The transparency between spouses should be total, as they are called to be totally one in Christ. The transparency between friends will be significantly less. Regarding Internet usage, we should not be afraid to share how we use the Internet—it’s public anyway. For example, companies like Google, Facebook, etc. are mining that usage to target us with ads. So, be open. Transparency with friends, though, should not share intimate information or photos regarding one’s marriage or family—that would betray their confidence in you of safeguarding them.

A child’s transparency with his parents will be at first total (he is the fruit of the parents’ total self-giving), and decrease with time. Children and vulnerable adults are naturally transparent with their parents and siblings, but all too often with strangers too. Children and vulnerable adults are unaware that others can abuse that transparency to groom and take advantage of them. 

Children need to learn how to protect private information and confidential details reserved for very intimate relationships, such as between parent and child, and between spouses. Much information between friends and other relationships should remain confidential too.

Parents can teach children that just as certain things are done in the bathroom—it’s private—certain information is private. And just has certain things are done in the bedroom, our sacred space, some information should stay in the family—especially between spouses—and with God, such as our sins in Confession. 

What Information NOT to Share on the Internet

Facebook, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, Instagram, SnapChat, TikTok, and Pinterest are among the hundreds of platforms that allow people throughout the world to share their thoughts and feelings, and to be “friended” or followed by hundreds and even thousands of people—this can make us feel good and important with a false sense of self-esteem. There is no official handbook for social networking etiquette, so judgment is needed. 

Facebook, users can send personal messages or post notes, images or videos to another user’s wall. The wall is there for all to see so never share personal and private matters on your wall, it is like using a bullhorn to share a private issue with your friend that the world can also hear. So don’t share something you’d feel uncomfortable sharing in person with extended family, acquaintances, work colleagues, or even strangers.

Be cautious with profiles: Pew Research found that only 60 percent of users restrict profile access to friends, family, and colleagues; 40 percent have open access for anyone to view their profile information as well as photos you post.

We all need to learn that email or private messages on Facebook are not truly private, even though we intend them to be: what we choose to share can be shared again, making possible for anyone to get a hold of that post or message. Consider how many accidental Reply_All messages have been unintentionally sent! Consider you all your posts (even private ones) as public and you won’t be hurt.

The Internet is also a place where one can pretend to be someone who they are not, even pretending to be the same age as the child, only to lure them into a false confidence and secret relationship so as to rob that child of possessions and innocence. This happens with adults too.

Teach your children (your friends) there is such a thing as sharing too much information (TMI)—even in face-to-face encounters. It’s easy to get caught up in “knowing” another person’s intimate secrets or private information—it makes us feel important to them—but it may not be appropriate. Parents should encourage their children to share what others share with them so that, as parents, you can direct and guide them about the healthy uses of social media.

It is important to teach children what kind of information is dangerous to share on social media, such as birthdays, phone numbers, address, banking and credit card numbers, social security numbers, passwords, photos of themselves, of family, or of friends. Even schools, churches, newspapers, and news outlets require your permission to post your photo… so you should do the same. Never post an embarrassing or private photo of yourself or of another person—it would betray your relationship with that person and your relationship with others. Even posting information of your schedule and social plans can tell thieves when to rob your house or to steal your mail and sign up for new credit cards in your name.

Some Suggestions to Discuss as a Family (or for Oneself)

When did I ever feel good about how many “friends” or followers I had on the Internet? Was that feeling well founded? Did anyone try to take advantage of that feeling? Was there ever a time that we discovered someone to be totally different than how they were portrayed on the Internet?

Can I make a phone, FaceTime, or Zoom call instead of texting or posting to WhatsApp, FaceBook, Twitter, etc.

Fr. John Waiss