Perils of Facebook Parenting

Exploring Danger of Oversharing Children Online

By Deborah Kolben

Published July 11, 2012, issue of July 13, 2012.
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A few hours after my daughter was born, she made her big debut on Facebook. My husband posted a photo of her, wrapped in the hospital-issued blanket, with the message: “Exhausted but now the father of this little girl. Her name is Mika (that’s Mee-ka), born last night around three in the morning.”

Deborah Kolben’s daughter blows out the candles at her birthday party. Being the child of journalists, she’s been the subject of articles about breastfreeding, teething and more. But when is too much information really too much?
courtesy of deborah kolben
Deborah Kolben’s daughter blows out the candles at her birthday party. Being the child of journalists, she’s been the subject of articles about breastfreeding, teething and more. But when is too much information really too much?

In a matter of minutes, 44 people commented on the photo and five others “liked it.” In the following days he posted dozens more, encouraged by all the support and affection. Also, we liked posting photos and updates because it felt nice to have our child adored by others, not just us.

More than two and a half years have passed since her birth, and Mika has already had quite a public life. In addition to Facebook, Mika has been the subject of blog posts on things like breastfeeding, teething, co-sleeping and more. This has a lot to do with the fact that I, her mother, am the editor of a Jewish parenting website, Kveller.com, that traffics in these sorts of parenting conundrums.

According to the most recent stats I could find, there are now an estimated 5 million moms who blog, and we are considered by advertisers to be a powerful marketing tool. Add to this the countless non-blogging mothers who share updates and concerns on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and you can see that Mika isn’t the only kid with a long-running online presence.

For many of us, it’s a way to connect — to seek answers when Dr. Sears and a shot of whisky just don’t cut it. And sometimes in your darkest hours — like at 3 a.m. when your kid won’t sleep, you’re covered in baby puke and it’s time to pump — there’s somebody out there who can tell you that it will be alright.

But while our candidness in the blogosphere and on social media can be a source of comfort, there is also the risk of oversharing. Many of us, professional bloggers and casual Facebook users alike, are starting to feel that things have gone too far.

For the past year, the actress Mayim Bialik, who starred in the 1990s series “Blossom” and now appears on the CBS hit “The Big Bang Theory,” has been writing for my site. She’s an Orthodox mom who blogs about dressing modestly on the red carpet, posts photos of breastfeeding her 3-year-old on the subway and offers vegan recipes for Passover. She has more than 40,000 followers on Facebook, and whenever she posts something on the social media website, it gets hundreds and hundreds of comments and “likes” on the social network.

For a celebrity, she’s extremely candid and available. Because of this, each day she receives her fair share of virtual back slaps, with a few virtual face slaps mixed in here and there.

Earlier this year, one commenter on Facebook told her that she is “uneducated, dumb, and a horrible threat to our children” and another added that she should be ashamed to call herself “an Attachment Parent or any kind of parent.” At the end of May Bialik made a bold announcement: She was leaving Facebook.

“The lack of ‘normal’ dialogue in social media has been disturbing me for some time now, and I think… it might be better for me not to use social media to interact and respond and have discussions any more at all,” Bialik wrote in a Kveller post.

Her fans responded immediately, saying they were “saddened” and “shocked” and begged her not to go. As show of support, 1,240 fans “liked” the post on Kveller.

One of the first of the mom bloggers was Heather Armstrong, an ex-Mormon who lives with her two kids in a sprawling house in Salt Lake City. She started her blog, Dooce.com, a decade ago to chronicle her dating life and career. It eventually morphed into a place where she wrote about being unemployed, getting married, having kids and, most recently, separating from her husband. Her site, which now mostly focuses on parenting, receives more than 100,000 visitors a day, and Armstrong is said to earn more than a million dollars a year.

In 2010, Armstrong’s oldest daughter, Leta, turned 6 and told her mom that she was no longer interested in having every embarrassing outfit or outburst documented online. Armstrong decided it was time to change.

“For the last several months, if I have mentioned Leta here, I have most likely asked her if I could do so, even if it has been something totally innocuous. I intend to practice this going forward, so I guess maybe I am censored to some extent,” Armstrong wrote on her blog.

Ultimately, everybody needs to find her or his own way to deal with the delicate question of what’s too much to put out there on social media. For now, Bialik has decided that she will continue to post links to articles she writes, but she will no longer read comments or post personal updates on Facebook. Armstrong still writes candidly on her blog about topics like her adult relationships, but is careful about what she writes about her kids.

Now that Mika is getting older, I try to imagine how she’ll feel one day when she looks at her mom’s Facebook page. Will I post an update about her sitting on the potty? Or about how she likes to look at her tush in the mirror? Probably not. And should I be writing about it here? Again, probably not. As you can see, this is still a work in progress.

Deborah Kolben is the editor of Kveller.com. She has written for The New York Times, the Financial Times, the New York Daily News and the New York Post.


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