Last week on VOCM’s Backtalk, host Paddy Daly discussed a recent blog post wherein the blogger, a mother, posted a picture of her seven-year-old son with the announcement “my son is gay” and she couldn’t be any more proud of him.
Last month, after the Sandy Hook tragedy, another mother posted a picture of her son in a post titled “I am Adam Lanza’s mother.” In the post she discussed her son’s mental health issues.
I don’t doubt that on some level both bloggers, both mothers, meant well. They meant to show their support for their sons and also offer their voices as advocates for the issues their own families struggle with and celebrate.
The thing is, nowhere in the parenting job description are we told to be public advocates for the issues our children face. In fact, in doing so, we may well be compromising our role as parents.
In talking with Daly this week he revealed that he considered such “advocacy” exploitive: “It’s fine to announce Johnny did well at school or Jane is doing well at playing the trumpet, but why are we getting into these things that are fine to discuss in an open forum with your family and even your friends?
“That kind of willingness to spread it all across the world is not about the kid at all; its about the mom. And I think that’s where a lot of moms and dads trip themselves up they get too carried away in what is their feelings about what their kids think and say as opposed to what the kids think and say… if you start bringing your kids really innermost private thoughts out for public consumption, I think you’ve just betrayed the child.
“That kid is, in fact, being exploited… it has nothing to do with the kid at all and has everything to do with his mother.”
Daly described the blog posts discussed “as the most obscene piece of parenting I’ve seen in a long time.”
And I have to agree with him. Oh there’s worse out there. These parents aren’t beating or sexually abusing or starving their children. But in some form what they have done is abusive. They’ve neglected to protect their child. They’ve neglected to consider their son’s futures and the digital footprint they have provided.
They haven’t considered the fact that although these are issues they, as a family, have to face, they are primarily issues their children will face for the rest of their lives and like all personal information we hold, the individual should be free to decide when and where that information is shared.
There is no way a seven-year-old can understand the real implications of that kind of public sharing. So it is useless for parents to say “but my child wanted me to share this.”
It’s something, as a blogger, columnist, advocate, and active social media user myself I’ve struggled with. And it’s an arena in which I think I have made mistakes.
A while ago I wrote an article titled “Facing stigma” in which I described some of our family’s problems with the mental health care system in our province. I didn’t name my child. I didn’t provide a picture. And I didn’t give details. But after the brief description I wrote “Except I can’t tell you any of that, because it means that I open myself and my son up to judgment and unfair accusations and lifelong stigma.”
I considered the implications of what I was putting in print and wanted to make sure that years hence if someone Googles my son’s name they would not come across that column online. I used our personal situation to draw conclusions about societal stigma and our health-care system because I know that a personal story is considered more valuable than generalisations.
But the fact is that that story was just as much my son’s as my own. Moreso, actually.
I revealed that he had been diagnosed with ADHD. Parents everywhere are revealing this online, on Facebook, in blog posts, on support forums. But in doing so they’re labelling their young child with a set of societal beliefs. It is so common a condition, but just as commonly misunderstood. And years from now when he applies for a job, what if his employer decides not to hire him because he has ADHD? That’s fine — though illegal – if he himself reveals it. But what if they discover it because of something I’ve posted?
In the blogging community, parents who “come out” and speak of their struggles becomes instant celebrities, heroes to others in the same situation, and called-upon experts by the media and others. But what they’re doing is not “coming out” but dragging their child out. And even if the child steps willingly into that abyss, they are far too young to understand how deep the hole is.
When our children are too young to understand the implications of sharing their information, our role as parents must be to protect that information, like an emotional trust fund, until they are able to decide what to do with it, as an adult.
It’s shaky ground and sometimes many of us fall, but we must leave our children standing, to take their own footsteps and leave their own digital footprints as adults.
More next week.
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