Consider this before you share your kids’ photos on social media without their consent
In the 1920s, experts told parents that they should touch their children as little as humanly possible, lest they grow up to be unwieldy brats.
“Never hug and kiss them or let them sit on your lap,” wrote behaviourist John Watson, in the 1928 book Psychological Care of the Infant and Child.
“Shake hands with them in the morning. Give them a pat on the head if they have made an extraordinarily good job of a difficult task. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say goodnight.”
It’s easy to see how something that seemed normal and morally acceptable in one era can easily be viewed with abject horror by future generations.
I thought of this phenomenon while reading a report on parents’ views of their children’s online privacy.
Released last year by the London School of Economics, the study found three in four parents who were regularly online posted pictures and videos of their kids to social media and other platforms.
That figure might seem unremarkable (even a little understated, if my Facebook feed is anything to go by), but another finding had my head spinning.
“Parents who say they are concerned about privacy are actually more likely to share images of their children online — both with close family or friends and with wider contacts.”
I imagined conversations between parents in 2092, heaping well-deserved scorn on their forebears: “Did you know that back in 2018 people regularly put images of their children online, despite knowing there were privacy risks? In fact, the more aware they were of the dangers, the more likely they were to do it?”
It all points to a remarkably cavalier attitude to online privacy; one where the rights of children to have a say in where and when their images are shown is largely disregarded for no other reason than they are not adults. That, and cute pictures of kids are guaranteed to get parents a ton of Likes.
‘It’s not my identity to play around with’
This is something that Melbourne father and early childhood teacher Stewart, 34, considered carefully before the birth of his children.
He and his partner made a conscious decision to never post identifying photos of their kids, and to not use their names. For Stewart, it’s a straightforward issue of consent.
“Who am I to take somebody’s identity and share it in very public and permanent ways without the child or myself having a full grasp on the long-term ramifications?” he says.
“It’s not my identity to play around with.”
Stewart says he or his partner occasionally post pictures of their children from behind, or using other de-identifying methods, which takes no extra effort.
“You have all the power in the situation and your child has none,” he says.
If my son Oscar ever met Stewart, there’s a fair chance the latter would receive a huge high five. Ever since he’s known about the existence of social media, Oscar (who was keen to participate in this story) has been clear that consent must be sought and given before photos can be posted.
“It’s embarrassing when parents put pictures up of you and you don’t know about it and you know that picture is really going to be on the internet forever, whether you delete it or not,” Oscar, now a teenager, says.
For the most part, I have complied with Oscar’s wishes. But I’ll also admit there were rare times in the past when I’ve put a sneaky picture onto Instagram without his permission (probably doing something cute and/or hilarious, and I couldn’t get his consent for whatever reason).
I’d justify it by saying to myself that his objections were a childhood eccentricity, rather than something to be taken deadly seriously.
Child and adolescent psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg says this is not the attitude that parents should bring to the table when managing these issues with their kids.
When it comes to older children, Dr Carr-Gregg says parents should always seek permission and have meaningful conversations before posting. With younger children, he says parents shouldn’t post images of them at all.
- 1.Don’t share photos and videos that contain personal details, such as full names, personal contact information, or uniforms that identify location
- 2.Never add comments to photos that identify locations; for example street address, school name, or even identifying features in front of your home.
- 3.Only ever share with people who you really know and trust. Rather than posting to all of your friends on social media, be selective and use the privacy settings on your social media platform. Also, be aware that if one of your friends likes your picture, it may also become visible to their friends.
- 4.Ensure that you have checked with other parents before posting and sharing images that include their children.
- 5.Be mindful of metadata — most digital photos contain information about the time, date and GPS coordinates of where the photo was taken.
And, because kids’ voices shouldn’t disappear from this important conversation, but always seem to, I’ll give the last word to Oscar (who has a YouTube channel with upwards of 80,000 views, but points out that’s irrelevant):
“I control what I put up on the internet. That’s my choice. When I put it up, I think about it. It’s really different if you put something up and I have no idea about it.”