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06/08/2020 The Communication Science magazine

Parenting in the digital age

Parenting is and always has been hard. With social media nowadays, it hasn’t become easier. Would you want your kids to develop a digital footprint earlier than they develop the ability to speak?


As our lives get increasingly digitized, parents’ relationships with their children are further mediated by how both parties interact with social media. From monitoring their children through online platforms to building a career based on their children, the Internet has given parents a new tool to share their children’s lives to not only their friends and relatives, but also strangers. Consequently, parents today have much to think about when it comes to their children’s personhood and privacy.

A digital archive of your child
As a child who grew up with the massive onset of social media, it’s rather common to see your face plastered on your parents’ social media. In fact, it’s a prevalent experience—a 2010 study held by AVG shows that 81% percent of infants under the age of 2 in participating countries already have a digital footprint. Some parents even go further, with 23% of children having digital footprints before birth through pictures of sonograms.

Many parents love to take pictures of their kids, and it’s never been easier to do so. Almost every parent has a smartphone or a digital camera; with a few taps and you’ll get a picture of your child. While some parents prefer cloud-based services such as Google Drive or Dropbox to store these memories, some choose to immortalize their children’s birth and growth through social media platforms such as YouTube or Instagram.

News broke out in early January that the then-unborn daughter of influencers Kyler and Madison Fisher already had an Instagram account, racking up tens of thousands followers before her birth. As of now, Halston Blake’s Instagram (with 392K followers and counting!) is filled with adorable photoshoots and pictures of the child. Furthermore, fans of the influencer family could also see Halston Blake’s birth on YouTube, as the family has dutifully photographed and videoed the moments leading up to and after her birth. While most families would resort to home videos and photos snapped on their phones, many influencers, especially those who capitalize on being parents, choose to document every iota of their children’s lives.

Children who have had their entire lives documented would grow up with exact timestamps of their birth, and countless pictures showing their growth as time passes. It’s a significant change from previous generations, as more and more parents are now setting up digital archives of photographs and videos to ensure that their children would have reminders of their childhood and adolescence. With parents posting more content of their children, children will literally have a digital trail of their growth to look back on as the years pass. But the ethics of exposing (some might even say exploiting) your child’s privacy and personal history for Internet fodder is a question that also concerns scholars and parents alike.

An ethical dilemma
A Washington Post essay details how a mother reacts to her daughter’s upset reaction of seeing herself being featured on many of her mother’s writings. In defense, she writes that “[…] amputating parts of my experience feels as abusive to our relationship as writing about her without any consideration for her feelings and privacy”. While this may seem like a reasonable defense, it is worth considering that the person she’s writing about is her 14-year-old daughter. Children’s lives do not exist for public consumption; parents who often draw from their children’s experiences and stories walk a fine line between intruding on their children’s privacy and utilizing their freedom of speech much like everyone else. After all, children are still people; they have a right to their own privacy, and they may disapprove of their parents’ actions.

Another ethical dilemma is when their children are so thoroughly featured in paid partnerships with major brands. For example, the Fisher twins can earn their parents from $10,000 to $50,000 per sponsorship post, depending on the platform (YouTube or Instagram). Considering that children are still minors, it’s worth questioning whether the amount of hours that influencer parents devote towards photoshoots, videos, and sponsored content their children feature in can be counted as hours of work for the children as well. They will grow up with the sense that what they do mostly consists of performance, whether it’s for their parents or the ever-present camera. With any shred of anonymity gone, how will these children adapt if they decide, as adults, that they dislike and disapprove of their entire childhood being open to strangers for consumption and enjoyment?

These are difficult questions that many parents still struggle to answer. While several countries have set up ‘right to be forgotten’ laws (where children can sue their parents for posting private information and pictures of them), many others lack the protection these children may need. In the meantime, parents should attempt to discuss their offspring’s digital presence with their own children.

Cover: Unsplash/Tim Gouw

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