New parents spend an obsessive amount of time thinking through the many details that could affect the long-term well being and identity of their child. From the food the mother eats during pregnancy, to the name chosen at birth, to choices around where to buy a house based on school districts; painstaking details are considered when trying to create a path of future success for their child. But today, parents are making daily decisions that create a lasting and sometimes adverse consequences: they post on social media.
There have been plenty of articles written about the fact that the name you give your child can affect everything from how socially accepted they are to their future career path. As parents, we take tons of time Googling to find the best name, buying books to explore all the options and spend hours debating the merits of one name or another. With so much thought put into one little word, its perplexing to think about the lack of thought being put into all the words and images parents are posting about their children online every day.
Millions of proud parents post pictures, accomplishments, adorable and not so adorable quotes from their children on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Most parents know by now that they need to be careful around how social media can become a permanent, sometime hazardous, record of their own life. What most parents are not spending the time to think about is the indelible identity they are creating for their child - before their child even has a say in it.
The fact is we live in a world where a person’s life can be catalogued via social media from the first ultrasound image to the first step to the first date. Parents are using social media to share their parenting moments without really thinking about the fact that they are also creating an online record of their child’s life as well as their own. Sure, when the child is an adorable infant it seems harmless enough. But what happens as those babies turn into tweens and start creating their own identities? Are parents posting on their own behalf or that of their child?
Today’s online profiles are used for everything from college entrance evaluations, to career recruiting to dating. What will your child’s profile say about them and how will others use it to make life-altering decisions about them? What decisions would others make about you if they know all the “precious” moments of your childhood years were available to peruse?
Let’s talk through a few examples I’ve regularly seen:
The Political Child: Parents posting photos of their children at a political rally or decked out in political wear.
The Privileged Child: Parents posting photos of their child in extravagant situations.
The Prejudiced Child: Parents posting photos or stories that are racially charged.
It may seem far fetched to think that these simple status updates can impact your child’s future but a recent Times Magazine article states that 25% of school officials have looked up applicants on Facebook or Google. The article goes on to explain that colleges use it as a way to find out who the applicant really is. This is the same thing I hear from recruiters and even my friends when they are dating. It is human nature to try to learn as much as we can about someone we are genuinely interested in.
As parents we contribute so much to the people our children become. Unfortunately, we also possess unintentional biases about our children. There’s the smart child, the athletic child, the popular child, the troublemaker. A decade or more of those biases can indelibly build an online picture of a person that you see your child to be rather than allowing them the space to define the person they see themselves to be. When things as important as colleges, careers and future spouses are on the line, it may be worth a couple of thoughtful reviews of how parents are documenting their child’s life online.
The world of social media is powerful. I advise brands every day on how to think through their social media identity and strategy. It is not about being un-authentic or holding back. But it is about being thoughtful and putting your best foot forward for the whole world to see, because they will see it. In a world that captures comments without context and pictures are tagged by others; time, care and attention has to be paid to perception because in the world of social media that perception is the reality.