up inheriting a social identity rather than having the freedom to choose whether they wanted one or not.
In an article by The National titled “What age is right for a digital identity,” writer Shelina Zahra Janmohamed discussed how millennial parents’ desire to share photos of their children with friends and family is taking a child’s right to create their own digital identity out of their hands.
“In publishing status updates, pictures and blog posts, we are creating an indelible footprint for their future, over which they have no control, but which will affect their lives,” Janmohamed wrote.
Mary Beth DeWitt, director of psychology at Dayton Children’s Hospital, said in a Time article that there may be some push and pull as millennial parents try to warn their children of potential dangers online when they haven’t strictly adhered to their own advice.
“As parents are starting at a very young age posting anything and everything on Facebook, then it will be hard as parents to say to your child as a teenager, ‘That’s not appropriate to post,’ when parents have been posting information about them for their entire lives,” DeWitt wrote.
Measuring love in “likes”:
This increasing pattern of parents sharing photos of their children doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. Especially now that culture assigns such high value to the “like” button, which serves both as a mechanism of self-affirmation and affirmation from peers.
Jennifer (Jenni) Brown, a 21-year-old wife from Killeen, Texas, doesn’t post photos of her two little girls online. A friend accused her of being ashamed of her children. Her reply was simple, stating that her decision to not post daily updates about her children on social media, doesn’t mean she loved them any less.
“My love for my kids doesn’t only exist in the pictures,” Jenni replied to her friend, who ended the conversation abruptly.
While there are potential dangers that come with sharing photos of the little ones online, it can also serve as a great tool to keep relatives from far away connected to distant families.
Victoria Matoska-Wehrmann, a 27-year-old mother from Wisconsin, said that she has no qualms about posting photos of her child online, because her main reason for doing so is keeping distant family members up-to-date with the baby’s growth.
“I feel super lucky that my grandma is apart of Facebook and able to see photos of my baby. She lives in Seattle at the moment with my uncle,” Wehrmann said. “While another family member lives in Florida and doesn’t use FB at all so she doesn’t even know what my baby looks like at the moment. The eldest is eight and she’s seen him once.”