As a mother of two boys, I admit that I am often torn between sharing adorable moments with the kids on social media and the need to respect the privacy of my children, who are blissfully unaware of my dilemma.
The convenience of posting pictures that can be picked up by loved ones and close friends in an instant can trump the long-term implications of embarrassing evidence of our children’s misdemeanours in infancy. Nowadays, it’s become almost a rite of passage to post a photograph of your sweet little newborn with mom and dad from the hospital bed, followed by a string of ‘firsts’ bath, walk, even the first poop in the toilet. You name it, social platforms have it. But will what’s cute and innocent today be viewed in the same light when your child hits their teens or even applies for a job and their manager discovers a hilarious picture of them doing something ridiculous they had no idea or agency over?
Several years ago, The Wall Street Journal conceived the term ‘sharenting’ or ‘over-sharenting’ to define the online posting of anything from naked baby pictures to a plethora of personal family moments highlighting their child’s achievements. The term has now made its way into English language dictionaries and, whilst the phrase is often used in a tongue and cheek way between friends, we would be naïve to ignore the possible side-effects for children.
Earlier this year, a report entitled Life in ‘Likes’ by the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, and picked up by The Lancet, criticised the sharing of photos of children by parents, which many children find distressing but feel impotent to challenge. There is even a suggestion that the UN Convention on the Human Rights of the Child should be amended to reflect the digital age that we live in.
A couple of years ago, a study of 249 pairs of parents and their children in the US showed that over double the number of children than parents wanted rules on what parents could share. Although these children were aged between 10-17, it suggested that when they are linguistically at a stage where they can articulately vocalise their feelings on the subject, they were willing to object to the scattergun approach to sharing their images/videos with the world.
Recently, I wrote an article for a UK based organization, Inclusive Minds, that is working towards more inclusion, diversity and equality in children’s literature. I dithered about whether to include a photograph of my children, wondering whether the eight-year-old would one day cringe at finding a photograph of him surrounded by books he later finds childish. Perhaps he might disagree with the position I’ve taken in the piece or even with the author of the book he is photographed with and then, what would I do? Once it’s out there, the laborious task of gaining permission to have it taken down and then ensuring no trace seemed to be an unnecessary headache. When I mentioned to the boys why I was taking a picture of them reading, they were indifferent. In the end, I decide to include a photograph of both boys so that only the back of their heads are visible. In this instance, it felt right but there may be other occasions, as there have been previously, where it feels natural and OK to post an image for the delight of my family and others.
I feel the key take home point in this debate is to be running through the pros and cons of posting each item in your head before the media is out there and to be having discussions as a family and with the children (when it is age appropriate) about their feelings on the subject. The next generation are growing up with a different approach and understanding of privacy than their parents but that does not mean that they won’t desire a sense of agency, dignity and respect for themselves via the visible material that represents them in the virtual world.
So, if you are pregnant and wondering how to navigate social media channels when your bundle of joy arrives, it might be a good idea to discuss your thoughts and feelings with your partner and others so that when the time arrives to grab your smartphone and capture those precious moments, you will already be on the same page about what you are all comfortable with. Would you like to share photos with a handful of friends and family or do you have no problem with the idea of sharing on public sites? There are no fixed rules but getting the balance right and putting some thought into it beforehand is critical in today’s era.
We all know that what we share has a traceable footprint, but let’s not be the parents leaving unwanted digital scars on our children to be discovered later down the line.