Publish and be damned: do we have a right to talk about our children online?

Facebook moms  Y u no stop talking about your kids?!

 Some days, I think, I blog therefore I am. It is my reason for getting up in the middle of the night. It is my link to the outside world. It is a way to connect with strangers, to exorcise my demons, to mull over my thoughts and stash them away for posterity.

But in writing things down, my throwaway thoughts take on a life of their own. They are there to be interpreted, or misinterpreted by anyone who chooses to read them, screen shot them, use them against me, as documentary evidence of this or that; however flimsily they were intended. In short, blogging is a dangerous game.

But beyond the risks I take writing about myself online, as a parent blogger am I potentially harming my children’s futures by talking about them online? Or worse, are we parent bloggers (or anyone having a gripe on Facebook or posting pictures on Twitter that may well make them cringe in the future) setting them up for psychological problems by allowing our untamed thoughts and flippant remarks to be read by their older, more vulnerable selves? In short, are we invading our own children’s privacy?

The horrific fact is, we are probably doing all these things, but the magnitude for potential damage is hard to calculate.

Yesterday, I read two things that sent me into a tail spin about the implications of blogging. The first was this article about the reputation economy, which details how your online footprint follows you around and could become a way for you to be assessed on a risk basis by anyone who uses your behaviour as collateral, be that employers, insurers, the health service. Soon, our online reputations may give us more than likes and followers, they may give us a risk rating, a credit history. It is scary, but it is coming.

The second was an interesting blog that likened the parent blogging phenomena to the stories of AA Milne, who wrote the stories of Winnie The Pooh about his own son, Christopher Robin. The stories, which seem harmless enough and timelessly charming were a global success, but the relationship between author and son soured, with Robin deteriorating into mental health problems. It is a historical morality tale to which we should pay heed.

But is the damage already done?

This blog started out as a way to deal with the various stresses of life as a mother, in particular to my son Jonah who has Apserger’s. The title’s a dead giveaway. But it has grown to be so much more than that. My online diary has metamorphosed into more than the record of my days, a track of the weather of my mood and throwaway remarks. It has been published worldwide and has given me a certain amount of status and credibility. But it has also been damaging to my reputation, not as a writer but potentially as a person.

In it, I talk about all aspects of my life, from my past as a dancer to the social problems I myself am currently working through. I discuss my mental health, the ebb and flow of my smoking habits and exercise regime, my experiments with substances, my sex life. I talk about Jonah’s medical history,  my children’s behavioral quirks, my thoughts and feelings about the workplace and society.

Though I use a pseudonym and conceal details of their lives to protect their privacy, in the long run, they are going to know that I’m writing about then. What are the long term implications of this for their mental health?

Oh yes, it seems all fine now, the innocent explorations of my life as a mother, but what about when my son wants to pursue a career as a lawyer and my past comes back to haunt him. Those tales of the time he missed the toilet seat won’t go down well with his university chums or chamber partners (in actual fact, this is just an example. I try to be careful to protect his dignity,  but then, I didn’t begin writing this until well after the potty training stage, but what if that too had been documented by my proud, anxious, exhausted hand?) But the embarrassment of any revelations I have made on his behalf at an older, more fragile stage might well be tough for him to swallow.

What about the time, frustrated, I said he was being a little shit? That DID happen. I read it now and it reopened my sense of frustration I felt in the moment, but will it chip away at his psyche as a teen or will he go on, a father himself, to have empathy with how I must have felt? Will he even be bothered? After all, he’ll be busy cultivating an online presence of his own, the party nights, wild eyes and drunk, well it wasn’t so easy to click and post when I was at uni. My half baked opinions weren’t given air time on Twitter before I was old enough to take legal responsibility for them, and think twice before posting and for that I’m eternally grateful. And in a world where we all live out our days under the scrutiny of an easily searchable past, will any of us know any different? After all, who’s embarrassed by drunk pictures or revelations of porn use now that everyone’s been there and done it?

But my blog is already having an indirect affect on their lives, and not always for the good. It can be used against me in a court of law, my words, printed for all to see, taken out of context and twisted, like anyone who puts themselves in the public eye. In a difficult situation, I am compromised. It is much better to say nothing, a lesson which I am learning to my cost. But of course, anyone in their right mind knows this of course, it is a risk we all take everyday with every comment left in jest under a newspaper story, every tweet, every status update, we need to take care of what we say about ourselves. But what about what we say about our children? In an increasingly litigious world, they could have grounds to come back and sue me.

These cached pages of my soul compromise me, so much is clear, given the circumstances I am in right now, recently redundant and searching. Looking for a new employer, I am nervous what they might find if they dig too hard. I have found myself removing posts, self editing, fictionalising. In any case, some of what I write is hyperbole. The literary exhibitionism I am drawn to lives in fear of being thought saccharine and vanilla. But being outspoken comes at a cost, and I have felt over scrutinised, in the past by those who have power over me.

But so far, that’s a risk I’m willing to take. This blog has given me a profile, a presence, an authority, a voice. It has improved my mental health, inordinately but It has taken on a life of its own. In short,  it has become my other baby. To kill it would be to kill a part of myself. But when I click publish from the comfort of my bed, and to hell with what happens to my words as they enter into the world, I need to take more care I’m not hurting anyone but myself.

 

 

13 thoughts on “Publish and be damned: do we have a right to talk about our children online?

  1. This is something I am wrestling with too. Like you, my blog feels like a part of me, that has brought me a lot, in terms of confidence, presence, and finding my voice. But like you I wonder at what point I will need to pull back. Though I don’t use their names or full on face shots, I’m not anonymous as the writer, therefore with some digging parts of their lives are there for all to see. I try and imagine what they would feel if they were reading in the future, but I wonder if that is enough of a filter…it’s just a case of finding our way as best we can I guess.

  2. This is such a hard path to tread. I guess my political views come across in my blog, although without expressing them too explicitly in the main. Could this be used against my children in the future? I worry about it a lot. I had not considered that insurance side to things – I really don’t like that at all.
    This post really got these issues back to the front of my mind, which I think is important, whatever we ultimately decide to write about.

    • Thanks for your comments. I think it’s a double edged sword whichever way you go. I feel very anxious about who may viewed my blog and what they do with the information, and it has got me into trouble in the past. But the idea that it may hurt my kids is troubling to say the least. A lot of my thoughts are passing whims or frustrations, but writing them down sets them in stone.

      Sent from my iPhone

      >

  3. As far as the children being damaged by what they read about themselves I don’t think that is any different from the past. My mum died recently and I’ve read some pretty frank views she wrote about me in her diaries and letters.

    The amount of info about everyone may mean employers and friends in the future won’t have time to sift through everything to score points!

  4. Hmm mixed feelings I suppose! Maybe a bit cross but then again I probably wrote things she wouldn’t have liked about herself too. It’s helping me learn about myself and the past and what not to do in the future.

  5. very interesting read and you touch upon a lot of points that I worry about. Very powerful end to the blog as well, much food for thought.

  6. I was often urged to write a book about my children because in part of their success. But I resisted for a long time because I didn’t want to embarrass my children. Finally, afyer my son graduated from college my son encouraged me to start the book. I’ve gone with a blog instead. We all agreed that I would use fake names and also not identify our location. So I understand your issues. Many parents writing about autism do the same. My main theme is tovwrite about transitioning to adulthood, to help other parents to think about adulthood for their children with ASD. I do write about some of their younger years, but I hesitate to write about somr events. Still, I wonder about how this might affect their lives, future relationships, their careers.

    • Hi Ann, thanks for your comments. I think in this brave new world, it’s so common to communicate in this way that I guess it becomes normal. As long as we take steps to protect them, I guess that’s the best we can do. Do let me know your book titles and I can add them as links in my resource pages. All the best, RM

  7. Pingback: Goodreads #32 - darktea

  8. I have been struggling with this too, and just this week decided enough was enough. .I’ve gone through periods of writing more about my kids than others, usually because I’ve been swept along by other parent bloggers into thinking it’s okay (and it pains me to admit that I can be so easily swept along), but ultimately my kids’ long-term well-being have to come first. Interesting post! Thanks for sharing!

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