kids online: how much is safe to share in photos?

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Is it wrong to put pictures of your kids on the internet?
Is it more wrong if they’re half – or fully – naked?

I’ve been thinking it over lately. When I took the above picture, and hesitated to share. When my friend had her daughter’s image stolen for a sinister Instagram role play account. When I read a shitload of rants on an anti-blogger forum, full of outrage at what some parents share online.

I haven’t got the answers to the above questions, of course. Generally with any contentious issue, I’ve learned it’s wisest to find somewhere comfy to perch on the fence. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been involved with a lot of truly vulnerable children in my old job, but I do find myself seeing erring slightly to the more relaxed point of view here; then again, perhaps I’m being swayed by my new occupation, too.

Kids absolutely, unequivocally have the right to privacy, and to not have anything compromising or humiliating shared online. As parents, it seems vital to consider carefully before we share anything – once shared, content and images can truly be out there for forever. Yet, on the other hand, it seems likely that Orla’s classmates in 2030 would have to holo-google pretty hard to come back to my archaic instagram feed for teasing-fodder. Especially as it doesn’t really get any worse than this.

Is there shame in a regular childhood, shared? Even as a self-concious teen, I had no concern sharing childhood snaps of me eating ice creams, riding bikes, dressing up – even splashing nudey in the bath. I still quite like sharing them, in fact! Look how cute I was!

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me, not orla! kind of blows my mind.

Perhaps a greater danger, and one most of us never consider, is the fact that a birth announcement post usually broadcasts a child’s name, date and often place of birth. In a world of data protection and identity fraud, there’s an argument to say that these most joyful and innocent of pictures could be the most likely to come back and sting a child in adult life.

The picture at the top of this post is from our weekend at The Welsh House. I love it for the same reason I love any photograph of Orla: for the piece of our story it represents, for the way my camera captures the tones of her skin in the afternoon light. We’re just out from the hot tub, and she’s still warm, her curls damp, refusing to get dressed. This photo fills me with love, and there’s nothing sinister or self-serving in my want to share that (aside from, perhaps, my pride that I grew such a beautiful child!)
Does the availability of this sort of image make paediphilia more of a problem, put more children at risk? Does an increase in availability of nude images make sex offenders more or less likely to act out in violent ways? I did attempt to research this a bit, but it seems there’s no real unified data on this at the moment, and I was nervous about digging too far. 
Thinking laterally, while the idea of a stranger somewhere thinking vile thoughts about my own child is entirely heinous, it is unlikely to have any actual affect on our lives whatsoever. We’ll most likely never even know. I did read one comment suggesting kids would be traumatised when the police called to say their blogger mommy’s photo had been found on a paedophile’s computer, but this seems slightly hysterical: I doubt much police time is devoted to tracking down individuals from innocuous paddling pool photos, and suggesting that child sex offenders might amass a hoard of these images seems to ridiculously underestimate the true extent of what is actually available online.

Perhaps there is a small risk of these strangers becoming obsessed enough to track down a child in real life; it certainly seems possible that there could be a lone offender troubled enough to actually go to to these lengths.
But then, I think that’s best viewed like the threat of terrorism: we shouldn’t be afraid to live our daily lives in case a sick individual uses that as an opportunity to commit a crime. I’m a parent, and I work to keep my daughter safe all the time. If I’m doing my job properly then I hope I will never leave her in a position where she is vulnerable to dangerous crime, of any kind. To say parents sharing their children’s images are putting them at risk is to get dangerously close to victim blaming: we should be able to share simple happy moments from family life without living in fear of a tiny minority.
Or, as my friend Sheona more succinctly put it, “if people want to wank over my child’s bum then that’s something wrong with them, not me.

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I know there are some who will say, but why take the risk, however small? I’ve considered this a lot, and I think my answer right now is this: it takes a village. By which I mean, we aren’t supposed to be raising our kids in these disparate little bubbles of two-bedroom semis, with only cbeebies for company – we’re supposed to be clustered together, surrounded by other mothers and kids to make it all bearable and sharable and sane. Our society just isn’t built like that any more, but in the days when I was cooped up inside with a tiny baby Orla, the network of mums I met on Instagram were that village to me, and our shared spills and tears and questions made it all much more doable. We’re so often dismissive and sneering of the google generation’s urge to share online, but surely that ubiquity only proves that it’s a very human inclination; one that has, at it’s heart, a desire for social interaction. Social interaction and likes, that is ;).

Let’s go back to my (adorable) childhood photos a moment; there’s a snap somewhere of my sister and I, aged 4 and 6ish, in skimpy 2-piece bikinis. It is a holiday camp swimsuit competition. We’re each holding boards with our numbers, lined up beside other young girls.
All of us are pre-pubescent, the audience a crowd of unfiltered adults.
At this same holiday camp, parents would routinely leave their kids in their beds in the evenings and head out to the on-site bar. There was a giant chalkboard at the back, labelled ‘baby crying in chalet number‘, and the staff would update it to let parents know if their children were awake. A paedophiles dream, no? Like a selection box of vulnerability.
That wouldn’t happen now. We’ve come a long way in our appreciation of the risks and our understanding of safe parenting, and that’s a brilliant and important thing. 

So I’m on the fence, albeit with my legs swinging a little more to the ‘maybe it’s ok to share’ side, right now. Perhaps it’s all those years of child protection training, but I don’t see the kids whose parents’ love overflows online as the biggest cause for concern.  In most cases, the worst abuse happens when nobody is looking, online or off, and for some reason those issues get far less of the limelight.

 I know from looking around that most parents err on the side of caution here. Are children more at risk today than in previous times? Do you share your kids photos online? I welcome your thoughts and any sensitive debate!

 

Some related reading:

the insta-retreat