Slate writer Emily Bazelon has just written a piece in which she struggles with the ethical code of writing about one's children. It is a topic that is very much related to "oversharing," the problem that plagued Emily Gould, as Bazelon mentions toward the end of her article:
In my paranoid moments, I worry that by writing about our kids, we're encouraging them to loosen or lose their own boundaries. Then someday, they'll hurtle toward the vortex that produced the awful, self-destructive oversharing of former Gawker editor Emily Gould, as she related at such length in the New York Times Magazine recently.
I'd like to think, like many of the writers I talked to, that the small revelations I offer about my kids are harmless. But what if they're not? A few weeks ago, after writing about my 5-year-old son's frustrated search for his pre-soccer snacks, I got an e-mail from reader Marc Naimark. "I was just about to post the following to the Fray," he wrote. "Fortunately Emily uses her maiden name.
Otherwise she is being cruel level 9 on a scale of 10 to her kid. Stuff on the internet lasts forever, and I'm not sure that 16-year-old Simon is going to be pleased for his friends to learn that he used to scream bloody murder about not finding his friggin' veggie sticks." This gave me pause. Maybe I need new ground rules. Or maybe at some point it will be time to stop. Except not just yet. Last night, I was talking with Eli about his misadventures at recess and thought, ah, good topic.
A problem with writing about one's kids is that the writer may not realize that he or she will be creating the first published narrative of a person's life. As Bazelon notes, in the bottomless Internet, what we write will be around for a long, long time. In my view, an ethical approach to capturing a child's life on a blog would include a eye toward fairness. If you are setting the permanent record on one's beginnings, would it be something that person would be proud of later on? Is it fair for you to be making it public? How would you feel if your kid were blogging about your life?
The Slate article generated a lot of discussion from the Fray. One posting applied the Golden Rule:
As with any ethical question, the golden rule is a pretty good guide, in my opinion. Here it is stretched by time and perspective:
1) Would the child presently want to be written about in the story as published?
2) Would the child AT ANY POINT IN THE FUTURE want to have been written about in the story as published?
It seems to me that there is such uncertainty in both these questions, especially the second, that the governing presumption must be not to publish, with only occassional (sic) exceptions. As there is certainly some wisdom to be gained by the writing and by the reading of others' writing on the subject of one's child-raising experiences, here is an additional ethically safe route, it seems to me:
1) write anything and everything one likes
2) publish nothing, or only that which passes the strict golden rule test above
3) when one's children reach some age of majority and independence, present the material for their assent or veto and publish accordingly