Parenting in the Age of Facebook

A photo by Kate Picton of Avi and his father Shannon Clark

A photo by Kate Picton (http://www.pictonphotography.com) of Avi and his father Shannon Clark

Recently Slate posted an editorial about the steps a parent is taking to keep his children off the Internet – not just to keep them off, but to keep any references, photos or tags of them from social media sites.

On Facebook I posted how I disagree completely with this approach to parenting.

As a new father, my wife and I have benefitted greatly from sharing our parenting experience with our friends and family on Facebook, Google+ and other social media networks. My post on Facebook was limited to my friends there, one of whom, Christian Perry of SF Beta asked that I write this post for SF Beta.

Here is, edited a bit, what I posted to my friends on Facebook. It sparked quite a discussion there.

If you are my friend here on Facebook you clearly see I’m not following this approach. I think it is actually short sighted.

Given a generation raised digitally the impact of baby photos on future collage applications will be trivial but the value in just a few short years of being connected digitally to a world of friends and family is massive.

And the value is for my wife and I as well as for our son. As he grows older he will be able to see comments from his grandparents and great grandparents on his baby photos – given that his great grandparents are in their 90’s they may not be around when he is a teenager.

As well his extended family is a global family – with family across the US and relatives around the globe.

My wife and I both grew up without a lot of childhood photos and few if any videos. I want to give my son digital memories of his childhood.

Equally being connected even briefly via “likes” has been hugely helpful for my wife and I remaining sane and calm as new parents.

Sure we get some unsolicited advice and spark debates amongst our friends about our decisions but one that I do not regret in the least is sharing his photos and our life as parents with our friends and family.

Am I careful about what I post – sure, I try whenever possible to post photos with good light and the grandparents have asked for photos where his eyes are open (harder when he was a newborn but getting easier now that he is 8 weeks old) and I try to avoid photos of myself or my wife at our most sleep deprived.

But the idea that somehow baby photos we post now will haunt him in the future – or that facial recognition or data mining will somehow impact his college applications or future job applications is silly.

At the moment we are seeing the impact of a second generation growing up with ubiquitous connectivity – while Generation X grew up with the dawn of the Internet in the 1990’s, the Millennial generation is a mobile first generation where Internet connectivity is not just a given but increasingly an always available part of the core fabric of their lives.

Connectivity means more than just searching Wikipedia for school answers – it also means never having to leave old friends behind – unless you want to. It means growing up, as my nephew does, with grandparents half a world away teaching you their native language via Skype.

And it means a world where everyone assumes that nearly every moment of their lives is captured digitally.

As an employer I won’t hold an employee’s digital archive against them – in fact I will expect it. What would surprise and actually worry me would be an employee without a digital footprint.

And that is today – in ten years or twenty years I strongly believe it will be the children without a digital life, without connections to the fabric of friends and extended family who will be at the disadvantage when it comes time to apply to colleges and to jobs.

This may still be Facebook or, more likely, it will be whatever comes after Facebook, but it will be a history that stretches back decades and links my son to his family and to our friends (and to his friends).

This digital world will help him find his place – whatever his passions and interests. And the support this extended family will give him and my wife and I will have helped us all have a richer childhood.

Rich with love, feedback, care, attention and connections.

Of course there will be embarrassing moments – but it is those moments that make us laugh and that make us human.