Child Abuse Online

My daughter brought a disturbing trend to my attention last night.  Apparently it has become fashionable for some idiot parents to shame their children and teenagers publicly by posting embarrassing photos and video clips online when they “misbehave”.

The above link already says it all. Bad enough if kids are not supervised (or advised) well enough and do something embarrassing like that to themselves, like in the tragic case of Canadian teenager Amanda Todd,  but parents doing it to their own child?  They should be lynched!

In the middle-ages, adulterers and adulteresses were tied up in the town square for everyone to publicly shame them.  We thought we’d moved away from this as a civilization?  In the really ancient times, Germanic tribes drowned their unwed mothers with their babies, in the bog.  (Or possibly shamed them until they suicided?)  Are we back in those days of savagery?

People need to understand that the internet is forever.  Whatever you post on Facebook, Google, Youtube, or wherever else, can and will go viral if it has enough sensational value – and unfortunately, embarrassing stories have the worst sensation value of the lot.  Now, if you shoot your own foot on Twitter by making disparaging remarks about your boss and get fired, sorry, that’s a professional Darwin award.  But do you really want to wreck your own child’s career before it has even begun?  And her reputation?

The older generation – that is, the working generation, parents of teens and children – doesn’t have the same grasp on the internet that our children do.  We don’t understand to what unbelievable extent the social life has moved online.  Even face-to-face interactions between best friends are laced with online stints the way we used to take a dip in the pool.  The internet is the teenager’s playground.  And like every playground, it has its monsters and bullies and perverts waiting in the wings.  We – the parents – don’t grasp just how real virtual reality is to our children.  It is a part of their public life that cannot be wished away any longer.  Sure, there are the few, rare, staunch parents who forbid their children all access online until they are adults.  Perhaps not an unwise decision, but can it even be done without socially isolating your child?

So instead of complete internet prohibition, children need guidance – and lots of it – and the irony is that it needs to come from a generation that is less experienced on the internet than the children are themselves.  But by now, a clued-up teenager knows not to make a spectacle of himself on social media – they are far more socially aware than we ever had to be, because if we misbehaved at a party, people would giggle about it for a while and then it would fade from memory.  Whereas The Internet Is Forever.  That “noodle incident” sticks to you like mud on the shoe as you move into young adulthood, then adulthood.  You can’t simply change social media either – they are all interlinked.  And dearest Google makes sure that you can’t even hide behind an anonymous persona – they sniff you out and link your anonymous account to your google account, and voila – your comfortable anonymity is blown to shards.

Children, especially young teens of both sexes, are exceptionally susceptible to depression and losing all hope.  This comes with the age.  There were teen suicides around when we were children.  They were rarer than today though, because the spotlight created by social media around each and every teenager can only be compared to one thing – the paparazzi that hounded Princess Di to her death.  Today every teenager is a Princess Di and lives in the harsh light of permanent publicity.  Public image is a thousand times more important and vulnerable than it was a generation back.  If the pressure of this alone isn’t enough to drive a kid over the brink, parental bullying will do it.

I even get upset about those brainless people who post embarrassingly cute vids of their toddlers on youtube (face it, pets won’t have the same emotional response to shaming).  Ten years down the line, when the vid has really picked up speed, the toddler is thirteen, vulnerable and can’t stand being asked, “was that you” by every Tom Dick & Harry who found the video amusing.  Unless the picture or video is genuinely super-cute without any embarrassing aspect (so that even a young teen can peep through her fingers and secretly admit she doesn’t mind it being online), don’t post it!  I personally know a lot of people (myself included) who hate looking at photos of themselves.  We find it difficult to put up profile pictures.  Do you think it’s any better for our vulnerable teenagers?

So here are a few KISS guidelines how to post – and not post – anything about your children online.

  • Never, never, never deliberately post something to shame them.  Never.  No matter what they have done!

They are children.  They are not yet officially “of age”.  You are their parents, and your job, that you signed on for willingly when you had fun creating them, is to lovingly guide, teach and discipline them (discipline => disciple => avid learning, not punishment) so that they can develop into “viable” adults.  You are supposed to teach them resources and defences, and in the interim protect and nurture them so that they do reach that adult age.  While they are still growing, you are in charge of their safety and every silly or stupid thing they do, is your responsibility.

  • Criticize in private, praise in public. 

This goes way beyond the internet.  It is a general approach.  If you criticize your child in public, you are damaging their public image and reputation.  This is what a family situation is for:  Safety.

  • Even if you’re going to post something you think is “cute”, think twice:  Would you like someone posting a baby pic of you doing something like that, online for everyone to see?
  • Remember there are perverts out there.  So even if there is a particularly beautiful pic of your daughter at the beach in a bikini, think twice before you post.

Tech-savvy stalkers can trace you and your child via cellphone ID to your home, her school, or the exact location in the mall where she and her friends are perusing through clothes.  The parameters have changed since humankind has moved to the top of the (land) food chain:  Humans are now the worst predators endangering our young.

Be a mammal!  Apply parenting!

Don’t be a monster that eats its own young.


13 thoughts on “Child Abuse Online

  1. This is a powerful post. I think a part of the reasoning behind this kind of punishment comes from these parents thinking that they can’t reach their children in any other way. As we all know, the younger generation is very tech savvy, and places a lot of importance on their social relationships, whether offline or (as is more the case) online. I completely agree that as a parent, you should think twice before posting anything about your kids online that has the potential to harm them in the future. The Internet is an unregulated playing ground, and you really have no idea what kind of person is going to be viewing these pictures.

    • That’s right. & I know I’m arrogant as a parent, but I feel that people who are not getting through to their teenagers (and I get there too at times, believe me) are not spending enough time with them. You lay the groundwork before they become teenagers, by being very involved in their lives. Enjoying their hobbies and friends with them, being available for them to talk, listening to and discussing their dreams with them, etc, etc. Parents who don’t communicate with their children lose them. And it’s no good trying to force them to comply with your wishes if you have no compassion or patience to sit and find out why they do what they do. I think a lot of teens out there who wail, “you’ll never understand me” have it right, because their parents haven’t taken the time to listen.

  2. I take your point, and it’s both a powerful and persuasive one in favour of freedom being exercised with self-restraint.

    On the other hand, in twenty years from now the Internet may be as dead as the cassette tape.

    • There is that, kvennarad, trust you to bring in the unique angle! 🙂 We’re all forgetting how transient technology is! (But I hope it won’t be.) (Dead, that is.) (What would become of us authors??)

      The priority is to keep the kid alive no matter what the internet does. 😀

    • You don’t need to comment, Ark, but trust me – you’ve never done something vile like that. Publicizing your child’s beautiful cake art is most certainly not any form of abuse.

  3. We do all need to learn, that the internet can be used and abused. There have always been strange humans and there are still strange humans, who will abuse, what they can. Here the internet is great for them to stay anonymous or go in chat-rooms for kids and teenagers and just write that they are much younger etc. than they really are.
    It is so very important, that we learn our kids, how to behave on the social medias of all kind, so they can avoid many bad experiences. It is very easy to lie online, no one can see that.
    Thank you for a very powerful post.

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