When public relations executive Connie LaMotta joined Facebook three years ago, she was new to the social media scene but excited to become a part of her three adult sons' online world. "I was quite pleased with myself," she says. "Me, the modern, cool Mom." Her sons weren't so pleased. One of the first things LaMotta did was unwittingly break one of the unwritten rules of social media--she embarrassed her kids online.
Her sons, all in their 30s and with highly public careers, were horrified to discover that their mother had publicly tagged them with childhood photos--one son in his altar boy outfit and another receiving his first communion.
"That's when the outrage came," she says. All three sons howled their disapproval and she took down the photos. "One of my sons is a musician with a large following. The last thing he wanted was his friends seeing him as an altar boy!" Now she watches closely to see what her children do, especially when it comes to posting photos of her grandchildren, and takes her cues from them. And she posts plenty of innocuous photos of flowers and trees that don't talk back: "Mother nature is my friend," she laughs.
Back in the good old days, Mom might have whipped out the embarrassing childhood pics in the privacy of your own home, limiting your red-faced chagrin to the few unlucky people who happen to be over visiting--usually a prom date. These days, thanks to social media, mom-barrassment is quickly spread to hundreds if not thousands. Make that millions if you're a celebrity.
And it's not just on Facebook, either. Take what happened to rapper L'il Bow Wow in January. It started when the rapper's mother, Teresa Caldwell, chided her son via Twitter for not spending enough time with her. "Daughters aren't like that," she tsked. Then she--eww!--talked about her love life, saying that her ex-boyfriend looked good, but that she had a new "boo." To top it off, she began Twitter-stalking her son's friends, asking Kim Kardashian for weight loss tips and calling Beyonce's sister, Solange, "sweetie." It was all so … Mo-o-om!
Bow Wow finally told her to get off Twitter and threatened to delete his account if she didn't. But fans--possibly taking enjoyment in the tough rapper's mom-humiliation--rallied around Ms. Caldwell. Then, like any good mother, she tacked on a guilt trip: "Bow, u should never try and stop a person from saying inspirational words." You could almost see the grin on her face as she typed that.
Of course Bow Wow's not the only one to suffer such public humiliation. Indeed, the problem has gotten so bad that there's even a website dedicated to parents (mostly moms) who embarrass their kids on social media. Here, people get their revenge by--what else?--reposting their mom-barrassments. "Dad thinks you look like Cher, please change photo fast," was one recent shared post.
"There's a whole world of confusion right now," says Faye Rogaski, founder of Socialsklz, an offline workshop that teaches online communication skills to children and teens. "I always advise parents to treat Internet social interaction just as they would face-to-face interaction."
Jack Vonder Heide, who advises companies on how to use social media to attract Generation Y customers, says that children should have a "frank" discussion with parents about embarrassing them online. "In most cases, the parent is unaware that their behavior is causing difficulties. Most will immediately rectify the situation and avoid offensive behavior in the future," he says--optimistically.
Lyss Stern, founder of divamoms.com, an online lifestyle company for New York mothers, finally had to do an "intervention" on her mother, whose embarrassing photo posts included her daughter in her bat mitzvah gown at 13 and, most excruciatingly, in her Wonder Woman bathing suit at age 5. "I took her to lunch and explained to her that I loved her, but enough already. Some things don't need to be shared with 2,000 people." It's been three weeks since the lunch, and so far, so good.