I once thought that if only I had a dollar for every photo of every one of my friends’ kids on Facebook, I could retire and travel the world. Now, if I only had a dollar for every picture of my own kid on Facebook, I could probably do the same. For a while, it seemed that posting kid-pics was the main reason to even have a Facebook account at all! I’m not the kind of person who posts photos of my lunch, no matter how tasty it is. But my kid? Yes. Do you know anyone like me?
It’s all well and good, but only recently have my wife and I contemplated the possible risks. Is there any harm in the endless collage on our social media sites of pictures and videos of my child? A few scary stories have popped up here and there, but they are few and far between, and they usually involve teens or tweens who know how to use a computer and get themselves into trouble. But what about those images of my little one?
Besides annoying our friends who don’t yet have children, I want to explore the possibility of risk when posting those cute little kids face-planting into their first birthday cake, or running through the sprinklers naked as the day they were born. Recently, a You Tube video went viral showing some preschool children arguing about whether it was raining or sprinkling. (“You poked my heart!”) Which raises a different question as well: should my wife and I allow others to post photos or videos of our child without permission? We have come to learn that once something is on the Internet, it’s more than likely going to be there forever. What could possibly go wrong?
It’s possible that once our child is able to use computers and social media, a simple Google search may yield some embarrassing results. We may have thought it was “so cute” at the time, but friends and/or enemies later might find it to be fodder for ridicule. Harmless? Perhaps. But maybe there are ways too much posting could elicit real harm. Here are five worst-case-scenarios that make me think twice:
- Sadly, children can become targets of bad people. Pedophiles, cyberbullies, the antisocial – Internet trolls of all kinds – are lurking around the web for opportunities to abuse people and misuse content all the time. Because of this, Facebook’s policy, for example, is to remove even those pictures of cute little bare baby bums. Remember Myspace? That site quickly became a hotbed of lurkers, which contributed to its dwindled popularity. It has since been redeemed to a great extent, but it should stand as an example of what could happen.
- Going viral is a Pandora’s box. Posting something that “goes viral” can really flatter a parent’s ego to no end, like the video mentioned above. However, we may find our kid’s photo quickly becomes the subject of some unflattering meme, at the very least. But what are the long-term ramifications? It’s hard to say at this point in time. We may not know for a few years.
- My child learns habits and boundaries from us, good and bad. Posting pictures and videos willy-nilly teaches kids that it’s okay to do that. So I fear that when they are able to, they just may do the same thing. For teens especially who can use the hardware but lack wisdom that comes from experience, poor boundaries can quickly get them into hot water. We know how much our child mimics us. We have to set a good example in everything we do – including using social media. I think we should take a second look and sometimes choose not to post a video. Maybe show it to our kid first once in a while, and ask if it’s okay to post? I’ve yet to try this: capture a great photo, show it to our child, and say, “this one is special, just for us.” It may be a great moment for both of us.
- Teaching positive social skills is difficult already. Teaching good social skills has to do with many factors, so I don’t want to take this one too far. But most would agree that social media is at the very least changing the way we relate to each other. That being said, small children do not yet know how to integrate the Internet into their experience. Do I? Probably not entirely.
- We parents can miss out on real experiences when posting too often. Time spent with my face in the iPad, having my phone on and with me at all times, responding every single time I have any kind of notification – these things pull us away from those fleeting moments that can only come to us in real life, in real time. More than that, even at 1 ½ years old, my son wanted to see the photos we took on the rear screen of our digital camera just about every time we took one. The reproduction of the event came to be valued as highly as the real experience itself. I doubt that’s what we were made for.
Come to think of it, most of my teenage photos are pretty embarrassing, too. But only a select few in my life get to see those prints that, to this day, “challenge” my self-concept. Judging by that, I’m pretty sure I’d avoid causing our child some serious anxiety by keeping a lot of those pictures to ourselves.
Parenting is hard enough; now we have another world – the Wild West of the World Wide Web – in which to parent as well. This is new ground for our generations. Yes, the ‘net has been around for roughly 25 years, but it’s in the last 5 years or so that social media has really exploded like an atom bomb, pervading every realm of our lives on and off the computer – for better and for worse. Even Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the Internet, admits it needs to be cleaned up in his TED talk, A Magna Carta for the Web. In that speech, he asks,
“We can’t just use the Web, we have to worry about the underlying infrastructure of the whole thing; is it in fact of a quality that we need?”
And what does that mean for my child?
Realistically, all I can say to myself at this point is be careful. Not necessarily, be scared. But definitely hold back. Use discretion. Use protective Settings on all social media sites (I often use the Help menu for that). We can’t predict what will come of all those posts and all that data. Our little one doesn’t need to be a rock star by the age of five. There are many unanswered questions bobbling around my mind, but one thing I’m sure of, the risks and the responsibility are ours.
What do you think? Am I worried about nothing, or are there serious risks involved here?
Helpful links for parents: