That Time My Kid Googled Me And I Was No Longer 'Dad'

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Author and daughter, google search

"Hey Daddy, are you popular?” My eight-year-old daughter ambushed me one Sunday morning, her voice squeaking equally with cheekiness and curiosity.

“Huh?” I said, deep in a different thought as I looked up from my phone, half-dazed in a scrolling coma.

“Are you famous?” She hugged her iPad to her chest like it held information that could risk national security.

“Why do you ask?” I quizzed, suddenly giving her my full attention, courtesy of my ego recognizing a stroking opportunity.

She flipped the iPad around. “Because I just googled your name and there are lots of photos and links and stories about you.”

I couldn't help but break into a smile. (Ego successfully stroked.) But then also a sense of dread as I thought, “Oh geez … what has she seen?”

I grew up in the 1980s when the pinnacle of technology in the house was the video cassette recorder, although, we were the poor souls with the Betamax model.

I vividly remember going to the video rental store with my parents, spoilt for choice with a grand total of — wait for it — about six movies to pick from! Seriously, The Goonies? Again?! I mean, I'd seen it that so many times I was convinced searching for One-Eyed Willy's treasure was a viable career goal for me.

Meanwhile, the VHS elite was drowning in a cinematic paradise with shelves upon glistening shelves lined with endless entertainment and exclusive access to ‘rent one new release and get ten weekly rentals for free’ deals. Not that I was jealous. Do I seem jealous? (If you were born after about 1995 you probably don’t know what I’m talking about.)

Anyway, you know what wasn’t around in my ’80s childhood? Facebook friend requests, Instagram filters, LinkedIn thought leadership pieces, texting, mobile phones, or even Medium.

The Internet? It sounded more like some sort of upper-class racquet sport to me back then.

In those days, what we knew about stuff was mostly limited to what we could observe happening around us in real-time. Certainly, when it came to my parents, any intel was straight-up analog. The rare trip to my Dad’s office was just a glimpse into what he did when he was wearing his suit. Dinner parties were an opportunity to listen to my parents and their friends telling stories until I was told to go to bed. Then, I’d crack my bedroom door ajar when I heard their tone hush, trying to catch words I probably shouldn’t have.

Then there were the old fixed wall phones, often strategically placed in the kitchen. I’d be en route from bedroom to refrigerator to the backyard and overhear snippets of information from my Mum as she caught up on all the neighborhood gossip. Despite the handpiece being clamped to her ear with one hand and aimlessly doodling on a notepad with the other, she still somehow always managed to point at me as a warning not to eat the ‘good biscuits.’

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Evolving from analog parents to digital humans

This cocktail of mystique and limited info meant most of us eighties kids saw our folks purely in their “parental” roles. We hardly understood that, outside of being Mum and Dad, they were full-fledged adult humans with their own dreams, desires, skills, fears, and faults.

This isn’t the experience our children have — as illustrated by my daughter. Now, kids can discover a bunch of information about their parents online. Just a few clicks and boom! They’ve unraveled our entire adult saga, including the chapters we might have hoped they’d skip.

Luckily, by the grace of all things pixelated, Googling my name doesn’t bring up any undesirable references or show me belting out 90s rock anthems after a few too many tequilas at some dodgy bar. (Not admitting anything, but I’m not not admitting it either.)

But the internet gives our children a unique opportunity to learn a lot about us — their parents — as real people.

My daughter might stumble upon that time I cried in front of my team or listen to me talking about the tough times building a startup. She might see photos of me out of the typical Dad-mode context or read about when I said no businesses care about going green. (Whoops. Guess I got that wrong — it was 2008, so cut me some slack.)

You know what, she’ll probably even read this very piece, the sneaky little thing.

It got me thinking: What are the repercussions of this? If kids still struggling with tying their shoelaces have the means and motivation to Google their parents and learn about their lives outside of being Mum or Dad, is this good or bad?

I stalk — err, follow — a few parentals on the platform formally known as Twitter. Now, some of these folks will throw their kiddos under the bus.

I understand it’s just for a few digital chuckles. You know these tweets: “Decorating a cake with Miss 8yo is a nightmare … I’d rather have a bottle of whisky and a one-way ticket outa here.” Funny? Sure. But picture Little Miss 8yo stumbling on that tweet. Would she get the joke? Or would she take it seriously, harboring it inside and feeling terrible?

On the other hand, perhaps kids learning more about our non-parental personas early on is kinda, sorta, maybe … good? Could it strengthen relationships and help them mature emotionally as they realize that we are, after all, simply human beings like them … not the superheroes they might think we are?

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Screen time revelation: It’s us, not them

A natural reaction to all this might be to think, “Well, that’s it, little Tommy is gonna spend way less time on his iPad!” Most parents already know the daily struggle with screen time. Trying to pry our kids from the YouTube videos and the TikToks feels like wrestling an octopus in a phone booth.

I always have this lurking fear: Will endless hours of screen time turn their little brains to mush — will they be emotionally dead inside, unable to relate to real people in the physical world? (In fact, a few years back, I even questioned whether screen time was affecting my learning capacity.)

However, a 2022 study showed no significant relationship between children’s digital media use and emotional intelligence: “Concerns about children’s digital or screen media use are perhaps overblown in terms of impeding emotional skill development.” Phew. But hold on, we ain't out of the woods yet.

The same study threw dark clouds over us parents. When we get sucked into the digital scrolling vortex of death in full view of our kiddos, that can put a dent in their emotional growth: “Given that parents have, at best, divided attention when using their phones in the presence of their children … it is reasonable to imagine that children lose the benefits of their parent’s emotional responses to their words and deeds.”

So, hold on a minute — here’s the twist: it’s less of a concern that our kids are reading the stupid crap we post online and more of an issue when they catch us in the act of doing it. 

RELATED: The Right (Or Wrong) Age To Let Your Kids Have A Social Media Account

Sharing stories over a shared screen

After that mic-drop realization, here’s another thought: Could our adult digital breadcrumbs be the very keys to stronger connections with our kids? Stay with me here.

We’ve accepted that our Internet imprint might not reflect the perfect parent persona. Our kids living inside that golden bubble where parents are just, well, parents — that’s bound to burst before we’re ready thanks to Google and our habit of oversharing and addiction to chasing views. Instead of seeing this as a pitfall, what if it’s an untapped treasure trove for forging deeper bonds?

You see, the same research study that gave us parents a bit of a slap on the wrist for being digitally distracted had another important and more flattering finding: “Parental emotional mediation of their children’s [online] media use is positively associated with both emotional intelligence generally and empathy specifically.” 

By “mediation,” the authors are referring to joint interaction — diving into consuming online content side-by-side with your kid and unpacking it through conversation.

Let’s take a trip back to the 80s (yes, again) and think about this. Although the opportunities to learn about my parents' non-parent lives were few and far between, when they did happen, they were physically shared experiences: the times in Dad’s office, the dinner parties with family friends, seeing Mum on the phone while she pointed at me with her weird third hand.

Those weren’t complex, but they were real connections. I could see my parents' expressions and hear their tone of voice. It revealed sides of my parents I wouldn’t have understood otherwise.

Flash forward, and instead of just rolling our eyes and saying, “Darn you, Internet,” what if we used this as an opportunity to connect deeper? How about embracing the fact that our kids might Google us — encouraging it even?

Yeah, it feels a bit weird. But maybe we should get off our devices, give our kids some undivided attention, and try it as a conversation starter.

Imagine the look on my daughter’s face when we discover that old article where I ranted about ‘going green’ way before it was the rage. That’s a gateway to a hearty talk about growth, change, evolving beliefs, and even admitting when you’re downright wrong.

In that way, every old online photo, tweet, or blog is an anecdote waiting to be shared. It’s a chance to show our kids that, hey, beneath this ‘Mum’ or ‘Dad’ title, we’re a hodgepodge of experiences, emotions, and epiphanies. We aren't perfect; we’ve cried, we’ve messed up, we’ve grown — just like them.

Inevitably, our kids will discover these revelations themselves. When they do, rather than looking over, seeing us staring blankly at our screens, and forming their own conclusions — wouldn’t it be better to open up a dialogue? Maybe it leads to an emotion-filled discussion about grit, resilience, the highs and lows of chasing dreams…whatever. It’d all be pure gold.

So, all of this begs the question: Am I Internet famous? Only in the wide-eyed gaze of my young daughter. Sorry to disappoint you.

I might not have a queue of fans outside my door waiting for a signature, but it’s clear, just like many of us, I’ve etched out an online digital legacy over the past twenty-something years through both work and personal pursuits.

However, this whole saga isn’t just about digital footprints and misinterpreted Google searches. It’s a reminder of the significant role we parents play in shaping our kids’ online journeys — especially when that winding path offers a sneak peek into our own lives.

While the Internet offers countless stories, lessons, and personalities, there’s also our story we’ve weaved across the web, and we need to be conscious of how that plays out for our kids. And hey, if in that tale, I get to be both a Dad and someone famous? Well, I’ll take it.

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Clayton Moulynox initially studied journalism, a passion he still pursues today, and has worked within the technology industry for over two decades. He currently operates a niche consulting firm, primarily working with startups.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.