If you’re on social media, you’re most likely bombarded every single day with an onslaught of social media updates about people’s daily lives. Many of these are from parents who may be potentially well-meaning but are engaged in extreme over-sharing about their children’s every move. It’s clear that many parents don’t have an effective filter regarding what is appropriate, healthy and beneficial to share, versus information that will be harmful to the child now and in later life.
Thousands of parents have not been trained properly about appropriate and healthy boundaries or the potential danger of chronic over-sharing of private material regarding their children. And often, parents who engage in this behavior are doing so to soothe their own fears, insecurities and anxieties, and don’t see how damaging it will be to their children over time.
One of the most helpful principles I learned as a marriage and family therapist was that there are certain types of personal information that are beneficial to share with our clients to help them grow, but there are other types of information that should never be shared.
A key principle that parents can learn from the therapist’s code of conduct is this:
If the information you’re sharing is all about you and how you feel (to make yourself feel better or alleviate your own stress and anxiety) rather than about helping your client (or in this case, your child) grow and thrive, then you need to seriously rethink (or stop) your personal sharing.
To learn more about how parents are unwittingly hurting their children with their social media shares, I caught up this week with Andrew Wittman, author of the new book Seven Secrets of Resilience for Parents: Navigating the Stress of Parenthood. As a former marine, police officer and special agent, Wittman is the Founder and CEO of the Mental Toughness Training Center, an organization that teaches everyone from Fortune 500 Executives to parents and even teens how to resolve conflict, deal with pressure, foster healthy team dynamics, and increase mental stamina to help them achieve their biggest goals in life. Wittman has been interviewed by Business Insider, MarketWatch, Men’s Journal, Men’s Health, Hallmark’s Home & Family, The Wall Street Journal and more about developing mental strength and parenting considerations regarding their over-exposure of their children’s lives and activities on social media and how to stop it.
Here’s what Wittman shares:
Kathy Caprino: Andrew, what can you tell us more about how certain public posts about our children negatively impact their self-esteem?
Andrew Wittman: As parents, we owe it to our children to be critical thinkers concerning what we’re about to post, not just a post directly about the child but also take into account how what is being posted reflects on the entire family.
Embarrassing or spotlighting your child can cause them to be more self-conscious, or worse, become recipients of cyberbullying. A Pew Research Center survey finds that 59% U.S. teens have been on the receiving end of abusive behavior online. The top two categories of cyberbullying come in the form of name-calling and spreading rumors. Painting your child or your family in a light that spawns ridicule is obviously something to be avoided.
But equally destructive is the pressure for your kids to constantly perform and be perfect. This problem is amplified when social media is added to the mix. Are your relentless parental pride posts detrimental to your child? Research suggests this is so, as these posts are adding to your child’s anxiety to be perfect and measure up. The bottom line is that you need to assess whether you are posting to help your child’s self-esteem or your own. If it’s about you, don’t post it. If it truly is about increasing your child’s self-esteem, they will like that it was posted too.
Caprino: Are you seeing that parents are generally too liberal with what they share?
Wittman: Many parents seem to have a default mode of posting in-detail about everything from their baby’s delivery to the child’s latest bought with a gastrointestinal virus. This is backward. The default mode should be this:
Everything should remain private until we go through the process of vetting what should be posted.
Further, some things should be more exclusive and selective–for sharing with the grandparents, for example. This goes beyond the realm of data breaches by broadcasting you or your child’s personal data. That should be obvious to parents in this era. We tend not think as much about the con artist, predators and even the unscrupulous authority figures. Unfortunately, even our most trusted advisors can be bad actors. We forget what we posted, but the master manipulator has not and will weaponize your posts.
During the Korean War, Chinese intelligence officers would clip and file thousands of hometown newspaper announcements for weddings, obituaries, graduations, etc. called open-source intelligence. These were essentially old school social media posts. They saved the articles in case they ever captured an American serviceman and could use the personal information to manipulate and psychologically torture the POWs. Now, it’s so much easier to catalogue that personal information when parents are serving it up like an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Caprino: Should parents always ask their teenager first, before they post about them?
Wittman: This is simple courtesy and serves as a conduit for open communication with your teenager. Even more vital to understand the connection between teenage suicide rates and social media usage. Not only is cyberbullying an issue, but so is the pressure to look perfect all the time across all social media platforms.
Teenagers aren’t just connecting and communicating with their friends—they are playing a role in the reality show that is their online life. I’m not saying it’s right or it’s wrong. It just is. While research is still in the early stages, let’s not wait until we irrefutable proof before we take preventative action. That’s how the tobacco industry spun the early research and way too many people died before the data was irrefutable. As parents, we must realize smartphones and social media platforms aren’t simply the new version of rock ‘n’ roll. These two things can be weaponized instantly and on a large scale and things can go viral at any time.
Caprino: What if the child is just a toddler? Are there any good ground rules here?
Wittman: Yes. Even if it’s 100% cute, ask yourself, “what are the long-term consequences for my child if this goes viral?” Decide whether the post has the possibility of branding your child in a way that they might resent ten years down the road.
I like to remind myself that, as a public figure, I chose to put myself out there, but my kids didn’t make that choice and I’m not going to force it on them. It may not cross your mind, while you’re posting that picture of little Suzie naked in the bathtub but soon enough, she’ll have to deal with you making that picture public.
Taking the picture and putting it in a scrap book in the closet is not the same thing as posting it online. There is almost no upside to posting pictures of your child openly on social media. Interestingly, when I say that, I get massive pushback from parents about how stupid that statement is. However, when I ask them what the upside reasons are for posting, I get a lot of stammering, huffing, puffing and folks stomp off. If you don’t have solid upside reasons for posting, chances are that your post is more about you than the child.
Caprino: What questions should parents ask themselves before posting about their kids?
Wittman: A productive questioning process around this starts with questions framed with words like “What is ___?” or “How can I____? These questions start the genius problem-solving part of our brains into action. Remember that once something enters the social media ether it’s there forever, so parents would greatly benefit by taking a few seconds before posting about their kids and ask themselves a series of good and better questions to determine if a public post should be made.
Start with these:
- What are my real reasons for posting this?
- What is it that I’m trying to achieve or get by sharing this? What’s my target?
- Does posting this help me or hurt me in accomplishing my target?
- How would sharing this affect my child now and in the future?
- How can I better share this and be more selective, sharing with only the relevant people in my child’s life?
Caprino: Why do you think that parents are so driven to share all this private information so publicly? What are they trying to achieve or get out of it?
Wittman: Finally, we get to the underlying and root cause of the social media issue. We have all seen the “sideline” mom or dad at the little league sporting events. You know the crazy, out-of-control parent screaming at their kid on the field, screaming at the coaches, screaming at the refs and then when the game is over, and belittle their child’s performance in front of everyone if they didn’t measure up or over-celebrate if their little dumpling is the star. The parents, who were not stars, are living vicariously through their children and pressuring them to succeed.
Many parents are bragging to show the world how awesome a parent they must be because their child is so successful. Left unchecked, this mindset metastasizes into the college entrance bribery scandal. Parents bribing and cheating for their kids so the parents can brag about the great school the child got accepted into. This is the biggest insult to your child possible. It screams out to them that you don’t believe in them and that their own accomplishments are not enough. That they don’t measure up to your social media branding standard.
Don’t doubt for a second that those parents posted all over the social media realms how their little angel was going to one of the most prestigious schools in the country. It’s more about the parents feeling good about themselves than the achievements of the children.
Categories: Social Media
How Social Media Over-Sharing About Your Child Can Cause Irrevocable Harm