This is a post I’ve been writing off and on for quite some time. Every time I see a parent post a video of her doped up kid after a dental appointment or a Facebook post attempting to shame a kid into good behavior, I cringe. One of the primary responsibilities of a parent is to protect her children, not expose them. (Another primary responsibility is to correct them when needed, but unless it absolutely can’t be avoided, that should be in private.)
I understand why some people think of public shaming as discipline, even if I don’t agree with. A kid’s foolishness can have long lasting consequences. In our desire to keep them from hurting themselves, we hope a little shock therapy and public shaming will get through their thick skulls because we’ve talked ourselves blue and dammit why won’t you listen to reason. I get it. But what’s the cost of a (perhaps temporary) behavioral change when compared to the damage to the relationship and the broken trust and respect?
There’s also the idea that since kids shame and embarrass us in front of others, we should return the favor. Because you’re the adult, that’s why.
But even more worrying than the shame/discipline is the tendency to use the private and even intimate moments of kids as fodder for entertainment: for Facebook likes, retweets, and viral videos that can be monetized. That seems to me to be very clearly exploitative. My children belong to me, but I don’t own them. Likewise, I belong to them. We belong to each other, but we don’t own one another. I don’t own my spouse or my parents. I don’t own any human being. (Theological aside: As a Christian, I don’t own myself, either, a fact I find very comforting. “You are not your own, for you bought with a price.” 1 Corinthians 6:10b-20a)
What I do have (part) ownership of is a relationship. The belonging is in the relationship, they are my sons and daughters, but they are their own persons — or God’s. But because of that special relationship, I have a unique insight into their lives and a window into their intimate moments. That position comes with a responsibility to be respectful. When I expose their intimate moments, I’m hurting that relationship as well as my child. I’m saying that their privacy and dignity isn’t as important as my momentary popularity with strangers. There’s another verse in Corinthians about “those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty.” (1 Corinthians 12:23) The same principle applies to our relationships: the more vulnerable and intimate the moments shared, the more honor and respect we should have. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t mean upload it to YouTube.
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But I also cringe when parents post intimate moments. A couple of examples (that I’m not going to link to, Google if you must): The first is when a young man — maybe 11 or 12 — learns that his mom is pregnant. He’s reading a letter on camera, and is so overjoyed he begins crying. Another video shows a similarly aged boy bursting into tears — not of joy — when he finds out his new sibling is going to be yet another girl.
Both of these moments — one beautiful, one disappointing — are extremely private. Both of these young men are at particularly vulnerable times in their lives when cruel and foolish kids will use their tears as a weapon against them. But even if they are surrounded by wonderful, understanding, empathetic junior high students (BWAHAHAHA!), those moments are private. Those reactions are personal. They aren’t owned by the parent behind the camera any more than the kid is owned by him. What right have we to take that moment and blast it out for the world to see?
Does that mean I don’t think parents should never post anything about their kids? Obviously, no. But what about things like “Reasons my son is crying”? Honestly, I don’t know. I think that’s probably mostly okay. And a lot of that depends on the kid. I have a child who that sort of attention would crush, and one who would get a kick out of it. I love when parents share moments like Ella singing Elvis and the girl with much wisdom. I think ultimately the line between voyeuristic exploitation and sharing from a heart of goodwill and respect is probably a lot clearer than we think — if we give it any thought at all.
What do you think? What’s off limits to post of another person — especially a kid?