Teenagers — and even pre-teens — want to curate their own online identities
Did you know that in France, parents can go to jail for sharing their children’s pictures on social media? Well, the cops won’t come calling at their doors the moment they hit that ‘post’ button, but months or years down the line, they can be taken to court by their own children for sharing their pictures without consent. If that happens, parents may have to cough up fines of up to €45,000 or even be sentenced to a jail term. Yeah, that’s how serious the French are about privacy laws.
I wish something like this was applicable in India, and Blair Koenig certainly wishes there was a corresponding rule in the US. Koenig, a well-known American blogger, has been fighting a long and lonely battle against over-sharing parents for years now, without any discernible change in the culture of parents who think nothing of sharing their kids’ photos in the most awkward moments or pictures of placenta smoothies. (Made of actual human placenta. Often their own).
I started thinking about all this recently when, on a lazy Sunday, I was taking pictures of my nine-year-old and she said, rolling her eyes exactly like the American video bloggers she adores, “Please tell me you’re not putting that on Instagram.”
That gave me pause. Like most parents, I had never thought twice about posting her pictures on Facebook, which became a habit when she was a baby. My friends and family would love to see these pictures, I told myself.
Thereafter, it also became a way to record her growing up. A picture every birthday, one for the first day of the school year, one during Diwali or Durga Puja. In these photos, the chubby-cheeked girl could be seen shooting up, becoming lankier, losing baby fat, being gap-toothed, graduating from ‘frocks chosen by mom’ to ‘I live my life in shorts and tees.’ The hair longer, the eyes more aware.
But that Sunday, I realised that even as I mourn her growing up and long to hold on to these last remaining years of real childhood, she has become her own person, and is not going to take kindly to my efforts to pin her down on social media (maybe it’s also creeping self-consciousness as she approaches teenage).
Teenagers — and increasingly, pre-teens — don’t like anyone defining them. One of my friends, who has an almost 18-year-old, shares a ton of pictures of herself and her daughter on Facebook, but she says her daughter always insists on “approving” the pictures first.
It could be written off as vanity, but I feel it’s deeper than that. Teens these days are active on social media themselves — you can get Facebook and Instagram accounts at 13 — and they want to curate their own online identities. They certainly don’t want these identities to be defined by their parents (who as we know are super uncool). Plus, these images are going to live online forever, and who wants photos of themselves acting silly on a family holiday to be discovered by a future partner or employer?
Writer Kavitha Rao says her 16-year-old daughter does not let her post any of her photos online, and Rao says she completely understands. In her opinion, it was understandable for parents to share their kids’ pictures on Facebook earlier, when that was the easiest way to make sure friends and family — people who actually cared about these kids — got to be a part of their growing up. But now, with everybody on a dozen private WhatsApp groups, there is just no excuse anymore to splash your children’s photos on your Facebook wall for the world and its grandmother.
“Mom Facebook”, Rao says, is the worst. Most of the time, parents use their children’s photos as bait for comments like ‘Looking hot babe, you look like his/her sister not mom LOL’. I don’t want to say it’s only mothers who do this, but although fathers are guilty of the occasional oversharing too, unfortunately, the limited evidence on my Facebook and Instagram timelines suggests that moms are rather more frequently guilty.
It is a curious blend of narcissism, possessiveness and showing off — but also an attempt to capture something; the ephemerality of childhood and innocence?