Social media is awash with adorable pictures and videos of kids. Babies are often barely out of their mother’s womb before the sweet pic is posted and shared. Cute, smart, funny and angry kids are now routinely on display. But is this really as harmless as most parents think? Or could the ever-growing public attention interfere with your son or daughter’s experience of being with you?
They’re too young to know what I’m doing, you may tell yourself. Or, they’re not allowed on social media, so they don’t know when they’re being laughed at or if they’re being praised. Yes, the specific post may not be in their direct awareness, but your child’s sense of you accumulates over time.
Kids experience their parents in a variety of ways. They can see, hear, touch, and smell them. They also absorb their moms and dads emotionally. All of us, outside our conscious awareness, pick up cues from the people we know. We can feel it when loved ones are stressed, distracted, and only partially listening to what we have to say.
Kids are aware of this as well, even if they’re too young to say so. They know, deep inside, when you’re not fully focused on them. Feeling repeatedly sidelined as parents frequently check messages and answer texts could, over time, impact the parent-child relationship and maybe even affect the child’s inner sense of self.
The beep, buzz, or tune that alerts you to an incoming message could actually have the unintended effect of signaling your kids that they no longer have your undivided attention. As parents become more engrossed in their phones, siblings aren’t the only potential rivals in the house. How will kids process the contrast between competing with the phone for mom and dad’s interest and the more superficial accolades of how pretty, handsome, smart, and wonderful they are?
I saw a video on Facebook, recently, of a child throwing a temper tantrum. He looked right into the camera as his mother videoed the outburst. The comments were funny and everyone had a good laugh at how difficult kids can be. And I’m sure the mom felt a lot of support which was, of course, great for her.
Interacting with children through the camera lens, though, is a step removed from directly interacting with them. Making private moments public alters the experience of the private moment.
This kind of chronicling and commenting on kids has never been done before. What does line after line of exaggerated praise teach kids about pride in themselves versus seeking the approval of others? Could there be too much basking in the glow of a child’s achievements? At what point does “sharing” become bragging, and what will kids make of this habit as they grow up?
We won’t know for some time what it will mean to a child’s psychological development to be on such on-going display. So restraint seems wise for now.
- Don’t dive into your phone until kids are in bed
- Post about your children infrequently
- Keep private moments private
Loren Buckner, LCSW is a psychotherapist in private practice in Tampa, Fl. She is the author of ParentWise: The Emotional Challenges of Life and How to Deal With Them
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