In a time before the world was ruled by iPhones, Facebook likes and the Kardashians, caring for a sick child meant a doona on the sofa and an endless supply of cordial and cartoons.
Fast forward to 2018 and it’s a very different approach, with the current trend falling firmly on parents posting photos of their sick children on social media.
Facebook appears to be the predominant channel of choice, with its check-in capabilities perfect for an on-trend cryptic hospital post, but even Instagram and Twitter are getting a look in.
Many of us have probably joined the sickie social media movement without even really noticing, others will be in the eye-roll camp, muttering about the modern-day digital devil invading our children’s privacy.
But Dr Kristy Goodwin, a specialist in parenting in the digital age, says there’s a real reason why parents choose to share their child’s sickness so publicly and it has little to do with parental concern.
“A lot of parenting isn’t instantly awarding, you don’t get the accolades or the phrase you get from your work, for example,” she explains.
“It’s delayed, usually when your children turn out alright. But social media gives parents that instant gratification.
“By posting a photo of a sick child, they instantly get likes and comments asking if everything is alright. And that can be addictive.”
Validation via the online world usually drums up images of slinky blondes in even slinkier bikinis, posing and posting for likes and followers.
But for parents, Dr Kristy Goodwin says that validation comes from showing the world how well they are parenting.
But she admits that the decision to share a photo of a sick child isn’t often a conscious decision but an extension of how over-sharing on social media is now normalised.
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“I think every parent’s core desire is to be a good parent,” she adds. “I don’t think anyone sets out to do any thing that is wrong.”
But isn’t it sometimes an obvious and shameless attempt at attracting sympathy? After all, checking a child into hospital without any details is a sure-fire way to attract a lot of comments.
Dr Goodwin admits that this type of post is “very obvious click bait”, adding: “Attracting sympathy is definitely a part of it. I call it digital accolades.
“As parents we often post photos under the guise of look at what my parent is doing or look what I am doing for my child.
“But it’s really a desire for a digital liking, for a desire to feel connected, which is one of our biological drivers as a human, and a need to experience empathy. So it does fulfil a purpose.”
But the Sydney-based technology and development expert, who wrote Raising Your Child in a Digital World, explains there are less superficial reasons parents share.
“For many parents when their kids are seriously sick, they have lost all control and their world is literally spinning out of control. The other biological drivers that we have is that we need to feel we are in control,” says Dr Goodwin.
“So when parents go on their social media, they have some sense of control over their life again. They can post things and choose exactly what aspects of their child’s sickness that they want to post.”
But Dr Goodwin warns that a parent’s decision to share photos of children – either when they are sick or perfectly fine – impacts on a child’s privacy and digital footprint.
In September last year, an Austrian teen took her parents to court for violating her privacy by posting photos of her as a young child. Remaining anonymous, she told Austria’s Heute newspaper, “They knew no shame and no limits.”
Instead, Dr Goodwin suggests that parents pause before they post and think about the ramifications of sharing certain images.
She also recommends introducing permission to post, asking children – of a certain age – if they consent to sharing.
“Parents are facing all these digital dilemmas,” she explains. “We’re the first generation raising kids in a digital world. Even as adults, we are trying to navigate this digital space. We have no frame of reference.
“We can’t go back to how our parents did it. They took photos and printed them out and put them in an album and you looked at them every so often.
“But it’s now very different. I tell parents all the time, you lose all control of what happens to those photos once you publish them online.”
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