Why you won’t see my kid cooking! Digital safety beyond the kitchen.

Why you won’t see my kid cooking! The Messy Little Kitchen shares tips in each recipe on how to engage kids in the kitchen, plus additional information on cooking with kids and developing their food skills and literacy. Which is just so important! But when it comes to digital safety, I don't include pictures for the public to see of my kid in the kitchen. Digital safety beyond the kitchen. I'm sharing my reasons for sharing less of my family online to create balance in our lives, and why we've made this decision about “sharenting” (sharing our child on social media). 

How do you choose to share your children online? What boundaries, if any, do you set when posting pictures or videos? You may, or may not be, familiar with the term “sharenting”, which is the term being used to describe the sharing by parents of their children on social media. And you may have noticed that I don’t share any photos of my son on social media.

I thought this was an important topic to address, since The Messy Little Kitchen shares information and tips for engaging kids in the kitchen. But as a mom and food blogger, I have set some clear boundaries about what I post in public of my family, versus what I post privately to close friends and family. It's a bit of a trend on social media to share everything. And I used to do a lot of sharing too, at least privately, when my son was first born. But when I began blogging, it opened up new questions about how much do I want to share, and why am I sharing this? Am I a good blogger if I don't share everything? What works best for my family?

When it comes to blogging, I've considered the issue of balance between my personal life and my professional (blogging) life. I've tried to find a way to separate personal and public topics and photos, while still sharing a bit about myself personally through narratives, since as a blogger you work from your own home. It is so easy to blur the lines since often the food I'm creating and photographing will soon become my family's meal. And it always seems natural to include a picture of them enjoying it ... but that's where I hold back.

At first I started out blogging saying "I will only do what fits into my life", such as using Instagram as a platform to capture food and family behind the scenes. But the reality is that I am blogging to a public audience, not my close friends and family (despite some of them being avid readers). And in addition to that, there are trends and seasonal produce that an audience wants to see on a food blog moreso than my child's picky eating habits of the week. But I have set boundaries about how much I share and this is obviously a very personal decision, which I understand may not be for everyone. I also understand that the implications of my choosing to find balance by not sharing public photos of my family openly on my blog and social media channels may cause the readers to feel like they cannot connect with me on the same personal level, and similarly I feel like I am holding information about me and my life from readers. But, I have important reasons for this decision, and equally so I support anyone who chooses the other path of sharing more informaton as well. After all, we each do what works best for our own families.

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How Did I Decide What to Share?

When I began The Messy Little Kitchen, I knew I was passionate about easy recipes and meal planning, but above all else about engaging kids in the kitchen (which is why I initially became a nutrition teacher). And when you think about it, planning meals, and knowing what our families want to eat and cook together, should not be one person’s role since eating together is also a shared family activity. Very often, this responsibility gets shifted to someone’s routine based on when they arrive home from work at the end of the day. In our household, this will begin to be on my partner’s shoulder’s since he’s home well before myself and also has our son in tow. But as a family, we meal plan together, and even prep together when possible so that dinnertime isn’t a rush when it arrives. We want our son to realize the importance of making his own food, to feel involved and excited about what he eats.

There will always be posts online where you can see kids in the kitchen engaged in cooking videos. While endearing, and I am not judging this choice of deciding to including their kids, it has made me pause to think about what I felt was important to decide for my family’s life and representation on social media.

Ultimately, the decision to not post my child online comes down to two factors: protecting his online identity and his inability to provide consent at a young age. Both of these concerns tie back to a study I read by The American Academy of Pediatrics that highlights how the creation of your child’s digital footprint can impact their wellbeing, followed by additional research i reviewed that I will share below. In particular, this research argues that kids should have a say on the sharing of their identity online (and eventually advocate for this independence), and that in many cases they prefer privacy and control over the over sharing of information by their parents.

That’s not to say that for those parents who choose to share their kids online are doing it for the wrong reasons. Everyone has reasons for each choice they make. And they are all informed by the context of our personal experiences. Many do this to celebrate who their children are as individuals, or boast wonderful accomplishments. But this blog is ultimately my business. And I’ve also had more than my share of experiences in this life where I have not felt safe, or part of a protective community. These experiences have largely occurred at my place of work, which for most people is there they spend the majority of the day, so it would be nice to think of those whom we work with as friends and extended family. And while I do have my own business and blog now, I don’t consider using my child in it required for me to provide information or resources on how to engage kids the kitchen.

Young House Love's podcast on "Why We Stopped Sharing Our Kids on the Internet" is certainly a thought provoking listen, and it talks about both sides of this issue. One comment In the interview of this podcast made by Erin Loechner (of Design for Mankind) really struck a chord with me, when she argued that she's "creative enough that [she] can find the way to show the presence of children without showing this particular child." This definitely captured the approach I've taken to kids in the kitchen on my blog, where I try to include less personal photos that still depict how kids can be involved in the recipes, how you can work with their skill set, and ways to get them excited about food without making it a personal post about my son and his preferences and abilities. 

What Does the Research Say About Sharenting?

While sharing your child's life creates better community and less isolation for parents by celebrating the high, lows and just their child's life in general, recent research has examined the impact that this social media sharing could have on kids given the searchable, sharable and long lasting nature of these public posts. Some of the repercussions that the American Academy of Paediatrics cautions parents about is how images can be re-shared and used in ways that were never intended.

Paediatricians also note that at any point past toddlerhood, kids are aware of their own identities, and that includes their online one. One day, these same kids that parents and bloggers have been sharing publicly may wish to control their digital identity, and parents need to be respectful of what their child's wishes are in these scenarios. The debate in research circles bounces between the parent's right to freedom of sharing, versus the child's right to privacy and protection. And while parents are almost never sharing images of their child maliciously, or in a shaming context, the reality remains that if an image is posted publicly someone who isn't as well intended could lift and use that picture to impersonate a relationship with the child, then creating a dangerous situation. Experts warn that even sharing an image of a child in a intimate setting where the background is recognizable could lead those who are not well intended to know what locations you hang out with your child at. Which to me as a parent, is terrifying to say the least. Ultimately, I view the online forum I publish content into as a channel of mass distribution - so do I really want to include my child there?

Stacey Steinberg (2017) argues that "children must be able to form their own identity and create their own sense of both private and public self to thrive as young people and eventually as adults," and her recent research on sharenting is well worth a read. She discusses how children perceive and also value personal privacy and creating their own identity, despite parents wishing for their children to take on their own value and belief systems. In her extensive study, she ultimately concludes that allowing children their own privacy and identity is critical towards their wellbeing and health. And so at the end of the day, I value my child's wellbeing and safety than my business taking off quickly, or attempting to make it sell faster due to the popular cuteness factor that inevitably would come with capturing my kid in the kitchen. So.... we're all just going to have to be creative and use our imaginations here, because you won't be seeing my kid in the kitchen.

What are your thoughts on this controversial issue? Please leave a comment below - but please be respectful of both sides of the discussion and remember we each make choices for our own family's reasons and whatever our choice, as long as it's right for us, and we're informed, then it's the best decision we could make.