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?

 

About 

Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

38 Comments

  1. Joanne Mallon
    21st May 2013 / 8:28 am

    I am a bit further down the road with this in that my daughter is now a teenager and does read my blog, as Flea will almost certainly read yours (hello future Flea!). To be honest I’m not so bothered about that – what I’m more aware of is the potential of her peers reading, and the potential of any online content for bullying. Teenagers can be very cruel, and many of them come armed with a smartphone to help in this.

    Also I think the wider issue is assuming that we ‘own’ our children’s life stories, and their basic function in life is to provide amusing anecdotes for our writing. Nora Ephron said ‘Everything is copy’ but that was before the internet age when the stuff you write stayed around for ever. Everything isn’t necessarily copy now – sometimes it is kinder in the long run not to post, or at least acknowledge that your child has their own story to tell.

    For me – my children have a different surname to me, and I rarely name them. I do post pictures of them because I figure that whilst they will always have the same name, they won’t always have the same face. My son favours semi-anonymous shots, so I do a lot of close ups of his eyes. My daughter would like to star in every post, so now we have a blog we write together.

    • 21st May 2013 / 11:36 am

      I’m in a similar position with names – Flea obviously isn’t Flea’s official name, and she has a different surname, which protects her. I am also very aware about the potential for teen girl nastiness, and I avoid anything about Flea’s personal life/health/emotions for that very reason. It’s a minefield, though, because the value of the blog to me comes from being open, but that might be at Flea’s expense…

  2. 21st May 2013 / 7:42 am

    It’s funny I’ve been thinking about exactly this subject today as I too read that article and though being a sharent sounds like a pretty awful thing to be. I don’t worry about my kids safety by posting online. Again I don’t share their names and I reveal more when I holler them in the park.
    I hope that the benefits of sharing part of their lives online will outweigh the negatives. That they will enjoy an “at the time” record rather than a hazy rewritten remembered version.
    I’ve not really thought about how I censor myself, but I think I naturally censor myself as I go or at least I hope so.
    Mummylimited recently posted..Perfect Basmati RiceMy Profile

    • 21st May 2013 / 11:34 am

      Yes, I agree that worries about sharing too much can sometimes be overblown. I think what I am becoming increasingly conscious of are posts that tell me who a child is, what their personality is, what challenges and struggles they have – I’m not sure that’s my story to tell, and how I see Flea might not be how she sees herself.

      But I do definitely agree with the value of a real-time record of what we do – I hope she’ll appreciate that one day (presumably after spending her late teens begging me to delete it)

  3. Nikki
    21st May 2013 / 8:04 am

    Good topic Sally. For the record I’ve never read one of your posts and thought it could impact Flea moving forwards. If anything, she’s portrayed as a gorgeous and often brilliant and witty child – and that’s never going to go against her. If I was her, I’d think – wow, my Mum loved being with me and found me most amusing! 🙂

    I think the balance of sharing and keeping things private is very delicate and your post did make me act and Google search my own children’s names – who thankfully never popped up anywhere!

    You manage the balance well but yes, it’s always worth reminding oneself to pause a moment before posting – just to double check any future consequences.

    • 21st May 2013 / 11:35 am

      Aw, that’s a really lovely comment, thanks Nikki.

  4. Sara
    21st May 2013 / 9:10 am

    I guess in lucky in the sense that my girls have been reading my blog from the beginning and in a sense been policing it for me regarding themselves. Yet now as I fine them growing up and going through the teens there are many issues I don’t address or even mention.

    It’s a fine line but one that can be walked carefully with consideration.

    • 21st May 2013 / 11:37 am

      Flea definitely enjoys and reads my blog, I agree that’s a useful barometer. Ooh, and thanks for posting about blog summit 🙂

  5. 21st May 2013 / 9:46 am

    My 12 year old has both read and featured in my blog since the beginning, it has actually inspired her to write her own. My son is 11 weeks old and has featured in a fair few posts, I have no problem writing posts that feature my children and I hope as they continue to grow up they will both continue to read my blog. I don’t overshare and although I use real names I don’t think I give too much information away.
    Daniella recently posted..Hello world!My Profile

    • 21st May 2013 / 11:37 am

      Flea has her own blog, too! Although with the same degree of anonymity you’ll find on this blog, which is important, I think.

  6. Fee Horne
    21st May 2013 / 9:47 am

    Great post. I worry about this a lot. I never, ever mention my twins by name on Twitter or post pictures of them there because I can’t control who sees it. I do, however, do it on Facebook because that’s what it’s good for – sharing things with friends and family who aren’t necessarily next door. I try very hard to ensure that whatever I share that concerns the twins is as private as possible. Facebook’s constant fiddling with their privacy settings (they call it evolving, I call it blooming meddling) makes it difficult sometimes so I try not to tag photos that they feature in. It is tricky. I love reading about what you and Flea get up to however. I think you’ve probably got the balance right.

    • 21st May 2013 / 11:38 am

      Privacy is REALLY tricky, isn’t it, especially on Facebook?

  7. 21st May 2013 / 10:18 am

    As I was quoted saying, it’s different for every person who blogs. Everybody’s style and intentions are different. We all have different reasons, but you are right, do people blog real life, or something else?

    For example, my blog is real. Everything I write I’m not afraid to say in real life, the stories I blog about are often stories I’ve told at the school gate, or to friends/family/teachers. I call my children horrible to their face, but I also call them wonderful.

    I think it’s important to remember that whilst the children will no doubt read my blog, in the “real world” I’ll have brought them up as strong, confident boys, then strong, confident men, with memories of their childhood, both the good and the bad – after all, both things impact what sort of person you become (I will never forget the day my mum found out I’d lied about eating a Cherry Bakewell in my lunch box, I’d swapped it for a Marsbar and lied) suffice to say I have never lied to her since- who understand life and its frustrations, who learn to laugh, but also take constructive feedback.

    All in all – it’s all about “think before you speak”.
    Aimee recently posted..When you have a confession.My Profile

    • 21st May 2013 / 11:39 am

      For me, I blog real life, but it’s edited. Everything on the blog is true, but not everything that’s true is on the blog. And I think it’s great if the kids are involved and engaged and the blog is a source of and reminder of happy memories.

  8. Sonya Cisco
    21st May 2013 / 11:10 am

    There is a big difference between family anecdotes, or stories of bringing up small children, and discussing teenage problems. If I write about my teenager, she reads it first, and if she doesn’t like it, it doesn’t get published. As for younger kids, I wouldn’t write anything that might cause them anymore embarrassment than the daft stories my mum likes to tell about me. I use my children’s first names, but their surnames are different to mine, and I do not use my real surname online anyway, so feel fairly safe! It has to be our own decision how much we share, and it is important to have given your boundaries some thought, so that if your child ever does question it, you can explain your reasons for the path you followed. Great and interesting post.

    • 21st May 2013 / 11:43 am

      Absolutely.

      But I think privacy isn’t something that should only apply to teenagers. When Flea is older, would she thank me for writing a post that defined her as stroppy, or angry, or spoiled, or emotionally volatile? Sure she’s only 7 now, but that information would be there when she’s 18. Would Future Flea choose to share that online?

      And I might write something about our family dynamics – say, she’s closer to X than Y. Would that cause hurt in future? Would Flea think that was unfair to share, or might she even remember it differently. I’ve shared a narrative with the world that doesn’t match how she sees the situation – and because this is a blog, not a conversation, I’ve shared it so widely I’ve removed the choice for her to create and share her own story first, in her own time, in her own words.

      I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, just that for me, what I’m realising is privacy isn’t just not talking about teen sexuality or hormones or mood swings – it’s about sharing the story of a life, that isn’t yours, and balancing the parental right to talk, and share, and the child’s (or future adult’s right) not to have that story be shared. That’s waffly, I know, but it’s the sort of thing I’m trying to sort out in my own head.

      • 22nd May 2013 / 4:01 pm

        That’s very valid, I have to say it is a very hard thing to call. It is something I have questiOned throughout my blogging, and is why I don’t blog anything particularly personal or painful. I haven’t discussed my divorces, and rarely dwell on anything other than light hearted tales. Am now off to ponder some more on the points you have raised.
        Sonya Cisco recently posted..Weeping MothsMy Profile

  9. 21st May 2013 / 11:38 am

    I agree, it’s such a personal decision and everyone will draw the line in a different way and in a different place.

  10. 21st May 2013 / 12:43 pm

    One of the things I like best about you Sally is that you don’t don an internet police costume, you always give good impartial advice with pros and cons.

    You have really made me think with this post Sally and that’s a good thing.

    A few years back it occurred to me that JJ was now at the age that his mates could read my blog and I started to censor more of what might go on here, then recently JJ came home from after school club and told me he had been showing his mates my blog. There is a lot I’ve shared in the past that is about me and very raw and if I’m honest I don’t really want JJ to read it, not because I’m ashamed but because a 9 year old does not need to know about the pain of a miscarriage. So again I have decisions to make.

    I also realise that some of the sharing i do about my younger children is there as an imprint forever. Hmm I need to ponder more and see what I shall do.

    Thanks, Mich x
    Michelle Twin Mum recently posted..New Duplo Valley now open at Legoland WindsorMy Profile

    • 22nd May 2013 / 10:44 pm

      Thanks Michelle, I’ve gone through a similar process in terms of not wanting to blog about very personal or painful experiences of my own because of not wanting Flea to read those – and because I also feel she has a right to have her own opinion of people and situations that’s based on her experiences, and not mine. But it’s a tricky balance and one I’m always revisiting

  11. TheBoyandMe
    21st May 2013 / 7:47 pm

    You have just presented every single reason why our names do not appear on my blog (apart from the whole boring teacher thing). There may be photos of him but he’s certainly not called The Boy in real life. This yardstick of future, potential, public humiliation is why I don’t blog about the tantrums, the possible bedwetting, his birth, etc. I don’t want to provide ammunition for future peers.

    • 22nd May 2013 / 10:45 pm

      I think humiliation is a potential risk – although I’m optimistic enough to hope it won’t be a significant factor in Flea’s life. But it’s privacy too – would the teenage me have wanted any potential boyfriend who Googled me to find stories about bed-wetting or tantrums? God – mortifying!

  12. 22nd May 2013 / 6:10 am

    Great post Sally and completely agree.
    I use photos but obviously not names as I blog about their autism and our lives but there are things I keep private and I wouldn’t say anything I wouldn’t be comfortable for either of them to read in future years.
    (Tagged on what I posted recently)
    Jeannette x
    Jeannette @autismmumma recently posted..Blogging and personal boundariesMy Profile

    • 22nd May 2013 / 10:46 pm

      Thanks Jeanette, I also use photos but not names and have certain areas I just don’t discuss.

  13. 22nd May 2013 / 9:51 am

    This is a subject I have been pondering on recently and as a result, blogged about a couple of months ago (my post here if you’re interested: http://www.3childrenandit.com/2013/02/blogging-is-it-betrayal-of-our.html ) I do feel that as parents we have an obligation to protect our children but it’s a tough one because unless we blog anything of interest or with honesty, what’s the point? Since I was forced to think about it, I have slightly ‘refined’ some of my posts and thought more carefully about what I write.

    • 22nd May 2013 / 10:47 pm

      Thanks for sharing your post – it’s interesting you’ve gone back and made changes, my blog started out not showing Flea’s face but I think, like Joanne, I eventually realised my daughter’s face is visible every day and will change over time so I relaxed that fairly quickly. And yes, blogging for me is quite personal so I want to do it honestly and share something substantial (although it’s very often trivial, too!)

  14. 22nd May 2013 / 10:21 am

    I definitely agree with your sentiments Sally. I also consider what we write about the kids on the internet, not just for their safety, but also as we know it may come back to haunt them in years to come. Back in February eldest (6) and her blog featured in the original “sharenting/Generation I” article in the LSN:Global magazine. The Futures Laboratory and LSN Global coined the term “sharenting” and hubby and I were named as “sharents” in the article before the media grabbed a hold of it. At the time, I was not happy at being branded a “sharent” as we were portrayed as being a little careless about what we put about our kids online (some of the article facts were incorrect), whereas hubby and I are very conscious of our kids online presence. I wrote a post about keeping our kids safe on the internet in light of the article http://justdoitmummy.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/safer-internet-day-protecting-kids-on.html. I also highlighted how it’s not just us parents who have to consider what we are putting on the internet. Often our kids identities or personalities/movements may be betrayed by the local school, or even the social/sports club they attend. Sometimes, it may be that others record details about our kids online, without our knowledge, which is searchable by google. The typical user sometimes hugely underestimates and does not consider the power of google to weed information out. I think the perception can be that there are millions of people in the world., so it can’t be too hard to stay anonymous online. Many casual internet users don’t think before they hit the send button, but I think everyone should definitely employ a degree of self censorship before they put their kids details online.

    • 22nd May 2013 / 10:49 pm

      Thanks for commenting. For me, safety is not a major concern – I don’t think putting kids online via a parenting blog exposes them to any significant risk that isn’t already a part of normal life. I feel differently about kids having Facebook and IM accounts, mind you. And you’re right – the single, solitary mention of Flea’s name online is from her school and I’ve been seriously considering asking them to remove it, but am unsure whether I’ll get tagged as a troublesome parent…

  15. 22nd May 2013 / 2:14 pm

    I suppose the more you write/work using the internet the more savvy you become. I worry more about teenagers posting/tweeting etc than my posts. I am aware enogh to keep things low key and hidden so to speak; I don’t know about this generation – are they savvy enough to keep things private?
    Tattie Weasle recently posted..Bringing Up Boys – it’s not a 100m dash it’s a marathon!My Profile

    • 22nd May 2013 / 10:51 pm

      I think teens having their own social media accounts is by the far the most risky online activity I can think of. Look at the case this week of the trainee solicitor who Tweeted something daft about cyclists, found herself being investigated by the police, berated in the national press, and potentially losing her job – nightmare. I often think about having the conversation with Flea’s school that rather than telling kids not to use social media, they ought to be educating the kids about digital footprints and privacy and safe online behaviours.

  16. 22nd May 2013 / 3:54 pm

    This does bother me quite a lot as my kids are easy enough to be identified in future with being 3 kids adopted in one family. Just the adoption itself makes them easier to find as there are so few adoptive parent bloggers around in comparison to parent bloggers alone. I ask them what theyr’e happy with me sharing on blogs etc, but I tend not to think so much about what I share on Twitter. Perhaps we shoudl all rethink that.
    Scottish Mum recently posted..A Trip Down Memory Lane. It’s Messy.My Profile

    • 22nd May 2013 / 10:52 pm

      Digital footprints are really interesting in relation to adoption – as someone who’s adopted, it’s interesting to me how quickly I can find members of my birth family via Google – not that I would want to contact them, but it makes me aware how quickly I could be found, and that’s not necessarily something I’d welcome, or that would be welcome to lots of kids in care or in adopted families. Scary, isn’t it?

  17. Mummypinkwellies
    23rd May 2013 / 6:05 am

    I couldn’t stop thinking about this article after I read it the other day. So much so I’ve blogged about it myself. I’m
    A sharent and proud of it!

    Thanks for making me think Sally! x

  18. Becky Arber
    25th May 2013 / 7:43 pm

    I really enjoyed this post, and the comments.
    I feel like I should say something profound, but I don’t have a pearl of wisdom…
    I feel comfortable with the way I blog, with sharing Holly’s name and a lot of our life. Maybe i’ll change my opinion if I ever get burned from it…
    But my gut say’s what I’m sharing for now is ok. I like to listen to my gut 🙂

  19. Stacy
    28th May 2013 / 9:22 am

    Such an interesting read and thought provoking too. Sort of relieved that I have missed this sharenting stage as mine are now in their teens and I don’t have to deliberate whether I shared too much about their younger years. We are all proud of out little ones, we want to share photos and their funny little antics and I don’t see there is any harm in this. Advice on parenting is such a help and wish there had been more of this when mine were young, as I’m sure I may have mastered a few things better drawing from other parents experiences. Knowing how my children have developed and changed, especially from 11 onwards, I would say, consider them as people not product and a person rather than an article. The early years are a wonderful stage for both parent and child and the adoration is mutual, but this does change when they are in their teens as they become naturally self focussed, and they are exposed to over exposure enough with today’s technology. Food for thought…what if our children started writing blogs about parents when they were in their teens, do you think we may be horrified, would we feel paranoid? So definitely, consider what to write as children become grown-ups with as much to say as we do. Make the most of them when they are young, spend time making them feel special,make wonderful memories with family and friends, this will make the future full of love and laughter.

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