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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

Images On The Web

Digital cameras were just the beginning: now, millions of kids have cellphones that'll take pictures whenever, wherever, of whatever. Many of those cellphones will even take digital video. Some web sites make it easy as pie to post those images and videos on the Web. What's more, these days many kids have access to "Webcam"-equipped computers that can reveal what they're doing in front of the computer right now.

Do your kids have the judgment to post and display only appropriate visual images? Too many kids don't. That can lead to major problems, both immediately - as others forward images that shouldn't be shared - and later, as college admission offices and employers discover those images and pigeonhole your child as irresponsible, immature, or even immoral!

What to do about it? First, set the ground rules with your kids.

The "Grandma Rule"

Start with the "grandma rule": don't put anything on the Internet you wouldn't want your grandma to see.

These days, that's not just an abstract or theoretical suggestion! Millions of grandmas and grandpas are regular Internet users. They know perfectly well how to use Google - and they do. Your child's grandparents very well could see those images from spring break, or that party they weren't supposed to attend, or that wild train trip home from the city. If your kids aren't worried about some hiring interview in the year 2020, they may very well be worried about what grandma would say - and they should be!

To be even more specific, we suggest setting these rules for your kids:
  • Never email or IM your picture to someone you don't know: they may not be who they say they are
  • Never open a picture a stranger has sent you by email or IM (and strangers include people you've met online but don't know in person)
  • Never post sexually provocative pictures
  • Don't use webcams without parental supervision. When using them, always know what's in their field of vision, and always turn them off and close their lenses when you're finished
  • Never post pictures of anyone else without their permission
When other kids post discomforting images of your child

Which, of course, raises the point: your child isn't the only one who might post images of them. Other kids might. That's where it can get tricky, because you don't have as much control over their images as you might hope.

Ask your child if anyone's posted a picture of them on the Internet that they're uncomfortable with; use Google's Image Search feature to see if there are pictures on the Internet tagged with your child's name. If you find something you don't like, sometimes you can raise the issue with the parents of the child who posted it. In other cases, you can have the site's owners remove it - or at least remove the identification that it's your child.

Facebook won't remove photos unless they're pornographic or copyrighted, but your child can remove the tag from the photo that identifies her. If someone keeps posting discomforting photos of your child, your child can remove them as a "friend": once that happens, they can no longer tag photos with your child's name.

Don't you do it, either

Finally, there's one other person who might post pictures of your children that shouldn't be online. You. Parents have been known to innocently post pictures of their own kids in various "cute" states of undress. On sites like Flickr, they've taken the precaution of marking those pictures as private: available only for viewing by close family or friends. But such settings aren't always foolproof; one family reportedly found that its kids' pictures had been viewed by strangers over 1,000 times. So, for you, one more rule: don't post pictures you wouldn't want a stranger to see.

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