There was a day when one of my fashion accessories talked back. It told me to take a hike. I had said something about it on Facebook or Twitter or snapped a picture of it for Instagram and it was none too pleased. It said it to me nicely enough, but the point was clear: cut it out.
I’ve been learning social media as I go. We all have. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the rest have added something new, something original, to the human experience. We are adapting as we go, learning how to use these things well and learning how not to use them badly. We learn by success and by failure. But we do learn over time. At least I hope we do.
When my children were young and very young, I enjoyed telling people about them through these social media channels. I enjoyed sharing their quirks and foibles, their little triumphs and their little follies. Sometimes I wrote about them and sometimes I snapped pictures of them. It was harmless, I thought. And mostly it was.
But I see it now: Some of these photos weren’t for you or for them—they were for me. My kids were accessories to me, a way of making me look good in your eyes or making me feel good about myself. I would only share the details of their lives and times that helped me in some way. I was using my kids as a kind of fashion accessory, what the dictionary defines as “a thing that can be added to something else in order to make it more useful, versatile, or attractive.” That was it! I was using my kids to somehow make myself more attractive. It was all about me.
But then that day came when I said something about one of them—nothing terrible, nothing humiliating, but something that would have been better to keep quiet. Later that day we went to church and someone brought it up. “Hey, your dad said on Twitter that …” or “I saw that Instragram of you in the …” Embarrassment ensued. Awkwardness. And later, a plea to dad to cut it out, to not use social media in this way again.
And it was then that I realized I had been treating my children as just an extension of myself. When they were babies it was easy enough to tell people about them, knowing they would never know or care what I said or who knew. But then they got a little bit older, and then a lot older. They made a transition into maturity and independence. They didn’t want to be my accessory anymore, to have me publicize what they had said or what they had done. And it was no longer fair of me to treat them that way. It’s not that I can’t say anything about them or share a picture of them, but that at some point it is only fair to ask their permission, to let them in on it, to make them equals, not accessories.
Parents, have an exit plan. Make the transition before they need to beg you to. We love to see pictures of your baby when he is born. We love to see pictures of your daughter when she takes her first steps. We love to hear about the ridiculous things they say when learning to form words and thoughts and ideas. But at some time they will be their own people and those cute things will become private things. Those cute pictures will be family pictures. At some point your kids may no longer find it fun.