Friday, January 24, 2014

Social Media and Dignity- When does sharing go too far?

"I had to go out in that storm to round up our horses, because my husband was too drunk AGAIN to do it. Pretty much like every other night."  a mother at our playgroup for kids birth to age 5 added to the conversation. She was mostly speaking to me as I was at the table with her, but her response to the horrible thunderstorm that had gone through our area was completely audible to the entire room. Everyone shifted awkwardly in their seats, and eyes lowered to the floor. I muttered something about "Sorry to hear that", or maybe it was "That must be hard." I don't quite remember. It was a good ten years ago that this occurred.  I don't remember exactly what I said back, but I think I said something to ease the tension.  I hated the feeling of all the momma judgement in the room.   It was only a decade ago, but long enough for social protocol to have shifted for what was private, intimate information, and what was okay to be shouted to a room of acquaintances. This woman's very private proclamation was socially awkward, and made the entire room uncomfortable. The social atmosphere was not one of best friends, and this private information was violating the small talk conversation style that was happening at the time.

This was life pre-social media.

Now seems to be the age of over-sharing  How many times do we come across Facebook posts, and tweets about subject matter that we would have never shared with a group of virtual strangers 10 years ago? We seem to have forgotten about the circle of familiarity rule. Suddenly, everyone's private life is in our face with information that we used to save for family, and close friends.

There's a specific kind of over-sharing that makes me particularly cringe.
It's when parents post about their children revealing embarrassing information. This is especially applicable to parents who have children with special needs like autism.  Many parents (including myself) have blogs, and facebook pages based on our lives with autism. It's a great way to connect with other parents, and foster a sense of  community over all of our kid's similarities.  Blogging, and sharing on my page is one of my favorite things to do. I'm not knocking it, by any means.  It's been a literally life changing for me to connect with so many others that understand, and support each other.

But, when does sharing our commonalities with the intention of some kind of camaraderie, support, and maybe even soliciting a "me too!" moment from someone who thought they were alone go too far?  When does it cross the line into violating our children's rights to have their private moments kept... well private?

That seems to be the million dollar question, and one that I am certain I can't fully answer here. What I can do is bring up a few points to get you thinking.

To some people just sharing their children's pictures on a public page is too much. I see their point. Their child didn't consent for their photo to be shared all over the internet.  Personally, I don't find it to be terribly intrusive to a person's rights, as long as the context is respectful.

Others talk about their child's struggles, like inability to do this or that. This is where things get gray for me.  I think that I may have been guilty of over-sharing in this instance more than once. This is where I defy all old-school psychologists, and use my imaginative empathy skills to consider the situation from all angles.  I think about what I would feel like if my mother had shared the bit of information about me to the public that I am about to post. I really think about it, then I think about whether or not I would post something similar about my NT daughter who I know reads my blog from time to time.  I basically assume that at some point my boys might grow up, and read what I am writing about them. I think about how they will feel about what I'm about to post. If I feel that it might feel violating then I decide to keep it to myself.

As a quick rule of thumb, I don't post things on my public FB page, this blog, or Twitter  that I would not announce out loud at a restaurant, grocery store, or any other place that has a massive amount of complete strangers looking on. Subjects detailing their sexual development, and habits are not to be discussed on my public, or private FB page. That is not a community type of discussion. That doesn't mean that if I need support, or advice I can't consult a friend. Just sharing my children's masturbation habits (as an example that I have seen posted publicly!) to share is not okay. Details regarding potty accidents, and bed wetting is also something that in most contexts is not something that one should share publicly just to share. Sometimes, we do like to share to get ideas, and advise from other parents who have been there, but again... that is different than making a post on FB about wet sheets, or poopy pants. Another one that is iffy is sharing extremely odd behaviors that are very off-putting to most people. That could be very embarrassing to your child that you're sharing these things with people.  Again, I run it by my NT teen test. If I think she would get upset and embarrassed about the sharing if the post was about her, then I have to concede the same rights to my boys, verbal, and nonverbal. Literate, or not.

And, this is where we sum it up with why. I have made this post from a lot of experiences, and conversations from many different people over the last few months.  One of the things that came up was whether or not Beans will ever read what I write, and understand it. I think the jury is out on whether he can read.  I don't think so, but I simply don't know for sure. I also am not sure that he'd understand it if it were read to him.  My rule is to always pretend he can, and will.  Not in an overly optimistic kind of way, but in the way that I'm not talking about him in a manner that he would find undignified. I can't tell if he understands much of what we say, but I always pretend he can. I decide to be sure to never speak to him, or in front of him in a way that would make him feel less than, or invisible. In any event, the whole point of this post is that it doesn't matter if he never reads, knows, or understands a things I write about him. Ability to understand does not diminish his humanity, and with that humanity is the right to be respected.  One of the ways we show respect to others is by allowing them their privacy.  My boys have the right to dignity, and to have their private lives kept private.  Overriding that ourselves, and putting it all out there on the internet is wrong even if they cannot ever consent. The internet is forever, and what goes out can never be taken back.


  1. I often wonder if my daughter is going to freak when she sees the stuff I've posted about her. I've really just posted cute pics and stories of her being a funny kid. I can't imagine some of the things I see others posting coming back into view of the children.

    1. I wonder the same thing. Like you, I try to be reasonable, but respectful. I'm sure my kids won't always like everything I post about them, but I should never trade their dignity for FB likes!


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