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How Parents' 'Funny' Online Posts Hurt Their Kids

Photograph by Twenty20

When I first joined Facebook a lifetime ago, I shared a fair amount of baby and toddler pictures. The truth is that I didn't have a very long friend list in those days, and I enjoyed the pictures my old high school friends posted as much they enjoyed mine. We reconnected, often times from 3,000 miles apart, by the power of Facebook, and we all felt good about it.

That was then; this is now.

I can't remember when I noticed the shift. In those days, I was immersed in young motherhood while trying to keep my work life alive. At some point, Facebook shifted from reconnecting with a few long lost pals to reconnecting with everyone. I remember joking with a friend who sent a friend request, because I saw her at the park every single day. I mean, what she could she possibly be missing?

Years later, when my writing career took off, I had to make some important decisions about social media. I stripped my Facebook wall, keeping only a few pictures and none of them with pictures of my kids facing the camera. Instagram, which seemed like a fun alternative to Facebook at first, blew up and became unmanageable. Delete. Delete. Delete.

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It's not that I'm overly paranoid about social sharing. I'm really not. But when the friend requests multiplied and my social media accounts became more about writing than my day-to-day adventures, I wanted to protect my kids from getting caught in the middle. Also? They are getting older, and I want them to own their digital profiles.

A recent article in the New York Times addressed this very issue. While parents share stories and photos to highlight the memories they make with their kids (or, in some cases, to laugh at the low moments), kids are pushing back. Kids want to make the final call on whether or not parents post those pictures.

I'm a believer in open and honest communication with my kids. To that end, we talk a lot about social media. We talk about making good choices before posting and thinking about the "why" before posting. Why do I want to share this photo or story? What do I expect in response? Years ago I gave myself a 60-second rule: Look at the picture or craft the update, but wait at least 60 seconds before hitting post. More often than not, those posts don't ever get published. Although my kids are years away from joining social media, they already know the 60-second rule. They also know that I will never post pictures of them without their consent.

[P]arents subtly undermine those girl power messages. They reduce their girls to a single moment and, in doing so, create an online persona that it most likely ad odds with what they want for their daughters.

Sadly, not all parents have this kind of social media contract with their kids, and they sometimes post pictures and updates that unknowingly undermine the positive messages they most likely try to impart to their kids on any given day.

Take girl power (or some version of it), for example. Most parents want to raise assertive, confident and kind girls, right? Most parents encourage girls to take healthy risks and reach for the high bar, even when it's hard. Most parents teach girls to learn from failure and push through the disappointments because life can be complicated but that doesn't mean they should quit. Those are good, healthy lessons for girls of all ages.

But then parents post pictures and videos that tell a different story. With captions that reference "drama queens" or "beautiful girls" that accompany videos of toddler tantrums and photos of teens showing off their good looks (reposted without permission, of course), parents subtly undermine those girl power messages. They reduce their girls to a single moment and, in doing so, create an online persona that it most likely ad odds with what they want for their daughters.

Burying your head in the sand doesn't do you, or your kids, any good. Neither does sharing every single moment.

Also? Teens don't always make the best choices when it comes to social media posts. It is the work of tweens and teens to push boundaries and take chances. Sometimes that pushing works out in their favor, other times it gets them in trouble. When parents re-post those questionable photos, they do little to teach their kids about the importance of thinking before posting. That beach party picture might seem like a great idea in the moment, for example, but it might feel a little different when it comes to college application time.

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I won't lie: I sometimes long for the old days of Facebook when it was just close friends and family, and a few pictures with no worrying about whether or not I set that post to "friends" or "public." But social media continues to evolve, and so does parenting in the digital age.

Talk to your kids about what they post and why. Think twice before you share that picture or story that seems hilarious to you but might not feel so funny to your daughter. Model online kindness every day so that your kids learn from you to consider the feelings of others before making jokes (or worse) that might not feel so funny to someone else.

Burying your head in the sand doesn't do you, or your kids, any good. Neither does sharing every single moment. Parenting in the digital age is all about balance, and that begins with talking about it as a family.

Open and honest communication is a great place to start, and it will lead to your very own social sharing contract—one that sets limits for everyone in an effort to keep your online lives positive for all.

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