DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am at the age now when my friends have started having children of their own. That puts me in the generation who share nearly every part of our lives online, and though I don't have children of my own, I certainly enjoy the pictures and stories my peers post about their kids (who are too young for Facebook accounts).
The trouble is, where does the cute story end and the humiliation begin?
Many of my friends with children post not only "cross-eyed bear" anecdotes, but stories of their sons and daughters being naughty or reckless (as toddlers will), and include details that, were I that child, I would not want to be public knowledge. It's known that most social media make up a permanent digital record. And even if future colleagues and friends don't find these stories, every adult the child grows up around will know them.
Since these kids won't have access to their own online identity for several years, it's a very one-sided narrative indeed. I'm not sure how to talk to the parents involved about my misgivings without seeming nosy or discouraging them from sharing their experiences raising children.
GENTLE READER: The urge to rescue endangered children is a noble one, and Miss Manners agrees with you that these children are in danger of being embarrassed in years to come. As you point out, they are not yet old enough to embarrass themselves.
However, this is not a form of cruelty that justifies outside interference. The most you can do is to say jokingly, "Wow, I bet his future bosses will enjoy seeing that."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My partner is in the military, and occasionally we find ourselves in the situation of having to go out on an errand with him in uniform. We have experienced the whole gamut of responses from strangers, from disapproving stares to adorable little children approaching us and boldly asking, "Do you fight bad guys?" Sometimes we get the standard "Thank you for your service," which he appreciates and responds to with "Thank you for saying thank you."
Most of the reactions from strangers range from tolerable to endearing (to the mother of the boy who thought he was a superhero: Your son is adorable! May he never lose his sense of wonder). Sometimes people become a little too curious and ask where he has deployed to in the past, want to know exactly what it is he does in the military, when he will be shipping out again, etc.
While these are conversations we routinely have with our friends and family, I don't think it is public information any stranger in a coffee shop should be badgering us for. What response would you recommend to terminate these conversations without sounding rude or dismissive?
GENTLE READER: You are fortunate in that this form of intrusiveness, unlike the general nosiness that is rampant nowadays, starts from a premise of respect.
Miss Manners is not suggesting that this requires your partner to enter into such conversations, only that he can draw on that respect to excuse himself. "I'm on leave, and I'm afraid my time is limited" or, "Please excuse me, but these are matters I'd rather not discuss," he can say apologetically.
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, dearmissmanners(at)gmail.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)