Last week, my son had his photo taken on Santa's lap. It was a really cute picture. His hair was sort of messy, his shirt slightly wrinkled, but his face was a giant, upturned grin. As soon as I had that photo in my hands, I paused with indecision. To post or not to post? Instagram? Facebook? Twitter?
I decided, "No," to all three, and instead placed the photo in a frame by my TV, unshared, un-tweeted, and un-"like"ed.
The indecisive pause happens more frequently these days. When he was born, I'd only been on Twitter a few months and Instagram hadn't yet been invented. That proud parental urge to share his pudgy little face with the world was unmarred by questions of internet safety. I posted photos of him all day long. A funny yawn, a cute smile, a messy bout with yams all hastily made their way onto the internet.
As he's grown, I've grown in my awareness of what happens when a photo is posted to the internet, who has access to it, and how long it will be there in the tangled web. As a result, I'm more cautious about what I post, more infrequent in what I share.
We talk about ways to avoid predators and offer internet tips for keeping kids safe online from identity theft. I keep any photos where he might be partially (though harmlessly) nude, off of the internet. I don't write anything about where we're going until we've already been there and back. Though I use his real name, it's not the one we typically say in person, and he probably wouldn't respond to a stranger who called him that. More recently, I've begun to post photos without his face, photos wherein he's looking down or away. I try to consider online safety when I post anything. But, my concerns are heavily weighted in another direction.
When I talk about my son online, my biggest concern is removing his autonomy in deciding what of himself he'd like to share. He's a little cuddly thing now, but one day he'll be grown, and he'll have to contend with a whole internet trail of my oversharing. I have the option of personally vetting what information about myself I post online, but by sharing about my son, I remove a bit of his ability to do the same.
Part of my problem is that there's a foggy line between sharing my son's story, and sharing about my son as a piece of my story. It would be difficult for me to talk about my daily life while leaving him out completely. I try very hard to speak about only my experiences as a parent rather than telling too much of his experiences in his childhood. I want to be sure that what I'm sharing is my own, and that if and when he one day finds it on the internet, he doesn't feel overexposed. Thinking about things this way also keeps my motivation in check. Am I just being authentic about my experiences, or am I using my son as a means to garner attention or gain a reputation of expertise?
Sometimes I slip up, of course. Occasionally I invite everyone to join in laughing with me about some cute thing he's done. As with so much of parenting, I'm learning as I go. But, I continually remind myself that I haven't yet faced regret for sharing too little.
Liz Moorhead is an English teacher-turned-writer and illustrator. She paints stationery, writes for a top wedding site, and blogs at Happy Sighs between walks to the park with her two boys.