Is It Time to Take Our Kids Out of the Picture?
By Stacey Ross
Many online parents and bloggers take pride in celebrating and exposing a great amount of family information and the intimate perspectives of their lives. Pervasive in social media platforms are photo updates of the family’s “pride and joy,” beginning with mom’s first ultrasound and continuing throughout the kid’s childhood into adult life. Millions of kids’ milestones are chronicled online, both “privately” and publicly, raising concerns of how much is too much, the safety factor, and the social impact it could have in the long run.
While an avid online mom, I am considered an anomaly in the mom blogging community in regards to the amount of personal information I share online. I post my kids’ projects and activities here and there, but I try to make sure that the focus is on the experiences they are enjoying, rather than on the kids themselves. I also make a point of requesting that family members refrain from using my kids’ names and from sharing personal information about them in their public streams, and yet, I have still managed to build a nice little business from blogging!
Erring on the side of caution
It's tough at times being an online mom (for work and pleasure) and not sharing the joy and excitement painted all over my kids’ faces. But I stay firm with the agreement that I made with my husband, regardless of the commodity of free and adorable models (and marketing tools) at my fingertips.
I shared my policy of offspring anonymity with Today.com. I don't share my kids’ whereabouts, faces, personal information, extra-curricular affiliations, schools they attend, or their real names. We find ways to work around these things, but the camera is still part of our fun, regardless!
This challenges me to find creative ways to adapt to a new age of communication in which it is common for families to open their homes and welcome in the public to glimpse their worlds (and often much more) – another extension of our reality-show culture.
Do the benefits outweigh the risks?
A friend made a good point when she argued, “When parents have their kids roam around public pools, schools or parks, surely they are more at risk safety-wise than when Suzie Homemaker posts a photo of little Maddie with her first birthday cake and shares it with 250 of her favorite online friends?”
I responded that while that is quite true, many parents supervise their young kids like hawks, and are able to quickly intervene if they see anything fishy going on.
She then replied that pedophiles typically are either close to the family or groom their victims over time, and are generally not some uninvolved outsiders searching random mommy blogs for baby photos.
OK, but I still urge my fellow parents to not become complacent to the reality that the Internet is a playground for pedophiles, whose numbers have grown over the past several years. Once they have their prey, a few clicks of the mouse can give them lots of extra reading material!
Another friend (and avid social media enthusiast) piped in, “I always get a kick out of kids’ first-day-of-school photos, but am absolutely amazed at how many kids I see in my streams whom I have never even met! Their parents are perfectly fine with posting photos of their kids posing right in front of their school, with school names and all. Some things are just not worth exposing.”
Regardless of the unlikelihood of eminent danger, many know the reality that photos of our most precious ones can easily can go viral without our consent. We need to recognize the possibility that conversations and images can quickly leave our circle of trust.
Jen, a 39 year-old mom of two in Northern California (and also a mom blogger) shared, “Not long ago, I posted a photo of my girl and seriously got about 900 hits within a short amount of time. She looked so adorable in her little summer outfit, but in hindsight I am a little concerned. There are ways people can look up my name and know where I live, then have an adorable girl to ID and even figure out how they can bump into us. I removed the photo, but am now unsure as to how to resume as a blogger. I have no major concern that something bad is going to happen, but I still don't know how many people can now identify my little girl. It sort of makes me sick to think about it.”
Are we becoming paranoid?
Read these studies to consider the realities of pedophilia in the new age of technology. Data shows that pedophiles look for “geo-tagging” information to find out where children live, go to school, play, or shop with their parents. And data does show that pedophiles do lurk online, typically in areas where teens and adults are chatting and posting or naively handing over their photos.
Of concern to many is that since kids are being brought up with their photos constantly plastered online, what would lead them to tone it down when they grow up? Perhaps parents pave the way for their kids, teaching them that an online presence (where presumably images are regularly updated) is somehow crucial in order to be on the up-and-up!
I shared in a previous post how a girlfriend's friend was quite open in sharing her whereabouts and vacation details, only to return to an empty home! After sharing that misfortune, I heard about similar experiences that happened to other friends, some even locally. It sparked a good conversation about the guidelines we adopt regarding location-sharing.
Growing up online is part of our culture
Kids have been indoctrinated into a culture that includes having an online presence whether they asked for it or not, and whether they realize the potential ramifications. Their detailed home life and photos displayed over the years can serve as a helpful tool for the many creeps that are out there. Sure, we can rely on privacy tools to provide some safeguards, but they can ultimately lead to false sense of security.
A CNN post entitled Is the Internet hurting children? articulates, “No one has any idea of what all of this media and technology use will mean for our kids as they grow up.....By the time they're 2 years old, more than 90% of all American children have an online history....The fact is, by middle school, our kids today are spending more time with media than with their parents or teachers, and the challenges are vast: from the millions of young people who regret by high school what they've already posted about themselves online to the widely documented rise in cyberbullying to the hypersexualization of female characters in video games.”
And what about our kids' privacy?
My greatest concerns, beyond the obvious generic safety issues, are that children should have some say in how their parents are using their images for their personal benefit, and that they should be very discerning about what they post themselves, too.
Some of those tips brought up in discussions sound reasonable:
- If you have any doubts about a photo's appropriateness, don't post it.
- Don't share information about kids that they themselves would not want to post.
- Post your vacation photos after (vs. before) your return.
- Keep any and all nudity offline
- Ask family members not to reveal kids' names, locations, or school affiliations.
Another CNN post, 'Facebook parenting' is destroying our children's privacy, resonated with me: “More than 900 million of us (and counting) willingly participate in this exchange of information for convenience and connection. But we implicate more than ourselves in the transaction. We have a right for our data to not rise up and destroy us....Our children deserve the same protections.”
The choices are quite personal. My family's posting policies are understandably not the same as my neighbors' policies. I am part of online platforms that have extensive reach, while my neighbors might have 89 Facebook friends. Just that discrepancy alone is something to consider when weighing the benefits and risks. However, I am sure everyone can agree that when in doubt, don't!
Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of SanDiegoBargainMama.com. A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.