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The Parent ’Hood: When parents post personal info on kids

By Heidi Stevens

Chicago tribune

Your friend posts uncomfortably personal stuff about her kids on Facebook. Should you tell her to stop, for her kids’ sake?

Parent advice from our panel of staff contributors:

No, don’t tell her to stop. No one likes to be told to stop anything. And, if you do, you then get into a big fight with the friend. But I’d ask, “What does Little Johnny/Janie think of you telling people that?” If the answer comes back, “I don’t know,” you can then smile and add, “Perhaps you should ask first next time, just so there are no bruised feelings.”

– Bill Daley

If it were a good friend, I’d open with something gentle, like, “Are you insane?” OK, maybe I’d try tact. But I’d find a way to make it clear that posting personal stuff about your kids is like handing Mr. Child Predator a big gift box of information. They’re also the details that can make your kids the target of mean kids.

– Phil Vettel

Expert advice:

One person’s “uncomfortably personal” is another person’s “small talk,” so it’s tricky to know how to tackle this topic. But it’s certainly worth tackling.

“Kids need the freedom to decide for themselves what information they want to share,” says clinical psychologist Roni Cohen-Sandler, co-author of “I’m Not Mad, I Just Hate You! A New Understanding of Mother-Daughter Conflict” (Penguin Books). “Even if it’s something positive – let’s say your kid made honor roll at school – he or she may be really embarrassed if you announce it at a family gathering or on Facebook.”

Because we live an era when kids document their lives for all the world to see online, it’s easy to see how parents think it’s OK to get in on the sharing game.

“I’ve talked to teenagers who will write about the intimacies of their sexual experiences on Tumblr and then be furious with their mom for telling a family friend what they got on their final,” Cohen-Sandler says. “For some kids, it’s not a matter of privacy. The big deal is deciding for themselves what to share.”

She suggests parents directly ask their children what they’re comfortable having shared with friends and family on social media and otherwise.

“Kids feel horribly betrayed when their parents overshare,” she says. “They feel violated, and that leads to mistrust in the parent-child relationship. The kids feel as if their parents have no boundaries, and they don’t feel safe with their parents knowing things about their lives.”

As for your oversharing friend, Cohen-Sandler suggests launching an open dialogue: “‘I notice you wrote such-and-such on Facebook, and I just wonder if your kids know and how they feel about that? I’m asking because I told my son’s grandma something the other day, and he had a fit. I wonder how you know how much is OK to share?’”

It’s possible, of course, your friend has her kids’ blessing. It’s also possible she doesn’t.

“You never know where a child’s sensitivities are going to lie,” Cohen-Sandler says. “And because this has to do with trust, I think parents need to be very cognizant of it.”

Have a solution? Your daughter is the shoulder to cry on for all her pals. You worry she’s being taken advantage of. Do you step in? Find “The Parent ‘Hood” page on Facebook, where you can post your parenting questions and offer tips and solutions for others to try.