One of the many awesome things about being a doula is that I get to see a lot of wonderful photos and even videos of kids on my Facebook newsfeed. Playing, sleeping, exploring, nursing, laughing…. Firsts of all kinds: crawls, foods, steps, travels… I love to see how these humans grow, learn, eventually head off to school and everything in between. But every so often I see a photo that just makes me cringe. Or one that literally makes my face get hot and flushed with embarrassment for that child.
There are many reasons – ranging from corporate data mining to Facebook profiling to facial recognition concerns to, most importantly, your own child’s privacy and digital footprint and beyond – to think thoughtfully and carefully about what to post, when to post it, and how much to post. And it’s not too soon to think about this before your child even leaves the womb because the temptation to start posting photos and information will be huge from the moment that baby is born. I’ve heard the conversation time and again in the delivery room: a concerned mom or dad wants to have control over who sees the baby photos first, which ones are OK to share, which ones to post to Facebook, what info to provide along with the photo. Often, within hours, dozens or even hundreds of people know the baby’s full name, date of birth, weight and other identifying details. That person’s digital footprint – complete with photos – has begun, and they’ve barely mastered breathing on their own. One day, they will inherit this digital history. Maybe, just maybe, they may have wanted to have some control over creating a digital identity of their own.
Don’t get me wrong. There is value to social media and sharing and having that sort of connection. I have shared photos of and information about my own children. But I believe, for the sake of our children, there should be boundaries. While I understand those boundaries will be different for each family, here are some of the types of photos that I see from time to time that I would encourage you never to post online.
It may be cute and funny to you, but showing a full frontal of your naked boy floating in the pool or having your naked girl draped over a bright red scooter in the great outdoors is not something you should be sharing in the public domain. I’ve seen this type of photo when I’m not even friends with that person, but we have mutual friends. This means that you do not know who is looking at your photos! You may think you do but settings and privacy policies and the connections within your social networks change all the time. It’s a very dynamic environment, not to mention how quickly and easily someone can take a screenshot of your photo and whoooooosh, there it goes! Completely out of your control. Ugh ugh ugh. There’s so much that could go wrong here. Please, take the photo if you like but keep it private. It shouldn’t be for the world to see. Protect. Your. Children.
Trust me, I know what a huge milestone it is in a parent’s life when their little one FINALLY decides to use the potty. I understand that so well. I too have done the happy dance and celebrated little piddles in the potty. But let’s give our kids a little respect and privacy. Would you want them to post photos of you on the potty? I’m guessing the answer is no.
Look, parents everywhere are all too familiar with the diaper blowout. Various stages of baby poo. Leaks that somehow affect a 6-foot radius around the tiny child in question. Please, do not snap a photo of what you need to clean up and share it with the world online. Especially if you include your child’s genitalia in the photo. Just don’t do it.
Sickness and injuries
It happens so much more often than I personally think it should, but it is a result of our health care system that many parents turn to Dr Google or Facebookland to diagnose their child. And sometimes, it’s just plain scary. Photos of cuts and gashes, lumps and rashes. Swelling and infection. Please, if you must get encouragement from your online community to go see a health care professional, at least don’t include your child’s face, name or other identifying features. Privacy, people. I know it’s a lost art, but let’s at least make an effort.
Locations and activities
It’s back to school time! And we all recognize a photo opp when we see it. When your child is all dressed up and ready to go, nervous and excited, backpack on, please don’t post their photo with the address of your child’s home or name of their school visible in the background. Especially if you’re proudly announcing their first day by also mentioning their name and grade. I sometimes see full names and addresses posted in all their glory on letters sent to parents, whether it’s from a school or organization or health care office. Doesn’t matter. If a paper has your (child’s) full name and address on it, don’t share that.
Embarrassing, unflattering, awkward poses
We all have them. Somewhere. And as adults, we can usually laugh about those awkward photos of yesteryear – because we have time on our side which creates emotional distance and we tend to care less about what others think than we did when we were preteens and teenagers. Once you post a photo online, there is no getting it back. It’s out there, and it could come back to haunt your child in ways you cannot imagine. You may love that child beyond measure but it might be absolutely mortifying for your child a few short years down the road to see what you’ve posted about them.
Also, please think twice about posting your child’s problems on Facebook. Putting your worries or amusement about their developmental delays, their awkward phase, their failures, their personality challenges, their puberty milestones or anything else is really not all that kind. If you wouldn’t want people posting like that about you, don’t do it to your own child. They’ll want – and need – to know they can trust you, not that you’re likely to share their struggles with the world via Facebook. This is increasingly important as your child ages so I think it’s a good idea to start the habit of protecting their privacy now. Treat them as you would want to be treated when they’re old enough to be on social media and posting about you. That time comes sooner than you think!
Child in distress
Your child is having really big, I mean REALLY BIG, feelings about something you think is pretty small. Like, really small. Maybe you’re not allowing your child to dive head first into the litter box to eat all the goodies the cat left behind or perhaps, as a responsible adult, you have the audacity to prevent them from hurting a pet or destroying a part of your home or you even have the chutzpah to insist they are properly buckled into – gasp! – an appropriate car seat. Or maybe they were upset over something even smaller. It doesn’t matter what it is. These can bring out big feelings in a child but they are real feelings and are being fully experienced by that child. I hate to see photos of children in distress, crying and upset, even if the accompanying explanation is something like the above. I want to reach through the screen and scoop that child up and comfort them in some way. Those little years go so quickly. I see the humor in the things kids can get upset about, I do, and I know there are entire Facebook pages dedicated to this sort of thing. But how would you feel if you were upset and in your most fiercely emotional, angry, upset moment you spotted someone you love standing back and taking a photo or video of you? How would that make you feel? And then to splatter it on social media. Not cool.
Group photos with other kids
You may be comfortable with posting your kids’ photos but your friends may not be. Ask first. Email the photos to them. Please don’t assume it’s OK for you to make the decision about what other parents want the world to see. If other kids are in the photo, think twice. It will be much appreciated.
Photos that can be taken out of context
Parents sometimes ask me if I think the well-child visits are truly necessary or can be skipped, especially if they are opting out of (some) vaccinations. I always suggest that it is a good idea to have a paper trail so that IF there is a divorce in the future or IF any relative, neighbor or former friend might report them to child protective services since we do occasionally hear of such stories when someone does something non-mainstream, such as homeschool or breastfeed past one year of age, then there are records that an M.D. has seen the child develop and progress at normal expected levels.
Similarly, although I hate to act out of fear, I think it is wise and prudent, and at the very least something to consider, that if you regularly post photos of your child in questionable circumstances, these could be used against you and make your life very difficult. I’m talking about when your child innocently grabs someone’s bottle of beer, sits on your lap behind the wheel of a car as you move it from your driveway into the garage, is briefly perched in a precarious position… you get the idea. You might want to think twice before broadcasting that sort of photo.
Bottom line? Before you post your child’s photo online, please P.A.U.S.E.!
Is it Private? Appropriate? Unkind or unbecoming? Sensitive? Embarrassing?
Is it really important that you post this now?
Are you posting to see how many “likes” you’ll get? Or because you’re thrilled, frustrated, caught up in whatever emotion is flooding your brain? Is it spur of the moment? Then PAUSE. Sleep on it and then decide if it’s really vital to you that you post it.
Your children will thank you!