Social Media is more of a driving force for connecting with others and creating the news rather than discussing breaking news. The iCloud leaking nude images, for example. Not to mention all the attention paid to the Ice Bucket Challenge. These two “events” illustrate just how keen we are to ‘share’ with others.
This shift in the landscape has always made me uncomfortable as a parent.
Let me explain. My friend has launched an app called TinyBeans. I can use TinyBeans to save all the images of my son, and send email notices to my family and friends. They can comment and download the photos. The reason I love this app, is not just because it is so easy to use, but because I see apps like this one as part of my role as a protective parent. I am looking after my son’s digital footprint just as I ensure bruises are kept to a minimum.
Other parents seem as concerned as I am. They are opting for ‘Blackouts’ where they do not post images of their (or other people’s!) kids. Good for them. All too often I go to parties or farms where parents are watching their children through a lens. I am always aware where my son is, as he is not their property to share.
While I might sound a little vigilante-y about this issue, more people are starting to see the problem. For example, the NY Times recently brought together a group of voices on Children and Digital Privacy. One of these voices, James P. Sheyner, comments on what he calls ‘Sharenting.’
According to Sheyner, “It's called "oversharenting" for a reason. If you do choose to share images of your kids online, consider the history and reputation you're creating for them. How will they feel about their digital footprints in five years? How will these footprints affect the way other people see them? Consider using a social network's settings to create small, closed groups that include a limited number of people with whom you share more private moments. Even then, be vigilant about content. There's a difference between broadcasting a moment of pride – the first piano recital or the winning goal – and posting something sensitive or potentially embarrassing.”
So, as for potentially embarrassing photos, consider the UK, where the ice bucket challenge has gone from celebrities, to average folk and now their children. In my newsfeed today, I have seen five and six year olds in swimming costumes being soaked in the name of charity. I do not have any issue with children being more aware of others in the world and understanding how charities can help BUT it just leaves a bad taste.
Which brings us to blogger Amy Heinz, who recently gave five key rules for sharing her kids’ photos online. Her final one really struck a chord with me:
“I’d think about how my kids would feel if they read what I was writing.
Ok, I definitely I have work to do on this one. Goodness knows there have been laughs along the way that may have been at their expense (though I really and truly always try to make myself the butt of the joke), but I really try to tell stories that are relatable about being a mom. People relate to real—to raw honesty. And now, as Big is getting older, he does actually read the posts I write about him. So far, he hasn’t asked me to stop. In fact he even seems to love being the subject of my writing. But when he does say enough, I will listen.”
A little bit of me thinks that by the time one’s child objects, it will be too late. Is Heinz right? Are parents doing this more for themselves than others? Would you hand out hard copy images of your children to others as you do slapping images in people’s newsfeeds? Just because you can share, does not mean that you have to.
In a similar vein, some parents are now opting out of Facebook. This article by Barbara Ortutay asked a range of parents for their reasons for taking this step. Here are a few extracts from it:
"’If I don't want somebody to know about my child, to take an active interest in them, to recognise them in a city street or as they are leaving the schoolyard, the easiest way to do that is to not have any identifying information out about them,’”
”’In 2014 we sort of feel like the repercussions of sharing private data are totally unpredictable,’” says another. And then there’s the father who bought the website domain of his son two days after he was born. "I'm going to make it a private website with a password so family can log in" to see updates. When he gets old enough, I'll probably give him the keys.’”
The parents Ortutay interviewed are being protective, digitally protective of their children for a future world of technology we do not yet understand. With about 70% of parents now posting images of their children online and sharing key milestones, those of us who worry about oversharing are in the minority.
Yet it is becoming a hot topic. The Guardian’s are released a collection of voices (and ideas) on Sharenting. It includes discussion about the images used by parents to celebrate milestones (wetting the bed or boys wearing pink nappies) might be used as fodder if they grow up to have a life in the limelight to how ‘funny’ parenting experiences could become the weapons of torture when they hit secondary school and bullying kicks in. The adoring images uploaded for people to smile as suddenly will become bait or objects for ridicule for those fifteen-year-old ‘mean girls’.
Here is the link again - Sharenting. I’ll wait here.
Food for thought eh? I think sometimes the initial act is from an innocent place, but once something is posted online, you cannot control, protect or understand how others may view these private images. For example, my world, a relative has posted images of my son and other children at a festival who she thought were cute, but are not hers. You can imagine my response. That was a few years ago but it made me consider why I had such a negative response to her post. Simply put I think we SHOULD protect children - even when we don’t really know what is ahead.
So what is Facebook for now? What are we using Instagram for and who is it really celebrating - our children or us as parents? What can you do if you are a parent? You can choose to create a locked community or use apps that allow you to share with selected users - you don’t need Facebook. The Common Sense Media organisation offers a range of tips to help you get your head around eSafety in your home for your family. Have a look.
If you use any apps you think others would like or have a view on this, we would love to hear from you!
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