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'The Atlantic': 'When Kids Realize Their Whole Life Is Already Online'


We have all seen them - a pregnancy announcement on Facebook accompanied by a sonogram photo, or an Instagram video capturing a child's first steps or first words or first day of school. This is what so many of us do, right? As parents, we document the moments that are important in our child's life, and we post it online for our community to see. And as we do that, we are inevitably shaping our child's online presence. Most of the time, the child in question doesn't really get a say in the matter. And that creates complications as kids get older and realize that much of their life is already online, and anyone can see it.

Taylor Lorenz is a staff writer at The Atlantic who's been reporting on this. Her recent piece is called "When Kids Realize Their Whole Life Is Already Online." She joins us via Skype. Taylor, thanks for being here.

TAYLOR LORENZ: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: What provoked you to look into this?

LORENZ: You know, there's so much about this stuff from the parent's perspective. But I kind of just wanted to talk to kids themselves about when they started to realize that they had a digital presence.

MARTIN: What was the range of responses when you engaged them on this?

LORENZ: I mean, it kind of just runs the gamut. Some kids were upset about the information that was out there about them. So they would google themselves and find, you know, in some cases their parents had consented to school websites posting about them. They were upset that maybe their whole sports record was up there or that their parents had posted a lot more public stuff than they realized. And then some kids really liked it. Like, there was one boy who really felt like it made him feel famous to have all these pictures of himself on the internet.

Maybe 80 percent of the kids that I spoke to didn't realize the extent of their internet presence, and the ones that did had parents who sort of had proactively warned them about it. But - they had been told, you know, to stay offline, but they thought since they didn't have social media themselves that there wouldn't actually be that much about them. But in some cases, that's just not the case.

MARTIN: In your reporting in these conversations, I mean, did it create tension in any of these relationships, especially as you got to, like, the middle school age or high school?

LORENZ: That's when it starts to create tension. I think kids in elementary school are the ones that I talk to between third and fifth grade - when they first google themselves, sometimes they're kind of, like, frustrated by what they find, or they kind of think it's novel. But it wasn't till kids got to middle school that I heard anybody really say, like, I want to talk to my mom about this. I'm really frustrated by this, or my dad or, you know, whatever. So I think middle school is often when kids want to get their own social media profiles. And I think they just want to start dictating sort of their online presence for themselves...

MARTIN: Right.

LORENZ: ...At that time. So I think that's when a lot of the friction occurs.

MARTIN: But the bottom line is talk to your kids before you post.

LORENZ: Yeah, and help them understand these platforms too. You know, a lot of parents want to shield their kids from these platforms. But I think parents need to have a better understanding of how these platforms work, and they just need to open the dialogue.

MARTIN: Taylor Lorenz. She's a staff writer at The Atlantic. Taylor, thanks so much.

LORENZ: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.