In addition to maintaining six blogs, I've done some writing for parenting magazines and websites and written some essays for writing publications that touch on family life, and I've always been very cautious. I see a lot of articles and blog posts that make me cringe on behalf of children, because having made my living in Internet marketing for a time, I know that those little stories, those vents from mom or dad, those blow-by-blows of the struggle with the school system are with those kids for life.
I took down my website in 2002, and at least three versions of it are still readily available online. I've personally seen situations in which people weren't hired for jobs because of information online, and read numerous news stories of others whose blogs or facebook photographs or any of a dozen other e-media sources cost people jobs--even jobs they already held. And I question whether we have the right to make those decisions for our children.
I'm not talking about those cute little stories that might embarrass your high-schooler but that we all have and ultimately won't impact anyone's life. I'm talking about doing real harm with the best of intentions.
It seems to me that the most seemingly innocuous posts and articles can come back to bite them in ways we'd never anticipate. Twelve-year-old daughter has a learning disability and you're Not Ashamed Of It? Great, but does that mean you should decide for her that her future prospective employers should be able to Google her and find that information? It's easy to do now, and indexing is getting more sophisticated every day.
Even subjective comments with the best of intentions could hurt. Maybe you son goes out and puts on a brave and poised front in public, and you're so very proud of him because you know that in reality he's having major anxiety attacks and he comes home and collapses from the stress of keeping up that together front? Praise him for it online, share your pain as a parent watching him struggle...and then maybe you'll get the chance to do it again five years down the road, when the interviewer who was so impressed with his poise and professionalism reads the archives of your blog and starts to think maybe he wasn't quite as together as it looked, to wonder whether maybe he's STILL putting up a brave front when he's really cracking underneath.
Think I'm paranoid? Maybe. Maybe the cases I've seen and read about in which people who never thought their private profiles or blogs or web pages would be discovered lost jobs and custody and lawsuits are all flukes. Maybe the dizzying advance of technology that's making it easier and easier and easier for the average person to find information on the Internet will come screeching to a halt, and maybe those popular archiving services will stop archiving and delete their files. Maybe.
But is it a chance we want to take on behalf of our kids?
And, in fact, this week I got a lesson in just how careful I have to be. I've always thought about the posts and articles that might have a long-term impact and avoided them, but those cute little stories seemed harmless to me. After all, my daughter is in middle school, and the chances that her friends were reading my blogs or parenting magazines or writing newsletters seemed pretty slim. And so far as I know, none of them are.
But the other day, I wrote two posts about buying my daughter tickets to the Jonas Brothers concert for her birthday. There aren't any secrets in them...at least, nothing that would seem like a secret to use grown-ups. And we're the only ones reading my blogs, right?
Well, that was true. That is, until the news aggregator at a Jonas Brothers fan site picked up my posts, and a small flood of click-through traffic from teenyboppers began.
We really do live in a different world, and whatever we put online we're putting out there forever, for the world to do with what it will. For some of us, that's an acceptable risk, but is it one we should take for our kids, our parents and our friends?