Fitzgerald Swanson is barely 6 months old, yet he has his own private Twitter and Instagram accounts.
Even before he was born, he was the main topic of conversation in a Facebook group dedicated to him.
Parents who came of age with Facebook, sharing their own lives online, are now sharing the lives of their children.
But just how much to share and on which platform is a sticky issue. Parents face thorny questions about everything from privacy and safety to oversharing and future embarrassment. It’s just one more decision that sleep-deprived, stressed-out parents have to make.
Mommy blogs put it all out there. Some parents post pictures but never their children’s names. Others try to keep their kids’ digital footprints relatively clean — no small feat amid social pressure to share.
“It’s hard to know what to do,” said Fitz’s mom, Stacy Schwartz. She and her husband talked about the best way to share pictures of their son while preserving some semblance of privacy. The dedicated accounts, restricted to only approved friends and followers, seemed like a good compromise. It also prevents them from bombarding all their friends and followers with baby pics through their own social media accounts.
But at a time when technology changes so fast and no one knows what the future will bring, she admitted, as many a parent has over the years: “We’re just kind of winging it.”
The same concerns many adults have over online privacy apply to their kids: Who can see photos? What personal information are companies tracking? How will a digital footprint affect future job prospects?
When Amy Webb wrote a column for Slate in September advocating that parents share nothing about their kids online, it sparked a firestorm of commentary. Parents debated privacy in an era where online profiles enable targeted marketing and a future that could include wide use of facial recognition software.
“Knowing what we do about how digital content and data are being cataloged, my husband and I made an important choice before our daughter was born. We decided that we would never post any photos or other personally identifying information about her online,” Webb wrote.
The piece resonated with Brian Roberts of Minneapolis. He and his wife posted a picture of their daughter when she was born, but have since refrained from mentioning her by name or posting other photos.
“We should be allowing our children to make an educated choice about participating in (social media) at some point when they have more agency and more ability to make choices,” he said.
But it’s not always easy. Roberts has asked his sister to take down photos of his daughter that she posted to Facebook. Still, he’s been tempted to post some himself.
“Part of the reason people use it is because it’s such an easy channel by which to share,” Roberts said.
Sixty percent of millennial moms take or share photos of their kids using mobile devices, according to a report from BabyCenter.com, a pregnancy and parenting website. Those moms are also less likely to fret about sharing online than Gen X moms, the report said.
Sara Pearce, owner of Amma Parenting Center in Edina, said some parents’ motivation for sharing goes beyond bragging about their new bundles of joy.
“Not only do they post pictures and updates of their own children, but they used Facebook especially as a way to gather other people’s opinions” about parenting, she said.
Jen Jamar of Minneapolis, who notes on her blog that “oversharing my life online is kind of my thing,” enjoys that connection with other parents. When her son, Levi, was born, she even tweeted as her labor progressed.
“Those two to three minutes between contractions, what else are you going to do?” said Jamar, who has since chronicled their family adventures on her blog Life With Levi.
There are pictures of Levi, stories about their adventures, even diaper reviews.
“I don’t have a baby book for him. I couldn’t tell you when he took his first step. Wherever I wrote it down, I’ve misplaced it,” she said. “Online, we have this nice chronology of all these milestones. I can look back and see all these photos and share those moments.”
Jamar said she is careful to keep pictures tasteful and information that could jeopardize safety stays private. For instance, there are no addresses or street signs in her photos.
“I hope that by raising my son to be digitally savvy and Internet-conscious, he’ll understand what I was doing and why I shared content about him,” she said.
For most parents, social media sharing habits fall somewhere in the middle.
Christopher and Mary Lower, both avid social media users working in public relations, knew they would be sharing about their kids online. So they gave them nicknames: Supergirl for their 11-year-old daughter and the Wonder Twins for their 5-year-old twins.
“A lot of this information can get tracked easily. There’s a chance of risk to your child,” said Christopher Lower, of Maple Grove, Minn. “We decided we would keep this one line of defense.”
Orley Anderson of Burnsville asks her son Jack, 9, before posting any pictures of him on Facebook. Sometimes she might think a picture’s cute, but he says no. That’s just fine.
“It’s his image,” she said. “They’re growing up in a world of social media. He needs to learn boundaries.”
Remembering the Internet’s permanence and considering kids’ future feelings about online posts is key, said Janell Burley Hofmann, a parent coach and author of the book “iRules” about parenting and technology.
“Most of it is innocent and loving and we’re excited in the moment,” Hofmann said. “If we take our time and be mindful, we’ll do right by our children.”
Sometimes that means resisting the urge to share, even if you’re a proud new grandma like Kirsten Kaufmann of St. Paul.
Her son and daughter-in-law are trying to post their son’s baby pictures online in moderation. So Kaufmann asks before posting the occasional picture of her grandson to Facebook for friends and relatives to see.
“He’s adorable,” she said. “Why wouldn’t you want to brag?”
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