When I recently found myself trying to explain to some friends of mine why I don’t put pictures of my five-year-old son on social media their reactions ranged from baffled – why not share the happiness and wonder that your little darling brings? – to mocking (why am I letting myself be made paranoid?) to borderline furious at what they perceived as my holier than thou attitude.
Certainly, this parsimonious approach to posting – or 'sharing’ as it is now dubbed – puts me very much in a minority. A new study says that by the time the average child is five, its parents have posted 1,500 images of him or her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like. This feels like a woeful underestimate. Most people I know could reconstruct their child’s gestation – the pictures begin with the 12, sometimes eight-week scan – and early years in real time from the stuff they post online. Some hint of how these children will feel about all of this in the future comes from Austria this week, where an 18-year old unnamed woman is suing her parents to force them to remove childhood pictures of her from Facebook. She told one newspaper, 'They knew no shame and no limits…they didn’t care if I was sitting on the toilet or lying naked in the cot, every moment was photographed and made public.’
Yet, posting up photos of your child on social media has become so commonplace that people rarely question it – witness last week’s bombardment of back to school photos, adorned with hash tags such as #proud and #stopgrowingupplease. But I never, or at least very rarely, post pictures of my son. I did crack a few weeks ago and tweeted one of him (fully-clothed, face not visible) eating breakfast with a pair of pants on his head, and captioned it “Monday”.
As a depersonalized one-off, it’s just about forgivable. But rare, I insist, is the five-year-old who has created 1,500 moments worth bringing to a public wider than devoted grandparents and – maybe – a loving aunt. I can spend hours on the phone to my mother detailing his every utterance, gesture and lavatory visit and the only result will be more questions, about how his hair was looking and whether his fingernails seem to be growing at a healthy rate.
Putting the equivalent of that online would be cruel and unusual punishment for friends (over posting pictures of babies or children often figures in lists of the top annoying things people do on-line) and that’s without thinking of all those casual bystanders – 50 per cent of our social media friends, according to one study are colleagues, friends-of-friends and 'people we just like the look of’ . Being a parent is a constant fight not to lose all ability to discriminate – most crucially, between the genuinely funny anecdote/picture and simply Something the Child Said/Did – and bore all those around you senseless.
And then there’s the security issue. Why bring anything about your most precious and vulnerable possession to public attention? Am I paranoid? I would say that I am rightly cautious and the 85% of people who, according to Nominet, haven’t revised their online privacy settings in the last year or don’t know how to, ought to be a damn sight more so.
We know there are terrible people out there dead set on doing terrible things. We know we once lived quite happily without uploading pictures full of identifying features (school uniforms, street names in backgrounds, captions full of nicknames for children and the real names of pets and soft toys that could provide anyone with a convincing-sounding connection to your child in the park) into public domains. The pleasures of doing the latter don’t remotely outweigh the potential injury they could elicit from the former.
And remember – so far we are only talking about the uploading that is within your control. I may not post anything online, but I cannot stop other people doing it, so I did have to put a three-line whip out to family and have asked a couple of friends to take pictures of my son down. One said sorry, one said “Why?”, which was a difficult conversation. It is hard to make a stand against any convention without people assuming you are judging them for doing things differently.
But I have to do what I feel is right for my child (and I respect your right to do treat yours differently). The average person uploads 30 pictures of children who are not their own per year. The carelessness of this appals me.
We go to such lengths in all other ways to keep our children safe, healthy and happy. Online should be no different. The internet is not an alternate dimension where different rules apply. It is part of real life and needs to be policed just as industriously. Tag me #holierthanthou, by all means. Just don’t tag my child.
To share or not to share? Famous parents weigh in
Marina Fogle, antenatal expert and wife of Ben Fogle
We’re proud of our children and see no reason not to share the odd family photo. Both my Instagram and Facebook accounts are private, so the photos there are only seen by close friends and family. I think carefully, and make sure they’re appropriate. I would never post pictures of friends, and particularly their children, without asking their permission first: that’s 21st century social media good manners.
Justine Roberts, founder and CEO of Mumsnet
I avoid posting pictures of my children on social media; I don’t have have a Facebook account. It’s very tempting, but as soon as you post photographs – no matter how strict your security settings – you no longer have complete control over what happens to them. It can help to get into the habit of thinking 'what would my child think about having their classmates stumble on this when they’re 15?’. Generic cute photo, probably fine – splashing about in the bath, they might be less comfortable with.
Toby Young, writer
On World Book Day, I posted a picture on Twitter of my 11-year-old son Ludo dressed as Goldilocks. That turned out to be a mistake. I received over 100 replies from people who thought I had a transgendered son and was advertising the fact that I let him go to school dressed as a girl. They were absolutely furious, thought I wasn’t fit to be a parent and should turn him over to social services. There are clearly people out there who are combing social media, looking for opportunities to vent their disapproval.
I do still sometimes stick pictures of the children on Twitter – my youngest in his QPR kit on match days, for instance – but I'm going to stop doing it when they're older.
It’s a shame that some parents now feel they can’t share their family pics for fear of their privacy being threatened. Sharing photos can build a sense of community and it’s a way to connect with friends, families and other parents, particularly when families are so often dispersed across the world. You simply have to adopt a bit of common sense with what is appropriate and be mindful of the type of information you are revealing.
Celia Walden, writer and wife of Piers Morgan
I get that Facebook is a digital photo album for friends and family, but I would never allow a picture of my daughter to be posted on any other form of social media. Because I loathe and detest it, for one thing, but also because she's got a lifetime of being subjected to other people's gaze and other people's judgement in front of her. And the idea of that breaks my heart.
Cathy Newman, Channel 4 News presenter
I very rarely put anything remotely personal online. Partly this is because I’m incredibly old-fashioned about family photos: I print them out and put them in an album.
But above all, it’s because my daughters didn’t choose me as a mum, so why should they be forced to share in the scrutiny (oh, and the abuse!) I get? When they’re older I’m not sure they’d be too happy if I’d put every step of their childhood out there for all to see. The antics my generation got up to at school are locked in the past, and the memories of those who participated. Life isn’t so easy for today’s children, so why make it any harder for them?
Melanie Rickey, fashion journalist and wife of Mary Portas
I share pictures of our son on social media, for my friends and followers to see. They tend to be milestone moments such as birthdays – these are moments I want to record, and the easiest way to do that now is through sites such as Instagram. I think you have to be intelligent about it and not overshare – I don’t put up anything I wouldn’t put on my mantelpiece.
Author: Lucy Mangan
Read More: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/family/i-dont-put-pictures-of-my-children-on-facebook—and-you-shouldn/