Do we invade our children’s privacy too much?

As parents and writers, we are raising the first generation of people who could see their entire lives recorded online.

With the rise of Facebook, parent blogs, Twitter and a thousand other websites, our children’s lives are mapped online virtually from the moment of conception, in some cases. There’s the scan photo on Facebook, the cute video announcing the baby’s sex via cakes or balloons, the live-Tweeting of the birth, the toilet training stories, first day at school, and it goes on and on…

As a parent blogger, and someone who runs a network of UK parent blogs, I’m a big fan of parent blogging – it goes without saying. Sharing real, honest experiences of parenting allows people to make connections and feel less unsure as they stumble through family life. Without parents writing about their lives, we’d be stuck with the glossy parenting mags and Gina Ford. Heaven forbid.

But I was reading an article yesterday in the Guardian about ‘sharenting‘ – parents who share every aspect of their children’s lives online, and it got me thinking about what I share online. Not in terms of safety – I’m fairly comfortable with that aspect of my blog. But about privacy. And specifically, Flea’s privacy.

On a daily basis, those of us who write about parenting make choices about our data and privacy. What’s public, what’s private, what’s shared where. What facts do we include in stories and what do we omit?

I see lots of conversations about what happens when colleagues read our blogs, or our partners, or the in-laws, or the mothers at the school gates. But what about when our children read? 

For me, the thought that Flea will one day read this blog – and I might not be there to explain the context of the words – is the only real censor on what I blog about.

One reader recently asked whether I’m gay, on account of the fact that men don’t get much of a look in on this blog. For the record, I’m not, but I’m firmly of the opinion that there’s not much in life more horrifying than reading about a parent’s sex life (except perhaps seeing it, but let’s not even go there) so I choose not to discuss that aspect of my life online.

But I think the issue is much wider than being bashful about sex – it’s about us making decisions about how our children are presented online, and what we record about their childhood and their family.

This blog effectively creates a narrative of Flea’s childhood. It’s there forever (there’s no delete button on the Internet, no matter what your keyboard might like to think). When she’s older, will she be happy with the story I created about her? Will the public identity I present here match how she sees herself? Will my perspective of our family match hers, or will it hurt or embarrass her? Will what I write here limit who Flea becomes, or the choices that are available to her?

I’m definitely not wearing my Internet police costume here, and I absolutely don’t think there’s one right answer. If there was, I certainly wouldn’t have it. But I suspect it’s an issue we all think about, and come to our own conclusions, and make the best choices we can.

I use Flea’s photo on the blog, but not her name. I hope that gives her the ability in future to deny all knowledge of me and this blog, if she so chooses. I Google her name regularly and, so far, she’s still invisible to the Internet.

I’m reasonably careful in stories I share about her, with one eye on the teenage girls who will be her peers in a few years. I’m even more careful about the stories I share about me, for much the same reasons. I would never say something about her that was negative – simply because I may not be around to explain to Future Flea why I said those things, or how fleeting that moment really was.

But I know the choice isn’t always so clear cut – sharing a personal story about your child might be a way of accessing support during tough times, or providing reassurance to readers that they’re not alone in struggling with some issue or other.

My best friend is very anti-social media and out of respect for that, is never mentioned on my blog or Twitter accounts. We had a conversation this weekend and he pointed out that every keystroke online is monitored, stored, archived – and then sold – by someone. By the time a child is 20, there’s already a wealth of data about them just waiting to be exploited in ways we haven’t invented yet. And it’s not just about being exploited by commercial organisations – some days working in social media is a bit like walking into a gladiatorial arena, with lions. And cranky lions, at that. Am I throwing Future Flea to those lions?

In that context, how wise is it to publish an article about how your teenage daughter was called a slut by her girlfriends, or how sometimes you miss your life pre-children?

Ultimately, bloggers have to weigh up the risks in their own mind every time they write a post and decide what they will share, and what they keep private.

But what I think I need to be really careful about is ensuring I make that choice with Flea’s privacy in mind, as much as my own. Because in future, what if she wants to keep something private but I’ve already shared it with the world, on her behalf?


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