How not to use social media

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I think we all know social media can be a blessing and a curse. I’ve always taken a dim view of parents oversharing details of their kids’ achievements. This week, however, I’ve been made aware of a father doing the exact opposite and highlighting his child’s bad behaviour. It’s just one example of oversharing I’ve been made aware of recently that’s left me feeling very uncomfortable.

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A charming Brazilian chap drew this caricature of me watching an unbelievable YouTube video of a dad publicly shaming his son on my iPad.

It involves a father from Virginia called Bryan Thornhill. His son was accused of bullying other kids on the school bus.

All credit to the school, it dealt with the situation quickly, banning the boy from the bus for three days. Thornhill decided that while his son was forbidden from travelling with classmates, come rain or shine he was to go on foot to school, a distance of one mile, as part of his punishment.

My initial reaction to this was “so what?” I used to walk that kind of distance to school in all weathers as a kid. It was when I was driven to school I was being punished because it showed my mother and stepfather felt I couldn’t be trusted!

Thornhill, however, took it a step further and followed his son to school one day in the family SUV. He filmed his son running to school and provided a diverse commentary about how this was simply parenting and that his kid would learn from the experience. There was something about X-boxes (or PS4, I can’t remember) plus a couple of comments about guns that, while relatively anodyne, won’t sit well with an international audience.

The video was posted to Facebook and it’s gone viral, making Thornhill something of an unlikely media star. He’s been all over TV and radio and appeared in numerous newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic.

I was asked on to BBC Radio London’s Drivetime with Eddie Nestor programme to discuss what this dad had done. Asked how I felt about what Thornhill’s actions, I said I was “conflicted.” I said I didn’t feel the punishment was over the top, but sharing the punishment publicly? To me this crossed a line.

Thornhill, however, is far from alone. There are numerous examples online of ‘shaming’ videos created by parents.

It’s challenging as a parent, dealing with discipline. It’s a simple fact that your offspring will misbehave but putting their misdemeanours online for all to see is simply bullying.

It’s a form of humiliation that could seriously damage the unique bond between parent and child. Children need to know their parents set the rules and enforce them, but also need to be comfortable coming to them with problems and willing to admit their mistakes. They won’t do that if there’s a risk mum or dad might turn a playground fracas or snog in the park into a viral YouTube hit.

Discipline is only one issue. I’m still reeling from something I saw online a few months ago. It was a photo posted on Instagram by a mum to celebrate the fact her child had received their first passport.

She marked the occasion by posting the back page online: The child’s date of birth, passport number, place of birth, nationality etc. all the information you would need to steal that kid’s identity was online in one photograph.

I’ve also seen a few questionable pictures of kids receiving medical treatment. Sometimes these images have merit and highlight great medical care or a rare condition.  Often, however, they don’t.

Take, for instance, the picture I recently saw of a teenager receiving treatment from a doctor. Even if they had given permission for the image to be used, was it correct to share an image of this individual having their mouth inspected by a doctor? Putting the child’s wishes aside, did the doctor know an image of her was going to appear online while she was in the middle of carrying out a procedure?

I know, I’m a blogger. I choose to share various aspects of my life and my family’s life online. I probably don’t get it right every time. Even so, I am quite shocked at some of the oversharing I have seen online.

What are your thoughts on oversharing? What is off limits for you? Do you think social media so new we’re all still learning what is and isn’t acceptable? I invite you to leave a comment below with your thoughts.


9 thoughts on “How not to use social media”

  1. Over-sharing is a problem and I try not to do it – especially having teenage girls now. Despite my Instagram name I’ve realised that most of my photos don’t have my children in them at all.
    I did read your line about the “teenager receiving treatment from a doctor” with a little thought that it may have been me you were refering to? I did recently share a photo of my teenage daughter having her braces removed (therefore an orthodontist and not a doctor). My daughter, the orthodontist and the dental nurse are all unidentifiable in the photo and all 3 gave permission for me to (a) take the photo in the first place, (b) share it on social media and (c) it was posed and not an action shot. It was, in fact, my daughter who asked for me to take and share the photo – I wasn’t so sure but she persuaded me.

    1. Haha, that’s quite funny! No, defo not you. This was most certainly a doctor, not an orthodontist.

      But you have said something very interesting in your response. Your kid wanted the pic posted online, but you weren’t sure. You see I get this with my kids all the time. Sometimes it’s them that wants to overshare, by dint of their age I think and I refuse although some of the videos they make would be viral youTube hits!

  2. I consider myself lucky that when I started blogging my kids were already at an age where I had to consider their feeling before sharing anything, as I don’t like reading parents ranting and raving about their babies or toddlers without any thought for them reading it when they grow up. Belle, who is 15 now, is really strict about what I’m allowed to share about her, which I think is as it should be, even if it does mean there are a lot of juicy topics I can’t write about!

    1. You see I’m giving this more and more thought as my kids get older Jo. I’ll only share what mine are happy to have shared. Then again, I’m quite sure neither of us would share passport pages or punishments. I was actually asked the other day what I would share online at a panel session and rather like you, I conceded there was a limit to what I will discuss publicly.

  3. I feel the punishment in itself was ok (not something I’d do though) but sharing via social media was definitely not. I’d be very concerned about him becoming a target after it which solves nothing.I very rarely share pics of my teen (over 18) and certainly only if I’ve asked first and with the little ones they are shown and ok the photos I use for blogging.

    1. Yeah, I have no issues with the punishment, although it should be backed up with getting to the root cause of the problem. If the kid is bullying others: Why? Putting the video on Facebook though, that is simply setting an awful example for the kid to follow.

  4. Interesting and thought-provoking post. I haven’t seen the video you mentioned but I agree that publicly shaming your child isn’t a good thing to do. Oversharing is something that I think we all need to be aware of it when it comes to social media. I know that I have shared a lot recently about Jessica’s op and recovery as blogging and social media was the easiest way to keep family and friends updated. I was however cautious when it came to posting photos. When she was a baby I posted a lot of photos showing the reality of life on intensive care. This time around, I still took photos showing the reality of it all, but was more careful about which ones I shared online. I didn’t share clear full-facing photos of her on the ventilator for instance and there were a few with strategically placed toys or trays to hide chest drains and wounds. I also tried to make sure none of the health care professionals were clearly identifiable. Maybe it was still oversharing. I know as my children get older, I become more cautious about what to share though. You’ve given me some food for thought though.

    1. Well Louise, this is interesting. I’ll be honest, you did come to mind as someone who shares pics of their child in medical circumstances, but you are someone I feel does it very well. You have a cause, you are passionate about it and I have never seen you post anything overly intrusive or anything where your daughter isn’t properly dressed. The same cannot be said for a lot of other parents and I really don’t know why they feel it is acceptable. In your case, i would say continue posting, but with caution.

      As for Mr Thornhill, he got staright on to the kids’ misbehaviour and was confident enough to deal with it. that’s great, but creating a video for what is effectively your own entertainment, that was simply awful. There was no need for it.

      1. Thank you John, it’s reassuring to hear that I seem to be getting the balance right – as you say though, it’s always a good idea to be cautious when it comes to posting and to consider carefully about whether something should be posted on social media.

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