It’s back to school week for many of us and you know what that means! Loads of photos on Facebook of children in their school uniform, standing in front of their front doors, big smiles on their faces. It’s become a marker in the social media calendar, along with posting photos of your Christmas tree and snapping/sharing your first Pimm’s of the summer.
In fact, a new study has revealed that by the time a child reaches the age of 5, their parents will have shared an average of 1498 photos of them, online. I took part in a discussion on BBC Radio 5 Live, earlier this week (listen here if you fancy) and the focus was on whether parents should be more careful when they’re sharing photos of their kids online. Apparently 8% of parents have public Facebook accounts and 85% of parents haven’t checked their privacy settings for over a year.
As you may have noticed, I don’t share many photos of my daughter on here, or on public social media, and any photos that I do share are of her from the side or behind. Why? Because I feel pretty strongly that she is a person who has the right to decide what her online presence is. We all grew up before the internet was widely used, so we, as older teenagers or young adults, decided how much of ourselves to put online. I don’t think it’s fair to take that decision away from someone. I do share photos of my daughter on Facebook – where I’ve got high security settings, and I’m comfortable with that. We’re the first generation of parents in this social media mad world, and honestly? I think we need to really think long and hard about the effects of giving our kids an online footprint. But, as I said on BBC Radio 5 Live, this is just one of many decisions we make as a parent, and we all feel strongly about different things, so naturally we’re not all going to agree on everything.
But security settings aside, I’ve noticed another trend emerge. People have become almost apologetic about sharing photos of their kids on Facebook. This week, my feed has been full of school photos and a “Obligatory school photo” caption, as if we’re trying to be one step ahead of anyone who might be rolling their eyes at yet another photo of a child on Facebook. Hey, don’t slag me off, it’s obligatory OK, and I’m acknowledging that.
If Facebook is a platform for sharing (OK, showing off about) our achievements and notable moments in life, then why are we apologetic when those moments centre around our children? Sadly, it seems to be because as a society, we still belittle parenthood. When I had my daughter back in 2010, I vowed not to become a baby bore. I panicked at the thought of my child-free friends labelling me as one of those parents who posted endless photos of their baby on Facebook. I genuinely restricted the number of photos I posted or how many status updates were about my baby/motherhood/how knackered I was.
But here’s the thing: I’ve never stopped myself from posting about a job promotion or a career achievement or when Mr P passed his exams for teacher training or when we moved into our new house. And that’s because I knew that, for the most part, my Facebook friends would be pleased for me. When it comes to parenthood, it seems to be acceptable to roll your eyes and say “Have you seen how many photos and updates about her children she’s been posting?”
We appear to reserve a special kind of disdain for oversharing parents. Which is crazy when you think about what a huge achievement it is to a) actually get pregnant b) give birth c) get through those early days of parenthood with your sanity in tact d) navigate parenthood until your child is old enough to go to school. I’m pretty sure there are more achievements ahead, but since my daughter is five-nearly-six, I haven’t experienced them yet. Feel free to add in your own e) f) and g).
You might think it makes sense for parenthood to polarise us like this – it’s one of the few life choices that changes your outlook on everything. Of course people who don’t have kids don’t understand what it’s like to be a proud parent. But I think it runs deeper than that and dismissing parenthood and what parents share online is – in my opinion – linked to the problems we have here in the UK with the gender pay gap, the low number of men taking shared parental leave and the ongoing battle for equality.
We don’t value parenthood enough in this country, which is why employers don’t try harder to make flexible working really work. It’s also why we scoff at the people who share proud parenting moments on social media. It all feels as unpleasant as the sickly sweet stench that fills the air when you walk past a branch of Lush (I jest of course. But I do hold my breath whenever I pass Lush).
We think that all of those other life achievements – the new home, the new car, the new job, getting married, even getting a year older and celebrating with 12 mojitos – are somehow more valid. Granted, people don’t tend to post every day about their new job, while they might post every day about family life – but that’s just it, when you become a parent, it becomes your life. So why shouldn’t you talk about it on Facebook? I think we need more tolerance of parents sharing their achievements and special moments. It’s the first step – the lowest building block – towards us valuing parenthood and recognising its important place in society. So let’s share and be proud.
I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments on this. I too have been consciously editing myself & not wanting to over share. It seems ridiculous because Facebook is purely for my close friends & family. I’ve actually found Instagram a more ‘comfortable’ platform for posting (mostly aerial view/cropped) pictures of my daughter; despite it being a significantly wider & less private audience than Facebook, most of my interactions are with like-minded parent folk who don’t roll their eyes! We all celebrate each other’s achievements. It’s quite saddening really, eh? S xx
That’s really interesting that you’ve found Instagram a more comfortable place to share – but it’s such a shame that that’s the case!
Well said! It makes me feel so sad when parents apologise for being proud. There is nothing obligatory about sharing these pictures, people share them because they blummin’ well want to and shouldn’t feel the need to give an excuse for that. Any parent knows what a big milestone it is and quite frankly it’s probably the only day of the school year where mine look so neat and tidy! Ha!
Snap! I actually ironed my daughter’s uniform on Day 1…
I don’t agree that it’s linked to the gender pay gap or the battle for equality – in fact gender at all – because I think that dads are just as conscious of how much they share on Facebook regarding their children, if not more so. That said I totally agree with you that we shouldn’t have to censor the fact that we’re proud parents for the sake of our personal Facebook. I think that what we aspects of our lives we choose to share with friends and family should be entirely down to us and if people don’t like it there’s really no need to be friends on social media. I think we read too much into Facebook ‘friendships’ these days, if I didn’t use Facebook for work I probably wouldn’t bother to have an account, it can be quite a puerile environment sometimes.
You’re right that dads are just as conscious about what they share, but it’s only very recently that dads have started taking an equal role in parenting – it’s traditionally the mum’s job (and for many this is still the case.) It’s thanks to the patriarchy that we dismiss motherhood (and in turn parenthood) and why employers don’t make as much effort as they should to support female employees who have children, and now that we have shared parental leave, male employees who might want a bigger part in raising their children.
So true. I am sometimes apologetic because I know I share photos of my kids quite often on FB. Then again, I use FB for family, not just friends. I think some people do grumble about all the first day of school pics, but I love seeing everyone’s pics. I am proud and amused at my children, and other kids too. 🙂 x
Interesting. I went to an internet safety talk at one of the schools I work in and one thing they told the parents was that they should ask their kids first if it’s OK to share a picture of them on social media. Obviously kids don’tnecessarily have the judgement to make these decisions but I thought it was a good idea as it gives them a bit of control. Now my daughter is 8, she is much more self aware and conscious of how she looks, and this seems to work with her. Not that I share a great deal on FB. We have a family stream to share all the stuff that no one else is interested in!
Hi Louise, that’s a really good point – although it might backfire as my daughter (5) is DESPERATE for her own YouTube channel! She keeps asking and asking. I’ve actually explained why, and so far she seems to have accepted it.
Good point – my sister is a head teacher and they often have internet safety experts in advising parents not to post their kids on social media unless their pages are set to private. It’s a tricky one – I too ask my kids if they’re up for it on the rare occasions I post them on a public SM profile.
You clearly have a connection with Mumsnet, as your blog was posted on the sidebar. Do you ever read the forums?! If so, you’ll quickly learn that your friends and family WILL get sick to the back teeth of your oversharing! Seriously, is nothing private any more? I’m of an age where I remember a time before all this social media nonsense, and guess what I coped perfectly well without it. I wonder how the heck my parents got us to adult hood, but yup they did, and generations before us. We don’t need to know this stuff, we don’t CARE! You’ll start to realise when your friends list gets shorter, or perhaps they’ll stay there, but won’t actually have a clue about your posts, because they’ll have the inane drivel blocked from their newsfeed.
It’s an achievement to get pregnant and give birth – REALLY?!!!!!!!!!!!!! The fact nowadays things have to be blogged, vlogged, Facebooked, Tweeted, Instragrammed and goodness knows what else shows what a pathetic and sad society we’ve become. It’s utterly tragic. You all need to get over yourselves, seriously. You’ve had unprotected sex and given birth, like people have been doing for years and years and years.
Hi Al, no connection with Mumsnet here. I tend to stay away from the forums as when I’ve dipped in, in the past, I’ve come across unpleasant people looking to make themselves feel better by putting others down.
I think lots of people share your views on nothing being private anymore – it’s really interesting how we all react differently to being the first generation of parents in this social media age. Such a shame though that you don’t regard getting pregnant and giving birth as an achievement. As someone who’s currently suffering from secondary infertility, I really do view the former as a huge achievement! For your body to do all the things it should to conceive is incredible. And the latter, well, I guess it depends on your birth experience but mine tells me that pushing a small human out of my body and still living to tell the tale deserves a mighty pat on the back. I also suffered from PND so just getting my daughter to her first birthday felt like a big achievement. That’s the thing about parenting though, isn’t it, our experiences are all different and it’s good to remember that. Have a great day!
oh for heaven’s sake. There is always one.
The beauty of being a human being is that we evolve and with that evolution comes a difference in how we do things. Whether that is inventing matches so we dont need to rub two rocks together, fashioning a wheel so we can roll our goods more easily or sending our children off to school having shared photographs.
My children were born overseas and many of their friends still live there, thank God for Facebook and being able to share our photos and see theirs too.
A beautifully crafted response! x
What a gracious responses. You’re a bigger woman than I. Bringing a human being into the world is an extraordinary achievement and just because it happens everyday and has been for millennia, doesn’t take away from that. As for Al’s comments, it’s ironic that he/she comments that she survived without social media for most of their life and made it to adulthood perfectly well, and yet has not only taken time to read this blog but to get wound up by it and comment on it too…!
Wow interesting that you find the need to be quite aggressive on such an interesting subject. We certainly are a society, compared to a European cousins like France, Italy, Denmark (actually pretty much scandinavia) where the adventure of parenthood is one to be celebrated, instead it seems to be belittled here, probably why the blogs that call out there 18month old dick heads seems to become a trend. Whether parenting is hard, easy or just part of everyday, everyone has as much right to celebrate and feel proud. It’s no different to people posting endless pictures of drunked thursday/friday/ four day bender weekend out and being ‘look how much fun my life is’ ….it’s interesting that this seems to have gotten you so rattled?!
As for pregnancy and giving birth an achivement then I am going to wonder now whether you are a mother/guy (can’t tell by the name) but after one birth and a world of PND and then three miscarriages of four babies it is a fucking miracle and one to be very proud of. Every individual person’s experience is totally different as in their journey, so maybe don’t paint it all with the sweeping statement for all brush.
Al, you are a prime example of why Mumsnetters get a bad rep. Full of rude, aggressive, judgmental loons. Be a love, and go and spout your drivel somewhere else? Ta.
Ummm, are on not on social media to see this post in the first place? Yup. Hilarious
I love this post Alison and really agree with a what you’re saying. It goes back to the whole “mum hating online” thing, for me. Your most recent comment on this post is a perfect example of that. I think it’s interesting that many dads don’t seem to get stick for sharing photos of their kids on social media – in fact, when dads do it’s often labelled cute and they get a big high five or shoulder pat for being a modern man. Whereas for many mums we get the eyeroll and the type of comments that Al (in the comments on this post) has made. Being a mum is a huge part of my life and for many mums who’ve been forced out of work after having kids (and I DO say forced – just look at the website Pregnant Then Screwed to see how women can be discriminated against in the workplace once they become a mother) the opportunities for career progression and subsequent Facebook “bragging” simply aren’t there. So, because they’re at home raising children, should they then become invisible? NO. You’re right, we all have as much right to a voice as anyone else regardless of gender, career, kids or no kids etc. I think social media’s given many women a voice when previously they’d have been silenced, which can only be a good thing. PS. I did the “obligatory school photo” thing and am now regretting putting that caption 🙁
I’ve lived in 3 different cities. Some of my favourite people live in different time zones. While I’m careful about details I share on more public social media. My Facebook is my personal space. This week along with thousands of other parents I shared a photo of my son on his first day back at school. Boring, obligatory maybe or a snapshot of him now, for people who don’t see him often. Don’t like, then scroll on. That is the beauty of social media, take it or leave it. However an awful lot people ‘liked’ the photo, I guess people do CARE.
While mine dont go to school, so no back to school photos here, I don’t live near my family (the closest are 200 miles away and my brother lives in the US) so I unashamedly share phtoos of my kids, as it keeps us all connected and I know my family and close friends want to see them. I love seeing friends photos of there kids, and of they post a zillion, its quite easy just to scroll past , no need to complain or eye roll 😉
Ooh this was super interesting, and I feel compelled to reply as I disagree with a few things and nearly took to Twitter and thought”ah this is why there is a comment section”! : ) was about to totally spam Twitter with my views!
So, as someone without kids, who is 40 and single I often see articles that mention that people without kids don’t know what it’s like to be a proud parent. But I disagree. I think it is really dependant on where someone falls on the empathy scale and also I think with age your feelings change. I feel such love for my friends’ children, I have a strong connection with many of them and I feel very proud of them. I also feel a sense of fear for children (refugee children stuck in camps for example) and a duty to do what I can to protect them. Not everyone is like this, I know.
Last week I wrote on Facebook, “share your first day of school pics please!” because I know some people are shy over over sharing. And I love those photos, ah they are gorgeous and really mark such a big occasion.
BUT there are people on Facebook who drive me crazy with the sharing of updates of their lives. And I think the point is WHY are some people over sharing photos of their children? As you say, with a new job or a birthday or a new house we all share a post or two. But I don’t understand the need to share every daily aspect of family life on social media. Whilst I know that life really changes once kids arrive I’d still love to hear personal thoughts and opinions from friends, not just for their feed to turn into an ongoing daily update about their kids. I think it’s just balance…..for people to ask themselves why they’re sharing so much? If we met up in person and these people spoke this much about their children it would be crazy, but they don’t – in real life they aren’t like it.
Yes, there is the option to scroll through if you don’t want to see the posts….but actually I’ve found it easier to just not engage with Facebook much anymore. I think the difficult point for me was when I came back from Calais volunteering , and I posted some things about it & 5 people engaged with it, but them when I posted a photo of me at a christening later that week 95 people liked the photo and there were loads of comments.
Another point is a friend recently admitted she dislikes Facebook now that she has adopted 2 girls, as no one really shares about the hard times (only in a jokey way) and so she feels she is seeing endless perfect photos, in stark contrast to the difficulties she is facing (and I’m sure many people are also facing but don’t want to post about). Which again makes me ask why do people post so much? When does pride cross over to being smugness. And where does the line cross, when people start living their lives through their children?
A ramble I’m sorry, but I hope of interest. I didn’t disagree with your whole pieces at all, but I hope maybe I’ve offered some calm thoughts from someone ”On the other side’ who admits to having moaned about this issue before : ) X
The only thing I don’t understand is that you say you post about family every day because it becomes your life “but that’s just it, when you become a parent, it becomes your life”. However, for a job, you only post when you get the new job or a promotion. But don’t you do the job every day? Does that not equally become a part of your every day life? A part which can also be fulfilling and rewarding. I think what people sometimes lament is that some parents tend to only share child-related news and pictures. What about all the other great facets and exciting aspects of their lives? Friends want to hear about it all – if anyone talks about only one subject all the time, it could be viewed as “boring” by others, even when it is something as nice as children.
Thought-provoking article, Alison.
It’s a subject that I have been mulling over the last few weeks myself having read a chapter in a book that discussed how some teenagers get bullied about social media posts their parents made years ago, and which which posed the question of whether a child has rights to their privacy, image and on-line presence.
The thing is – parents have always shared! I remember my parents sending photos of my sister and I to family who lived far away. I remember the “round robins” included in Christmas cards with photos of my parents’ friends’ children. It’s just that technology now allows us to do this on-line. Given this I concluded that I am comfortable with posting photos of G as long as I stick to the official guidelines of the Met that a policeman talked me through at a “Child Safeguarding” training session I went to which are:
1) have the highest security settings possible
2) restrict your friends list
3) never share a photo of your child in their school uniform, ever.
I totally agree with your point about motherhood being devalued. The ability to grow another human inside you and then raise them to be the best version of themselves that they can be has been belittled for years, when it should be celebrated. It’s bloody amazing, no? I do think that any level of “over sharing” on social media is looked down upon though, rather than just photos of children. We all have the friend who checks in everywhere and posts hundreds of highly curated, filtered photos of their wonderful saccharine life. They are, inevitably the people who post an actual photo of the first turd their child does in the potty (this actually happened on my timeline – unfollowed immediately!!!). If it annoys you, unfollow them. Which is what I think about my friends. Facebook isn’t meant to be a safe space for them away from photos of my life, my political views, and my favourite cat videos. If people don’t want to see them, they don’t need to be my friend. Simples.
Oversharing how proud you are as a mother of your child on social media is fine, so long as you make sure to back it up IRL by talking exclusively about how fantastically your kids are doing and how wonderful they are.
We conducted the research you mentioned in your blog at http://www.parentzone.org.uk. We found a significant increase in the number of parent sharing photos – some people were sharing over 1000 images a month. What was more worrying was how few parents had checked their privacy settings and how little awareness there was of how pictures can be used for less lovely reasons. We celebrate all things digital at Parent Zone but we also try to help parents think about the safety and long term effects of these things. We would simply suggest that parents think before they share – and remember that when they try to encourage their teenagers not to overshare it’ll be much harder if they’ve already got a massive online digital footprint carefully (or not so carefully) curated for them by their parents.
I probably over share pictures and sometimes worry about it. However, my kids are my life and therefore they feature on my social media and I am not sorry for that.
Such a great post Alison and one I absolutely agree with. To be absolutely honest, I’m getting a little tired of seeing my friends apologise for their special moments or seeing others roll their eyes online at another back to school photo or similar. I’d much rather see and read about people’s happy times (be that in relation to parenting, careers or relationships) than I would see people whinge or moan about life. Social media is all about sharing and I think when it comes to the point that people are being negative about others sharing happy aspects of their lives or children, then we should all take a good hard look at ourselves. Of course there’s a balance to be found but in the main, share and share again is my motto. 😉 X
Interesting post. I do share pictures of my kids (not so much the teen) on social media, on my blog and website without any thought. I do agree with the parenting social posts. If you shout too loudly you’re branded a show off but at the same time it’s nice to show how proud you are of milestones as your children grow. My opinion is that if people don’t like it, scroll on but don’t be offended if you don’t get the love back when you post yours 🙂
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