My Facebook friends are Bobby’s biggest fans. He won’t always care about what my friends think, but I am happy to collect the good thoughts before he rejects adult opinions.
I am an unapologetic Facebook mama. I post pictures and stories about my 7-year-old son Bobby on a regular basis even though various studies suggest that children are sensitive to oversharing. I am not indiscriminate about what I share. I never post pictures of other people’s children without approval. When writing about Bobby, I focus on humorous anecdotes or milestones achieved, never using social media to humiliate or belittle him or anyone else. Certainly as Bobby gets older and more of his life becomes independent of mine I expect to curb my posts, allowing him to decide what he wants to announce. But for now, I don’t question my right to include him in my online presence.
Researchers behind the most recent study of children 10-17 say that these tweens and teens are embarrassed by their parents social media posts and want control over what is posted online. The findings aren’t surprising, mostly because achieving autonomy from parents is one of the main developmental goals of children that age. I suspect similar results could be gathered for any type of interaction between these children and their parents. I don’t see anything in the results to show that the posting is actually harmful, just that the practice is another one of many ways for parents to raise the ire of a 12-year-old.
I am not insensitive to Bobby’s need to express his point of view and control his environment. I listen to his preferences and complaints. He has never been asked to hug anyone out of social obligation. He has autonomy over his body. We have switched his school because he was unhappy and not responding to the environment there. A veteran of many medical procedures, he has a well earned anxiety at medical appointments. I coach the nurses and doctors to interact with him in a way that reduces his stress.
But Facebook posts? Children need to learn that desirable traits exist on a spectrum. I want Bobby to observe the difference between right and wrong, but I don’t want a tattletale who can’t tolerate a small breach of rules. I want Bobby to have enough self-esteem to stand up for himself, but I don’t want a bad sport who takes himself too seriously. Toward that end, I am not going to be afraid to post a playful picture of him on Facebook.
As part of building Bobby’s self-esteem, I want him to get lots of positive feedback about being the boy he is. Bobby has Down syndrome. Up until now, his peer interactions have been overwhelmingly positive, but over time he is likely to feel some increased self-consciousness about his differences to other children. He’s going to get teased and quite possibly bullied.
Many of those same teens and tweens who are mortified by their parents’ Facebook posts react that way because they are hyper-sensitive to the judgment of their peers. They are driven to conform. So before Bobby hits puberty and soaks up that typical but damaging message, I want him to have a view of himself as awesomely unique. My Facebook feed is an homage to that fact. My Facebook friends are Bobby’s biggest fans. He won’t always care about what my friends think, but I am happy to collect the good thoughts before he rejects adult opinions. Its one of many ways that I stress to him that different is beautiful.
Finally, I post about Bobby on Facebook because it’s fun for me. As mentioned above, as he moves toward increased independence I will not be logging his every move on social media. But for now, I spend a great deal of time taking him to school, to therapy, to fun activities.
It’s my choice, and I am not the mother to hold my every sacrifice over his head. But maternal martyrdom also exists on a spectrum. If he and I spend the morning at the zoo and I tolerate the little dramas and inevitable complaints that come with any outing, I am fine with allowing myself the gratification of posting a cute picture of him petting a goat. It leaves me with a positive feeling about a day that otherwise tested my patience.
To be sure, I do understand some of the concerns about overposting. For one, I want Bobby to operate with the rule that he won’t post pictures of his friends without their consent. In that regard, I am not setting a great example. But many boundaries between parents and children are looser than between children and people outside their family. This is just another case that will need to be explained. And per the above, I do ask permission of people outside our family.
If Bobby comes to me in a few years and wants me to stop posting, I will negotiate not because I think my posts are harmful, but because it’s an important chance to teach compromise within a relationship. I will also reconsider if the first generation of Facebook children still believe the posting was harmful when they are 25 instead of 15. But for me, teens and tweens being embarrassed by their parents posting about them seems like a reach of an argument. I just don’t see any harm—and, in fact, see some potential good—to the social media stories I tell about Bobby.
Anne Penniston Grunsted writes about parenting, disability, and family life from her perspective as a lesbian mama. She has been published in The Washington Post, Brain, Child Magazine, Mamamia, and won the 2014 Nonfiction prize from Beecher’s Magazine. She lives in Chicago with her partner and son.