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“Can you please put this photo on Facebook and tag my mom?”
The Facebook life of our fabulous children
- By Amrita Mukherjee
I had started to write this post in a certain way. A visit to Facebook changed it completely though. And I am glad it did because this post is undeniably about Facebook and social media.
I chanced upon this picture of a lady in a golden gown, looking like she would pop any moment. There was her husband kneeling down and kissing her bulging tummy. The picture had been clicked by a professional photographer whose credit was also given there.
I should have gone, “Aww, how cute!” but I cringed instead. I somehow felt this was the most private moment of an expectant couple that they had not left any stones unturned to turn public. But that is what social media is all about isn’t it? Making the private public and ensuring the public desire that private.
And caught in this conundrum are our children who have no clue what they are getting into from the day they are born. Actually, they make it to Facebook right from inside their mom’s tummy, as in the case of this lady in the golden gown. I will not be surprised if the same professional photographer is ushered to the labour room to click that perfect immediate-born snap that has to be quickly shared with the world.
Facebook started its journey in February 2004 but for many children born after that, their journey on Facebook started the moment they were wrapped up in a towel and placed on momma’s lap. It’s both a good thing and a bad thing.
It’s a good thing because it’s a great way to share your joy with all those people spread across the world who couldn’t be visiting you in the hospital or at home with baby clothes and congratulation cards. It’s a bad thing because the child, without even knowing, is getting exposed to a world of competition, pompousness and paedophilia from the moment the umbilical cord is cut.
My 7-year-old son’s 8-year-old friend Agni (name changed) was playing with him recently in our home. Seeing them making some lovely things with blocks I was clicking their photos.
Agni just looked at me and said, “Don’t forget to tag my mom when you put this on Facebook.”
He was totally disappointed when I told him I was clicking the pictures for myself.
On second thoughts, he added, “Then it’s a good thing you are not posting. I was wearing this same shirt in my last photo that mom posted.”
I seriously did not know whether to laugh or to cry but I was sure of one thing - we are nurturing a “social media” generation. And thanks to us they are probably more aware and concerned about their social media image than we ever could be.
Take for instance Agni. Nothing he does is left out of Facebook by his parents (except potty time probably). Agni’s new hoverboard, his enviable collection of toy cars, his visits to the movies and the nachos he devours, his trips to Hong Kong and the certificates he gets in school are all on Facebook. His parents’ profile is like a constantly-updated curriculam vitae of their 8-year-old. So it’s little surprise that Agni can’t believe that pictures can be clicked for other purposes too.
We definitely cannot hold our children responsible if they are social-media conscious at this early an age because we are the ones who are putting them out there constantly, not thinking once about the consequences.
Recently after the results of class 10 and 12 board exams were declared proud parents quickly scribbled their wards’ results on their Facebook walls. Some even went to the extent of uploading their mark sheet. The good wishes and the pride and the gift that the good child would be given went on being incessantly discussed on the proud parents’ wall till two posts came up that managed to tackle this frenzy.
One said that advertising your child’s marks is as well as telling everyone your salary and the second post said that toppers are not the only successful people in the world.
There was also that one odd mother whose daughter had scored as low as 89 % ( coveted marks in our times but not so good in the 95 % plus times now) who went on whining about how all shunned her daughter and never bothered to congratulate her despite what she felt was good enough marks.
I think we are a generation of insolent parents completely oblivious to the feelings of others, creating an equally insolent tribe of young people who only care about the perfect selfies, perfect marks and perfect achievements to be put up on social media.
I am not denying the fact that there is happiness in uploading those birthday photos or that odd comment that came from your child that sent you into peals or that first drawing that delighted you to tears. But does every drawing, every ice cream-eating pic, every visit to the restaurant, every certificate earned need to go to Facebook? And most importantly this is something that we are doing without their permission, without keeping them posted. We are taking the liberty of flaunting them just because we have the right to be called their parents.
This occurred to me one day when I had uploaded a very funny conversation between my son and me on Facebook and just told him that it was a huge hit as there were a number of comments. He was livid because he felt it was a conversation between him and me which I had no business in putting out there.
“I told you, why did you tell them?” My then 5-year-old told me with dismay.
He taught me a valuable lesson that day. Children also have a sense of privacy and permission which cannot be flouted in any way. And which is something we are doing - constantly.
A friend of mine came to visit me and she wanted a photo with my son and his friend in their football jerseys. I did click the photo but when she asked me to share it on Facebook I felt I shouldn’t do it without taking the other child’s parents’ permission.
This is something that we all are guilty of, putting up photos of minors without the legitimate permission. For instance that last day of school photo that is put up by other moms also has my son in it. Even if I don’t want the world to know which school he goes to, to keep him away from child predators, I most often don’t have a way of safeguarding him because his photo is being put up by others.
And when I subtly want to drop the hint to other parents that it’s not a good idea to put up photos of children with details of location like school, home, tuition classes, play areas they frequent, “Phat!” comes the reply. “Arrey, nothing will happen. Don’t be so paranoid.”
But then it’s important to know that your children’s photos can be stolen to create a fake profile. Recently this happened to a friend of mine and he had to go to great lengths to ensure the profile with his son’s photo was taken down and then he went to the Police Cyber Cell and complained about it so that they would try to track down the person who created the profile.
I don’t understand what’s really the necessity to put children out there? We, as adults, can do whatever we want on social media and not expose them to it at such an early age. They don’t need to become the posers that they have become. They don’t need to know that there are a 1000 people out there talking in superlatives about a simple doodle they made at home. They don’t need to come home and tell us, “Mom! Can you please check X’s mom’s profile she told me her swimming costume pic clicked in a resort is there?”
If 13 is the legal age for a child to get on to Facebook then why can’t we repress the urge to put them out there before that? I feel 13 is also not an age when a child can be left unguarded in a virtual world where there are more child sexual abusers lurking than one could ever imagine. Online grooming is a menace that parents of teenagers should be aware of and there have been cases where teens have been murdered or psychologically scarred by these predators.
I have realized one thing is our children are not on social media they are not losing anything. As such they are happy with their play mates living next door. It’s us who are obsessed about getting them the virtual likes.
Thirteen soul-stirring stories gathered from the experiences of a senior journalist
A surrogate mother narrating her emotional ordeal; a house-husband telling his side of the story; an innocent girl talking her first brush with the not-so-innocent world; a woman judging her friend for her Facebook posts…and many more that chronicle the journey of discovering life.
Amrita Mukherjee, a journalist, realised over the years that every story had an inside story; interviewees actually opened up when the Dictaphone was switched off. Apart from meeting people for interviews, she collected these stories at the office cafeteria, at drawing room conversations, during interactions with strangers while travelling on the metro-rail or talking to fellow moms while waiting for her son at the school gates.
What emerges is a work of gripping fiction based on real incidents.