Let’s talk about the Internet.
Well, not just the Internet, but more specifically the topic of posting photos of your children online. It’s a somewhat controversial issue, and I’ve seen good arguments on both sides.
How much is too much to expose about your kids to the online community? Does it even matter? When have you reached the point of “oversharenting?" (meaning that you’re sharing too many intimate details about your children on social media).
I bring this up because my Facebook and Instagram news feeds are full of adorable photos of little ones—some just moments after they’ve come into the world, naked toddlers and baby’s first experience with birthday cake or some other inherently messy food. I see people’s children at practically every turn, holiday and milestone, from sitting up for the first time and mastering potty-training to their first bike ride.
It’s all very entertaining. Who doesn’t love photos and videos of little kids doing cute things?
But here’s a question—is it fair to expose intimate photos of your children to your digital friends before they’re old enough to make an informed decision about whether or not they want an online presence? Is it exploitation of your kids? These are not at all accusations, just questions, since the Web has become such a prevalent part of our lives and will only become bigger, inviting even more opportunities for us to share these details.
Slate’s Amy Webb wrote a piece not too long ago explaining she and her husband’s decision not to post anything about their daughter online.
Myriad applications, websites, and wearable technologies are relying on face recognition today, and ubiquitous bio-identification is only just getting started. In 2011, a group of hackers built an app that let you scan faces and immediately display their names and basic biographical details, right there on your mobile phone, she said.
Webb’s logic is this: if she keeps her young daughter off the internet, she’s setting her up for more success in the future—no bare-bottomed baby photos of her floating around for future employers or potential admissions officers to stumble upon. Instead, Webb and her husband occupied their daughter’s name on every social network imaginable, as well as a Gmail account before her birth, but they don’t use them for posting.
When we think she’s mature enough (an important distinction from her being technically old enough), we’ll hand her an envelope with her master password inside. She’ll have the opportunity to start cashing in parts of her digital identity, and we’ll ensure that she’s making informed decisions about what’s appropriate to reveal about herself, and to whom, Webb wrote.
And then, there’s the issue of future embarrassment. This one is way down on the list, of course, but it’s worth thinking about. Would I be embarrassed if I were a teenager with this photo of me floating around in the digital space? Perhaps the answer for your kids will be no, since the social Web will be so incredibly normal by the time they’re grown that they’d never think twice about what they put out there.
For PBS Parents, Bethany Hardy noted that according to a study by Internet security firm AVG, 92 percent of children in the U.S. “have an online presence before the age of two.”
It is possible to deter predators online as well as making sure their identities aren’t stolen by choosing good passwords and locking down your Facebook and Instagram with privacy settings, Hardy said.
But Allen resident Jennifer Sanborn said even with those options, she doesn’t want to take any risks by exposing her three children on the Web. She keeps her photo-sharing to a minimum—just among close friends and family members.
“I think people underestimate the importance of privacy for the sake of keeping everyone informed about what their children are doing or how they raise them.”
“There are so many ways that they can be taken advantage of in this exceedingly virtual world, so [my husband and I] choose not to make it easier for a predator to target our children,” Sanborn said.
Cedar Hill resident Crystal Roznik has two daughters under the age of two and shares about many of their routine activities on Facebook and her personal blog.
“When it comes to my kids now and exposing their tiny, cute tooshie pictures and adventures on the Internet, I’m not too worried. People have told me countless times, ‘They are going to hate you when they get older for posting that!’ But, I have family and friends that are out of state—that is how we keep in touch,” Roznik said.
She keeps close tabs on where she posts and to whom the photos of her kids are visible, but the young mother said she and her husband will need to have continuing conversations about their daughters’ online presence (and future profiles) as they get older.
“I hope to raise my children with a sense of humor and humility that when, and if, they go into a job interview and when/if questioned about their pre-puberty online presence, they can roll their eyes at their mom and say, ‘Yeah, they had a crazy, fun childhood, and it so happens to have been documented on the Internet,’ not something to be embarrassed about,” she said.
Mom of an 18-month-old boy, Sarah Puleo does post photos of her son to her cooking blog occasionally, but under one condition:
"My general rule is that I never show him in a state of undress," she said. "Now that he’s getting older, I [post fewer photos] of his face." As an alternative, Puleo will sometimes post photos just of his hands, for example, helping her stir a dish she's featuring on her blog.
"I want him to have control over his own online identity," she said. She doesn't worry about posting her son's name on her blog, though.
"Everyone’s on every [online] directory, so keeping your name private is kind of unnecessary," Puleo said.
Highland Park ISD Director of Instructional Technology Lisa Ham offers some tips for parents to share with their kids as they become older with regard to "digital citizenship."
Tips for parents include:
- Post pictures without names or other identifying attributes like school or team names.
- Ask permission before posting or tagging another person’s image.
- Understand and regularly check privacy settings.
- Remind students that anything posted online is not completely private.
“[HPISD teaches] digital citizenship throughout our curriculum and specifically in third and fourth grade,” Ham said. “We emphasize understanding the ramifications of a digital footprint, appropriate behavior and the consequences of online activity.”
The best rule of thumb when it comes to sharing information and photos of your kids online is to practice good judgment and ensure that you’re doing it in moderation. It’s certainly a very personal decision, and there likely isn’t a right or wrong answer—especially since the reality is that most children born in the 21st century will have no choice but to have some level of online presence as adults.
“We’re all public figures in this new digital age…” Webb wrote; however, she and her husband desire for their daughter a “digital adulthood that’s free of bias and presupposition.“
Parents, sound off: How much do you share about your kids online? What’s your reasoning? Have you ever been confronted by other parents about your decision?