31/07/2018 07:02 BST | Updated 31/07/2018 08:48 BST

‘Mum, How Could You Do That To Me?’ Why I’m Cutting Back On Sharing Photos of My Kids Online

Their lives are laid bare (metaphorically and literally when it comes to photos taken in the bath) for all to see.

Mum, I can’t believe you would do that to me, it’s so embarrassing, take it down now!” My fourteen-year-old son had just come home from school after having a lesson in internet safety.

The teacher had told the kids to google their names and see what came up. My son had found a photograph of himself, taken when he was four, standing next to his younger sister, both wearing a princess dress.

I had taken the photograph ten years previously, after a sweet game of role play. I had entered it into an online competition, to find ‘Britain’s Cutest Princess’. I thought it was a great bit of gender stereotype busting. Sadly, the photo didn’t win, but it had somehow made it onto the website of the competition organiser. 

In a panic I looked for a way to delete the image, I couldn’t. I emailed the company who owned the site, thankfully a week later the image had gone. The experience gave me a much-needed lesson into the ethics and permanence of sharing photographs of children on the internet. I now take a very different approach.

Sarah Ockwell-Smith
A school photo I'm very glad wasn't on the internet when I was a teenager.

Our children are growing up in a new age, where parents share almost every element of their lives online. I can’t help wondering how these ‘Insta kids’ will feel when they are older. Will they love that their childhood memories are readily accessible to them, stored for them to view and cherish? Or will they react like my son, embarrassed that their lives are out there, laid bare (metaphorically and literally when it comes to photos taken in the bath) for all to see. Where that ‘all’ encompasses class-mates, future employers and work colleagues?

There is surely a maze of ethics to navigate here too. Can children give informed consent for their images to be shared with the world? Do they understand that once their photos are shared, they are out there permanently (because even if images are later deleted, they can still be screen shot and saved by others)? Do they understand that something that is cute today, could be potentially the target of bullying in ten years? At what age are children able to make a mature decision and give their consent? And should parents have the power to give proxy consent until then? Should parents be allowed to benefit financially from sharing images of their young children as part of an advert, or sponsored post? If they do, is it OK if the money earned is saved for the child for the future? Or used to feed and clothe them today?

It’s a minefield for sure, and that’s without the potential safety issues. How easy would it be to find out where a child lives, based on local landmarks in photographs or identifiable school uniform or bags, and for criminals to target the children? The thought is too scary to even think about, especially when I think of some of the social profiles I’ve seen and how easy it would be.

I’m not suggesting we stop sharing photos of our children, but I do think we need to consider their feelings, both current and future, about how we use them and the repercussions our sharing may have. I now only share photographs showing my children’s faces in my personal Facebook account, where I have a grand total of 70 ‘real’ friends and the highest security settings.

Even then, if they ask me to not share an image, I won’t. I’m not suggesting this is the right way for everyone, but I do think we all need to think about it more.

 

Sarah Ockwell-Smith
Another photo that would have haunted me if it had been posted online in my teenage years.

I’m not suggesting we stop sharing photos of our children, but I do think we need to consider their feelings, both current and future, about how we use them and the repercussions our sharing may have. I now only share photographs showing my children’s faces in my personal Facebook account, where I have a grand total of 70 ‘real’ friends and the highest security settings.

Even then, if they ask me to not share an image, I won’t. I’m not suggesting this is the right way for everyone, but I do think we all need to think about it more.