We’ve talked in the past about the need for parents to be more thoughtful or cautious about what we post about our kids online, particularly once they’re old enough to have a say in the information and images you release into the digital world. But there’s one area in which you may be disclosing too much information that you haven’t thought of, particularly as we’ve navigated the pandemic: their mental health.
If we squint real hard to find shreds of silver linings the pandemic brought us, one might be that it got us all to talk about self care and mental health more than we may have in the past. Suddenly, we all were struggling — which was decidedly not a pandemic silver lining — but at least it felt ok to acknowledge it. However, here’s what clinical psychologist Annalise Caron wrote for the Washington Post that she has also observed in recent years:
A byproduct of this greater acceptance and openness, however, has been more parents sharing their children’s mental health problems in public online forums, especially as the pandemic has increased children’s mental health concerns amid ongoing financial hardship, social isolation and distance learning. Many of the same benefits can occur, such as parents getting support, feeling less alone and spreading information about treatment options. Yet the most important person in the equation seems to be forgotten: the child.
Whether you’re sharing information about a mental health crisis or a change in medication because you’re actively seeking advice, or whether you’re sharing it because another parent is experiencing something similar and you want to support them or compare notes, the end result is the loss of your child’s privacy — and, quite possibly, the trust they have in you. Your intentions may be good, but the consequence is that it could cause them to feel shame or embarrassment; and at the very least, the takeaway is pretty clear that consent in posting information about others online is not mandatory.
We begin teaching kids consent from an early age, by not forcing them to hug relatives, asking before we tickle them, and asking permission to post photos of them on social media. This is yet another extension of allowing them to set those boundaries for themselves. So much about how we want our children to behave stems directly from what we model for them. Protect their privacy, and they’ll learn why it’s important to respect the privacy of others. Overshare, and so will they.
The solution here is easy, though: Just ask them. If you think their story might help someone else online who is struggling, they may be happy to share it and to be a part of an important movement to normalize these conversations — but either way, they’ll appreciate that you asked, and it’ll reinforce that they can trust you with difficult topics.
If they need immediate intervention or other mental health services, that is absolutely something you should get them — but your go-to Facebook group doesn’t need to know about it.