Parents have been telling their friends and families about their kids’ misadventures since . . . well, probably as long as there have been kids to tell on. It feels cathartic. You’re angry, frustrated, amused, puzzled about what to do next, feeling like you’re all alone, or like it’s you vs. them—so you reach out to tell someone, and life feels better.
Then along came technology—the telephone—and parents didn’t have to wait till the next family gathering, or when they ran into a friend at the store, or even until their spouse got home. They could call someone in the moment and life felt better quicker.
The logical next step as technology progressed was to share the same kinds of things on social media. Besides, people discovered that they’re good with words or pictures, and so you can turn an ugly moment into a funny post that gets a lot of likes. Or you can draw on the wisdom of your community to get help when you feel in over your head. Or you’re hoping that maybe your child will get the message and change what they’re doing so that you don’t keep outing them in front of everyone.
There’s nothing new about parents talking about their child’s misbehavior, but there are some underlying pitfalls that you should consider, especially as the internet magnifies them.
For instance, in order to find a post or video funny of someone doing something dumb, you have to turn off any feelings of sympathy you would ordinarily have. We do this in the movies or when reading a book by reminding ourselves that, “it’s not real.” That lets us laugh when a comedic actor falls off a roof trying to hang way too many Christmas lights. Whereas, if that happened to the guy across the street, we would call 911 or rush over to help.
Proverbs describes wise people as those who are careful with words—people who are thoughtful, intentional and who weigh their words before speaking.
A Blurred Line
Social media blurs the line between reality and fantasy. We read or watch posts of people doing things that hurt themselves or others, but we laugh, having been trained to do so. We don’t think about the pain they feel, their embarrassment, any potential regret, or the very real effects that their actions have on others. We treat those people as if they’re not real—we objectify them as we consume them for our amusement. That’s probably not how you want other people to think about your kids.
But what if you posted about them because you really want help? After all, Proverbs tells us that that there’s wisdom with a multitude of counselors (Prov. 11:14, 15:22). But here’s the problem: how do you know if you’ve surrounded yourself with wise friends who can help you or with foolish ones who will only hurt (Prov. 13:20)?
The challenge of the internet, as it democratizes information, is that it requires each of us to become experts as we sift through it, separating the wheat from the chaff. The advice you get from someone might feel right to you, but how can you tell if it’s godly? After all, you’re asking for help from people who only experience you and your kids through a highly select sample of your life that you’re filtering through the lens of your perspective.
Genuine help doesn’t come from masses of people who only have access to a small slice of your life presented in a highly edited form. Help comes from people who know you and/or know your kids, and are invested in loving you both. That argues for a targeted group of counselors, not generic ones.
Or third, what if you’re trying to punish or shame your child into being a better person? A quick skim of Scripture shows that God doesn’t work that way. Yes, he does unpack a number of his children’s failings, but he doesn’t do so as a therapeutic moment for him, or to shame them, but to instruct and benefit us (1 Cor. 10:11). He tells their stories to increase our confidence that he can provide a way for us to escape the same kinds of temptations that hooked them.
That means there are legitimate times when you can be more public with someone’s story, but you need to consider not only what you post, but why you post it. You need to post like the Wise Person of Proverbs would.
Proverbs describes wise people as those who are careful with words—people who are thoughtful, intentional and who weigh their words before speaking. If wise words were necessary in a pre-internet world, think how vital they are in the electronic age where they linger far longer and reach a much larger audience. What will your child’s future schools or employers or romantic interests think of what you’re planning to post?
Sharing to Help Others
There are times when I do write or speak publicly about a less-than-positive moment that my kids and I have had together, but not to amuse myself or anyone else. I do so because I think that the story might help someone else. But each time I’ve done so, I’ve gone to my child first and asked for permission to tell their story, and I’ve given them editorial authority over what and how I share.
Knowing that I’m going to ask their permission changes how I think about my children and frame our stories. It slows me down, which by definition, makes me wiser. It makes me think about how the story might affect them and how they might feel as they read or hear it.
Seeing a post through their eyes helps me think that much harder about how others will see it too, which avoids the socially acceptable trap of sharing whatever I want, whenever I want. It’s taught me to share my life with my kids in ways that are closer to how God shares his life with his children.
This kind of sharing—where we work together in order to help someone else—has ended up forging stronger bonds with my kids rather than driving wedges between us. Take the time to think carefully and invite your child into the process before you post about them. Both of you will be glad you did.
Let us be careful about singling out the strong-willed child as though his will is more corrupt than ours.
You might feel overwhelmed by the amount of parenting advice that exists. Take a breath. Break the goal down into small steps, and take one step at a time.
Young children cannot “lead” parents to a Jesus they do not know, but parents can lead a child to a Jesus the parents know and love.