“Mom, take a video of me and put it up on Facebook!”
My five-year-old daughter is a (relative) wiz with technology. She was using my iPhone with ease before she was even 18 months old, playing memory games, shape puzzles, and phonic lessons. Both she and her younger brother have our old iPhones for when we travel (said one nine-year-old to his mom when I took them out on one trip: “THEY have iPhones!”). She loves to take pictures with her phone, and complains bitterly that she can’t also take video. The two kids are used to interacting with screens, so to speak, as they regularly skype with their grandparents and other extended family members. We use Facebook to share pictures, videos, and funny stories about our family life with family and friends, most of whom live far away from us.
My daughter continually wants me to post things on Facebook because she knows that that is how her grandparents will see what she is doing, and they will usually make note of it during our weekly Skype calls. My son is even starting to get in on the act, especially if it involves taking copious amounts of pictures of his many (many) toy lions. I also enjoy sharing the various adorable/frustrating things my kids do or say with my friends, many of whom are parents themselves. The street runs both ways; we’ll often share in the experience of watching videos or seeing pictures of their friends (often the kids of my grown-up friends) who they don’t get to see often, helping them to still feel connected to a larger community of friends and family. Because my professional (Twitter) network began to bleed into my personal (Facebook) network, when I now meet people at conferences, people ask me about my kids, not just in the abstract, but with particular stories that they enjoyed or could relate to through my Facebook posts.
We used to keep baby books; my mother has given me hundreds of pages of notes and letters and journals she wrote about my development when I was a baby (although I doubt that my younger brother has that kind of documentation available). I also have hundreds of emails that I wrote to my mother during my daughter and son’s first years; often no longer than a few lines, I wrote my mother every day, often from my iPhone while nursing or while a baby slept on me. Even though we lived far away, this was a way so that she could still feel connected to her daughter. I don’t have very detailed baby books for either of my kids (or photo albums, for that matter), I know that between my Facebook history and emails, I have a pretty detailed account of my kids’ various milestones and accomplishments.
Of course, these new technologies bring up the very real issues of privacy. How much should I reveal about my kids online? How much should I share? I am still very conscious of these boundaries; my kids have names on Facebook, but not when I blog or on Twitter. My profile is locked down as tight as I can get it on Facebook, while my Twitter and blogging identities are quite public. And it’s not like I go crazy (anymore) with the Facebook posts about the kids; I perhaps post an update once a day, with a spontaneous picture about once a week, and maybe a video once a month. To me, that doesn’t sound like too much. Often, I have to remember to put these pieces up after the kids have gone to bed, so it is only the most memorable things that make it on the Facebook timeline now. But I am becoming increasingly conscious, especially now that my daughter has started school, of how much or what I should share about my children online.
The virtual connectedness that both my kids have always had access to (but embraced differently) is, I think, a strength; they will hopefully embrace new technologies and experiment to find ways to connect and create communities. As my daughter gets older, I am beginning to ask her if it is ok if I share things “more publicly,” from twitter, to facebook, to even an email to Gramma. I can see a time in the not-so-near future where she won’t want Gramma to know everything (not that Gramma knows everything now – I perform a selection process, too). That we can have these conversations already about social media, sharing, and exposure, I think, is a really good thing. I’m hoping that it means they will make responsible choices later on.
I also wonder how this facility with online communities will evolve as they get older, particularly in light of pressure both from their friends but also from a school system that doesn’t readily embrace online engagement. I see many of my friends who are also parents banning social media outright, fearful of the bullying, cyber-stalking, and poor decision-making skills. What I don’t want to see happen is that my kids approach new technology with at best, a feeling of fear, and at worse, a feeling out outright hostility, like many of my students do. It is here that my role as a parent and as an educator conflate to become one: I cannot allow my fear overwhelm what I know are valuable and meaningful learning opportunities for my children.
This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed