Lee Siegel, author of “Against the Machine”
A recent study published by AVG, an Internet security company, found that 92 percent of American children have an online presence by the time they are 2. One third of mothers in the United States said that they had posted pictures of their newborns online, and 34 percent of American mothers had posted sonograms of their babies in the womb. According to the AVG study, American mothers are more likely to post pictures of their children online than mothers in any other country. …
In the infinitely expansive world of Web diversion, it seems as if babies and children exist only as actors. And what they perform is often some impersonation of adulthood. It is as if the idea of innocence has become so alien to us that we must use the camera to transform children into reassuring reflections of our adult selves, and of our highest adult priorities.
The intriguing facts in the first paragraph quoted do not justify the observations of the second. I am not convinced the treatment of children in the digital age is qualitatively different from ages preceding.
Parents, it seems to me, have always treated, dressed, and displayed their kids as little grown-ups, as surrogates for themselves, and it is hard to see a better way to teach kids how to grow up.*
Children learn by imitation. Their “innocence” is bounded by the barriers we erect to keep them from that which we do not want them to imitate, and thus to learn.
I help raise a four year old. We keep him away from certain Anglo Saxon words not to preserve his “innocence,” but because it is much easier for us. As soon as he learns those inevitable f*ing words, we will have to teach him how to NOT use them.
It is not his innocence at stake. It is our convenience. Which, we are convinced, is for his own good as well. There are many more important things he has to learn, right now, about how to deal with grown ups. We will put that one off for as long as we can.
* That is admittedly anecdotal and I have not the time to do the relevant research, but I would be very surprised if such research supported any other conclusion.