What you post on the Internet stays there, if not forever then at least for a very long time. So what may seem like a moment of merriment can turn out to be an embarrassment that hangs around far longer than you ever imagined.
For the record, I am not lecturing careless, renegade tweens and teens who have heard this diatribe countless times over sexting, inappropriate posts and other online bad behavior.
No, this time the screed is directed at parents who post videos of their children online in the hopes that their child's adorable, brilliant, engaging antics will go viral.
Let's be fair here. When we, as expectant parents, buy that first video camera, we say we're going to chronicle the great firsts in our child's life. First solid foods, first steps, first words. In reality, we are hoping to get the goods on the kids. Catch them doing something so incredibly embarrassing that when played years later at a graduation party or wedding rehearsal dinner, nothing but uncontrolled laughter and red faces will ensue.
I am in possession of several such videos, including one depicting 2-year-old twin boys playing with the toilet, splashing the water and opening and closing the lid. (How it ends permanently disqualifies me from Mother of the Year honors, but it's still pretty darn funny.)
But these home movies, as they were originally called, were intended to be just that; to be viewed in your home by a select circle of family and friends who were either too polite to tell you that your kids weren't really that entertaining or who knew that if they watched now, they'd get you back when they had kids of their own.
But today, it's almost impossible for a day to go by without seeing the latest viral video of kids being kids. To be fair, the baby laughing hysterically as his dad rips up rejection letters is pretty darn cute and the kid's a baby, so how likely is he to be recognized or held up to ridicule when he goes to preschool?
But the same cannot be said for the subjects of one of the latest hot kid viral videos. Two brothers, who appear to be about 8 and 10, are shown in the back of their parents' car sobbing over the end of "The Odd Life of Timothy Green." (Spoiler alert: Don't watch the video if you don't know how the movie ends). It seems the family has just come out of the theater and the boys have dissolved into paroxysms of grief, the kind of can't-catch-your-breath-sobbing we've all seen kids fall victim to.
Initially, the parents seem interested in making the grief over the movie's ending a teachable moment. You can hear the mom talking about the "circle of life." But at some point, Mom and Dad are just so enthralled with what they're capturing on video that they seem to encourage the hysteria. Just as it appears to be winding down, you can hear the mother say, "Do you want to see the movie again?," a chuckle obvious in her voice. Cue the floodgates as the sobbing starts again.
The parents knew they had video gold here. But they acted just like that 16-year-old who in the heat of the moment posts an ill-advised photo to Facebook or tweets something inappropriate. Instead of tucking the video away for embarrassing showings to aunts, uncles and cousins, they posted it online. If you Google "boys crying over Timothy Green," the video fills six pages of search results.
These boys are now back in school. Maybe their classmates haven't seen the video; maybe if they have, they are good enough kids not to tease the brothers.
But if we don't want our kids doing stupid things online, we would be well advised to set the example by not doing stupid things online ourselves.
- - -
Grant, the editor of The Washington Post's KidsPost section, also writes about parenting issues.