Parenting On The Internet (And Why I Changed My Child’s Name)

It’s tricky, this whole “writing about life as a parent online” thing. The subject of my kids’ online presence is a topic I’ve discussed here ad nauseam – why I share some things about my children, but not others (the general rule of thumb being that I talk about them in the context of *my* experience as a mother, rather than their experiences as children), why I use pseudonyms for them (largely because I don’t want to create a Google landscape for them that’s based entirely on their mother’s job), et cetera. It’s tricky, and it’s getting trickier as they get older, and start to wrap their minds around what, exactly, their mom is doing when she’s jumping around in front of a camera or holding a product just-so for an Instagram or pecking away on her computer, the words interspersed with images of…them.

I’ve been talking about what I do with my son since he was two years old: I’m constantly explaining to him what I do for a living, why I do it, et cetera. I tell him that I write stories about my life, and that he and his sister are the biggest part of my life, so sometimes the stories include them, too. I try to explain why someone – especially someone who doesn’t know us – might want to read these stories; how sometimes it feels good to know that other people are going through the same stuff that you are. I try to be extremely clear about the difference between photographs that are taken just for me, and photographs that are taken for work purposes – if Kendrick takes a picture of me that I intend to use online, I make sure the kids know what we’re doing. I don’t want them to confuse working with living, and the oddities of my job make that a complicated conversation to have.

And then there’s taking photographs of them, which is even more complicated. I’ve explained to both of my kids that sometimes I’m being paid to take photographs of a kids’ product, and I’d appreciate their help, but I try to be clear that they are helping me with my work, and they do not have to do this. It is not a five-year-old’s obligation to contribute to the family coffers. If Indy wants to participate in a shoot that I’m being paid for, I pay him in turn – both through deposits into his college account and in a more tangible way for a kid his age, with a small toy or a treat, so he understands the difference between photographs taken for fun, and photographs taken because they’re a part of my – again, not his – job.

I’m doing the best I can. This is uncharted territory, and it feels to me like talking about it with them openly (and frequently) is the best way to go about it…but of course I wonder, and of course I question my choices from time to time.

On Friday, during our drive up I-5 from Anaheim back to our house, Indy and I were looking at my Instagram stories from the previous day. “So a lot of people see this?” he asked. “Yup,” I said.

“People we don’t know?”

“Some of them we know, but a lot of them we don’t. That’s part of my job, to share stories about what I’m doing, or what we’re doing when we’re together.”

He looked back down at the phone, and then back up at me. “Do all these people know who I am?”

And there it was: The moment I’d been anticipating since before he was born, when Kendrick and I started to circle the idea of how to talk about our growing family; what to share, and what to keep just for ourselves.

Kendrick and I stared at each other – there it is – and then he nodded his head a little towards me: you take this one.

“They know little things about you,” I said carefully, “but not everything. They don’t even know your name. When I write about you, I use a pretend name so you have more privacy.”

He wanted to know what the pretend name was, and when we told him he grinned from ear to ear (we all love Indiana Jones in this family). I told him that it was up to him whether he ever wanted people online to know his real name – now or at any point in the future – and that I’d keep checking in with him to see how he felt.

“I like having a pretend name,” he said. “But I want a different one.”

And so, because I made a promise to him way back when:

how to talk to your kids about being online

Allow me to introduce you to Pan. (Peter Pan, specifically, but Pan sounds cooler.)

(He chose the photo, too.)

  • antheapena

    OMG this is an excellent update on your interesting journey through motherhood, family life & work as a venn diagram. It feels so natural that Pan (LOVE IT) has chosen to take a little control. Please tell Pan that is probably my favourite picture of him from all of 2017

  • Cloud49

    You do understand that children don’t *really* have the capacity to consent, right? No matter how smart they are? That’s why there are child labor laws–to prevent adults from saying “I gave them a choice and they chose this.” At least acknowledge that.

    • jordanreid

      I do understand that. The choices that Kendrick and I have made are ones we’ve arrived together and that we revisit frequently – we’re comfortable with the decisions we’ve made thus far, but it’s an ongoing conversation. I have some friends who refuse to put any images of their children anywhere on the internet at all – I understand and respect that decision too. To me, the important thing is that we are thoughtful about these issues; that we talk about them and adjust them as things change.

      • disqus_3JEdE8Xjzp

        You really don’t see the difference between a photo shared with a few hundred people who, sure, are not all your best friends but who you at least know in some capacity, and a photo put on the Internet for tens or hundreds of thousands of readers you don’t know (plus anyone who finds your blog via Google or social media)? I understand why some people choose to keep their kids off Facebook completely, but there’s a world of difference between photos shared on a friends-only Facebook page and photos shared on a popular and completely public website and the fact that you’re trying to draw an equivalence between the two just makes you sound like you’re in deep denial.

        Also as someone said above, I don’t know you personally, am only a casual reader of the blog and I know your children’s real names. It’s good that you’ve put some thought into these issues, but you’re kidding yourself if you think you aren’t cashing in on your children’s privacy for money. Maybe some of that money is being funneled to them, but their privacy is being sold, and a lot of people would argue that a preschooler and a kindergartener can’t possibly meaningfully consent to that sale, no matter what they say to you.

        You might also think about how technological changes will affect these issues. For example, right now, the fact that we don’t know your children’s full names (if we didn’t) might be enough to keep them anonymous in an online search. But it’s pretty clear that within 5-10 years, facial recognition software will be advanced enough to recognize photos of the same person over the course of many years, and all online images of a person will be linked together — which means that your children’s future adult Internet presence (professional LinkedIn profiles, etc.) will be forever linked to every baby and kid photo you’ve ever shared here or on social media. You may think this sounds alarmist or sci fi-y but every expert I’ve read or heard speak about this agrees that this kind of thing is coming within the next decade. There are probably lots of other examples, and since you and your husband live in Silicon Valley and he works in tech, I’m sure you know plenty of people better qualified than me to expound on this point. But it’s plainly not enough to only consider today’s technology when you think about how to protect them.

        • Allison

          The world could also end before any of that happens. There are lots of things that she could choose to worry about, that we could ALL worry about. Endless amounts. How much precaution is ENOUGH? I feel like no matter what Jordan does, there will always be someone saying she could do more.

          • jordanreid

            …this is true 😉

        • Jill

          I do not believe that posting a picture of your child on Facebook is any less exploitative than posting a picture on a blog. People always criticize bloggers for doing it but if you think there is any true privacy on the internet you are mistaken. You sharing that picture with a few hundred “friends” might as well be thousands of strangers.

          • disqus_3JEdE8Xjzp

            Well one obvious difference is that parents who post photos on their Facebook pages normally aren’t selling a product. So maybe there is no difference in the level of invasion of privacy (although I think there clearly is) but there is certainly a difference in the level of exploitation. “Look at this cute photo of Johnny on his first day of preschool” is not the same as “look at Johnny posing with this milk I was paid to promote with photos of our family” even if both photos will be seen by the entire world.

          • Jill

            Ahhhh……so what you take issue with is someone having a financial gain from their blog (which really only happens if they have blog traffic), if that person involves their kids by, for example, posting a picture of them drinking milk. That is the exploitative part. And yet, here you are! Supporting that which you stand in judgement of.

          • disqus_3JEdE8Xjzp

            I don’t take issue with someone gaining financially from a blog and I never suggested I do. A blog doesn’t have to involve kids to be interesting or profitable.
            I was simply pointing out one of the ways in which sharing photos of your children on a personal Facebook page is different than using your children in paid ads on a public blog. You’re right that I do feel like using very young children in a paid, public ad is exploitative. You’re also right that I’m contributing to the problem by reading here and should probably stop. I believe that Jordan, her husband and her friends can meaningfully consent to the use of their images and personalities here, but her children can’t. And I’m certainly not alone in that view – it’s a fundamental tenant of the American legal system that minors can’t give informed consent. Parents can consent on behalf of their children but when that same parent profits by giving consent, it becomes a very murky issue, at least morally if not legally. (Just to be clear before you say I’m calling Jordan a criminal: I don’t know the details of her contracts or California laws on this subject and I’m not accusing her of doing anything illegal. I’m saying I find it morally objectionable.)

  • Olivia

    I struggle with this too – as…well, my kids are sort of my money maker (especially Wyatt). It’s a whole new world – I appreciate the update and I think you do a great job of sharing stories without oversharing.

  • This is so awesome Jordan! I love how you’re navigating this and helping the rest of us a little bit along the way as well. And kudos on the name choice, Pan👌🏻👌🏻👌🏻

  • Sophie Chau

    You might already know, but I remember hearing their names in at least one video. I don’t remember which one, so probably quite old–but just wanted to flag that in case.

  • Beasliee

    Thanks for the insight Jordan – really interesting to read how you have chosen to involve your kids.
    They’re your kids so you know best how to manage them and their futures; parents make decisions for their kids’ futures all the time – just cause this is online it’s not more significant.
    If you send your kids to a boarding school or home school they will carry that with them and be judged for the rest of their lives so I think some people are over inflating it. Plus, in the next 10 years sharing online / technology will be so radically different you’ll look back on this and laugh!!
    Best wishes x

    • jordanreid

      I agree – I think there are so many things that we do that can have unforeseen consequences – whether positive or negative – and this is just one of thousands. I think it’s a particularly hot-button issue because it’s relatively new and the spotlight is on it, but with this (as with everything parenting-related) my feeling is you just…do the best you can. You check in with them, you try to keep lines of communication open, and most of all you let them know they’re loved and that you’re there for them, and then try to navigate the waters in the way that makes sense to you.

  • Katie Kornstein

    awe love his new name! XO

  • sara watson

    Interesting post but very sad that your kids should be a source of income for you. Surely this is a very warped way of doing things. I can’t imagine being monetized by my parents from birth…

    • LP

      This is so ridiculous (IMHO). If she didn’t share about her experience as a mother, everyone would be shouting that she’s not authentic. There’s no winning when you share your life with the public I suppose.

      • Jordan

        in Sara’s defense, I do allow my kids to be a part of sponsored posts (h&m kids; kohls, etc) – and some of these are specifically contracted to include my kids (or my husband, or my friends, or whoever). But thank you, LP – it is true that there is virtually no choice that you can make on the Internet that you will not be slammed for…especially when it comes to parenting decisions.

        I’ve seen those reality shows about stage moms. The idea of browbeating my children into “performing for the camera” makes me nauseous – but without knowing a whole lot of specifics about these women and their beliefs and situations, I’m pretty loathe to judge them.

        I recognize the potential drawbacks of my decisions. I worry about them. And still: the idea of involving my kids in my work life and allowing them to participate in this aspect of our family unit feels appropriate – even positive – to me. I feel like it teaches them things like work/life separation (I know that sounds odd, but I’m SO aware of making the distinction), patience, and responsibility. I talk to them about money a lot, and I think it provides valuable context to be able to discuss their (voluntary and generous) contributions. It feels like a really tangible way to access these complicated topics with young kids.

        But I know not everyone feels this way. I respect that. I just wish we could agree to disagree on some points and still support each other as women and as mothers, no matter what.

        • Olivia

          I’d also like to add that a HUGE amount of women are now financially independent and able to stay home with their kids (if they please) in a new career path that was NEVER done before. It’s a crazy world where a random mother from Nebraska can make $6000 for an Instagram post, but you know what? She’s forging a path for herself in a new career which is, yes, akin to the Truman Show, but also, like…wow – women can make money and support themselves and their kids in a new way! I’m in favor of that. How is this any different than stage moms or pageant parents? It’s def an odd world of using your kids to make money, but it certainly isn’t new.

        • Sam

          Above in the post, you stated that you ask your children if they want to be part of the posts and respect their decisions but in the above comment you said that certain contracts require that your kids are included–seems there is a disconnect between your two statements.