Growing up in southwestern Pennsylvania, my wife, Abby often visited a local elementary school playground with her dad. For the trip, they would bring some food and sheets of wax paper, the latter of which was used to hasten the trip down the playground’s slides. After that, he would hoist her up onto the monkey bars and Abby would say, “daddy, watch this!” They would then swing on the swings, she pumping her arms and legs to go higher and he standing by, just in case. After a full day at the playground, Abby couldn’t wait to share her stories with her mom and big brother.
In my corner of Pennsylvania, I indulged in those few big snow days we would get each year. The kind of snow that thickly blankets the ground and keeps cars in their driveways. On more than one occasion, my dad, my little sister and I trudged through that snow right down the middle of the road. Word around the neighborhood was that a local pizza shop remained the only place open for miles, and we were heading to grab a bite to eat.
How proud and mischievous and connected with my dad and sister I felt when schlepping through the knee-deep snow. And upon returning home, our stories of snowy adventure and steamy pizza lived in the space between us and my mom.
Were Abby or I children today, our dads would probably bring along their smartphones. And instead of challenging ourselves on the monkey bars or telling jokes in the snow-softened streets, we would strike poses. Our dads might then share these playground trips and carefree snow days with hundreds – maybe thousands if our dads were popular – of strangers. And given how photogenic we are, Abby’s Instagrammed acrobats on the monkey bars, and of my and my sister’s Facebooked shuffles down the middle of the snow-packed street might have made us social media child stars.
Social media followers would no doubt “like” and “share” and “comment” on these photos. Then our dads’ latent narcissism would blow up like puffer fish, and our intimate family memories would transform into productions for the creepy social media stage.
Yet luckily, nearly all of us over the age of 25 can share our childhood stories with whomever and however we like. Sadly, this isn’t so with younger people today.
Taken too far, “sharing” children’s experiences online can harm their relationships and well-being. Like when a mother thought her son’s tantrum was so funny that she cajoled him into throwing another one just so she could videotape it. Plus, how are we to know what will embarrass our kids once they’re teenagers or young adults?
To help preserve a sane, healthy childhood for all kids, we have some options:
- We can prod the social media giants to bring techy fixes, like the ability to select who gets to see which of our posts.
- We could also go easy on choreographing a production of kids’ childhoods. We’re grown up and can – sometimes – make rational decisions about what and how we share things with others. But kids have little say on what gets shared, or they’re too impressionable to discern what might or might not be appropriate to share with strangers.
- Or just maybe we could stop living through our smartphones and start living in the moment.