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Is Social Media Fair to Our Kids?

Photograph by Getty Images

I still remember the photo of my boyfriend as a handsomely half-dressed 4-year-old cowboy on the display board outside our senior class banquet. Thankfully, he had the same sense of humor as his parents and got a hearty chuckle out of the whole thing. A few of our friends weren’t as entertained by the embarrassing photographs of themselves.

Now that I have my own kids, I realize that the parents probably snapped the photos of their kids like I do with mine now, on the spur of the moment when they’re overwhelmed with the hilarity and cuteness and want to treasure it always. And the images captured are some of their fondest memories.

Back then, those snapshots were kept in a photo album or box, tucked away on a bookshelf or cabinet, only brought out during holidays or on special occasions, like a college graduation. The silly videos were watched every now and then, when families gathered to reminisce.

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But now, they’re instantly sent to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or posted on a blog or Tumblr for the world to see. They’re tagged, sometimes even SEO’d, then sent to YouTube to be played by hundreds, or maybe thousands, of complete strangers.

I’m the first to admit that it’s easy to become an oversharer in the age of social media, where likes and retweets give us validation. We commiserate with others about the cuteness or ridiculousness (and everything in between) and it makes us feel like we’re normal. Sometimes it does more, like give us attention and notoriety, even fame.

But as my kids get older and the more public all our lives become, the more vigilant I am about what I share and post. Mostly, I wonder what they will think about all this when they’re adults, when the funny photos of them can be Googled by their employers.

What’s sweet and lovely, or seemingly safe and harmless, might not be to them a few years down the road.

And because they are more aware of their own appearance, they’re in tune with how others see and perceive them. And they’re conscious of how they exist within a social setting: the norms, the expectations.

It’s thrilling. And scary.

So I have to ask myself, will they have the same sense of humor that my ex boyfriend had about the innocent photo when it’s posted on the world’s bulletin board? The sad truth is that what’s sweet and lovely, or seemingly safe and harmless, might not be to them a few years down the road.

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As much as I love the likes, retweets and shares that a photo gets, or the viral potential a video might have, I want to be sure I won’t have to apologize for my actions later on. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a perfect parent, and I’m quite certain I’ll have a few things to make up for when my kids get older.

But if it’s something I can knowingly prevent, lately I’m erring on the side of being extra cautious, and allowing them the freedom to create their own public persona without any help from me.

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