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  • Deah Curry PhD

Internet Boundaries and Your Kids

I spend a lot of time online — much of it on social media. Sad but true. And it amazes me how so many parents seem to take great liberties with talking about their kids and grandkids.

This is not a good idea. In fact, it might almost border on child abuse. Here’s why I think that.

What’s On The Internet Stays On The Internet

The internet is a vast community bulletin board that never gets cleaned off. So the stories and pictures you post about 2 year old Susie being allergic to everything, and 10 year old Johnny having a bullying problem, or the laments and prayer requests you make to help your 20-something granddaughter get her life together, have the potential of being found by future employers who won’t want to take the risk of hiring trouble.

You can’t count on people to use logic and understand developmental phases. You can’t even count on people to fully read the details and comprehend the context of what you have written. But you can count on the negatives to stick in consciousness longer than the positives. That’s just how memory works.

It’s not fair to your kids to share information about them that they haven’t given permission to be shared, especially when what seems cute or worrisome to you could spoil their chance for something great in their future life.

My advice — Keep those stories for live dinners with just family. And maybe still ask permission to share.

Public Shaming Can Do Life-Long Damage

Another reason to not talk about your kids online is that you really can’t know what they might perceive as you being publicly critical and judgmental. What you think is cute could feel deeply humiliating to them.

Kids with a shame-prone personality can and do internalize the slightest negative comment as profound ridicule, and interpret themselves as being no good, and worse. Children who grow up feeling like they, at the most fundamental level of their being, are seen as no good, awkward, someone to be laughed at, or pitiful have a very hard time in school, in relationships, and in professional life.

That’s not the message you want your kid to carry with them for life, is it?

No, of course not. But the problem is, what you might think is innocent, may feel really hurtful or embarrassing to your kids. The safest thing to do is to just not talk about your kids online. Ever. Period.

Kids Have Privacy Rights Too

As much as we therapists tell our clients to know what is going on in their children’s lives, and as much as other institutions like law enforcement and schools tell us that parents need to be more involved, the best parent / child relationships are developed from a place of mutual respect for boundaries and privacy.

Setting the expectation for respect can start with taking a position that you won’t share anything openly on the internet about your kids until they are old enough to say it’s okay. And you might be surprised the avenues for honest discussion it can open with kids of all ages to be consulted about what you’d like to share about them.

Just like you wouldn’t want your teens to laugh or complain in public about your more embarrassing, inelegant, hurtful, challenging, or ugly habits and problems, they don’t want you to do that to them. In a very real sense when it comes to public documentation of even their young lives, children’s struggles and antics do not belong to you just because you are the parent.

I know that may be a hard concept to grasp. I’ll wait while that sinks in a bit more.

The most successful parents I know have been those who saw their children as individuals rather than personal possessions of the adults. Not to get all spiritual and philosophic here, but children do not exist as an extension of adults.

The stories of their experiences do not belong to us to tell for our own social purposes. When this privacy boundary is held, it creates a stronger degree of trust between parent and child, which is what is needed for a troubled teen, especially, to be vulnerable enough with their emotions to talk to their parents when they need help.

When it comes to the internet, there is a very thin line — if a line exists at all — between being proud of your child and wanting to brag about them in a way that might make them feel good and enhance their future …… on the one hand …… and being worried about them and seeking support and advice from strangers in an arena that can be much less than empathetic, on the other hand.

So my vote is to think several times before posting about your kids online. It’s for their own good.

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