Let me preface this by saying I have intentionally never written at length about this subject out of fear of sounding pretentious or prideful in some way. However, just yesterday, one of Susie’s friends texted her and asked, in paraphrase, “I know you don’t post any pictures of your daughter online. Can you explain why you don’t and how you share pictures with family if not on social media?”
Susie admitted to her friend that it was I who first suggested we not post pictures of our kids online, but she also has come to have her own reasons for not doing so. She shared with her friend that we use Apple’s shared Photo Albums feature as a sort of private “Facebook” for our daughter’s pictures, to which only a few family members and friends have access. But because I was the proponent of this parenting decision, Susie asked me to share my reasoning for keeping our daughter, and any future kids, off the internet for some undetermined period of time in their lives.
I thought publishing my response may be helpful for more than just the friend with whom Susie was texting. So it is below with a little elaboration here and there. It’s long for a text message but pretty brief for a post like this, so I apologize if it doesn’t go into as much depth as you’d like. Feel free to comment with any questions you have. Or, if you’d prefer, you can respond to the newsletter and I will receive your email that way.
First, the most surface level reason we don’t post pictures of our daughter online, is related to “privacy,” I guess you could say. One of my friends had twins who had to spend some extended time in the NICU. Like most parents would, she regularly posted pictures of them on social media along with updates on their progress. A woman took those pictures and those updates, created her own Instagram page, and impersonated my friend for money through a GoFundMe she set up. This kind of stuff happens more frequently than one would think, from what I've gathered. Likewise, any number of creeps on the internet are looking for pictures of young children for any number of disgusting reasons. Why would I maybe subject my kids to such silent vulnerability? Is it likely this would happen to my daughter? No. Is it worth posting pictures of her anyway? Also no.
Second, and a bit more abstract, is my belief in the importance of individual digital autonomy. That sounds like a fancy term, and it sorta is, but while it is often applied to not letting governments oppress us using technology, I think it has application in the home as well. When my kids are young and unable to talk, they have no say in what I do or do not post about them on the internet. I think individual digital autonomy is important, and I never want my kids to be content that I use to get attention or likes. I want my kids to have a say in anything I do or do not post about them on the internet, especially pertaining to images or videos. Like a pastor should ask his kids to use them in an illustration in a sermon, so should parents give kids veto power in what they do or do not post about them online, and my daughter isn’t close to having the capability for such veto power.
I have posted about our daughter’s first birthday, lamenting when she has struggled to go to sleep, or other assorted aspects of her life that I don’t think would qualify as “invasive.” What I mean is that I haven't posted anything that my daughter would consider embarrassing or inappropriately personal when she comes of age to see my internet activity. Mostly, on this point, I want my children to know that they and they alone have permission to decide what about their personal lives goes online, of course pending our parental approval as well. I do not want my children to eventually see what we do on the internet and lose trust in us or think we have violated their privacy in some way. Parents have most of the power in the parent-child relationship, and rightfully so. But to use our authority as parents to violate the privacy of our children at even an early age is a misuse of our authority, I think.
Finally, and most abstract I suppose, I want to challenge the default mode we have all adopted about oversharing on social media in general, but especially in regard to our children. If you told parents in 2003 that within five-to-ten years it would be normal to post pictures of your kids on the internet for the world to see, they would have called you insane. Today you're weird if you don't post pictures of your kids on the internet. How did we get here? What made it normal for us to post pictures of our kids for the world to see? Have we even thought about why we do this and if it's good that we do it?
Media scholar Neil Postman is famous for asking the question regarding any new technology, “What is the problem to which this technology is the solution?” I ask today, “What is the problem to which posting pictures of our children online is the solution?” Is it letting friends and family who live far away see your kids? There are more effective, less invasive ways to do this than social media. Or is it really to get affirmation and attention from people you sorta know on the internet? If that is the case, please don’t use your kids as props in your fraught attempts to find affection you should be trying to find elsewhere.
I am interested in challenging the default mode we've slipped into that says, "It's normal to post pictures of your kids online for anyone to see." Let's just stop and think for a minute and not be so quick to go with the flow. Maybe we’re creating more problems than we’re solving by doing this.
When will we post pictures of our children online? I honestly don’t know. I expect that we will be comfortable with our daughter appearing in family pictures on the internet long before we post any pictures of her online ourselves, given that we may have no control of such pictures.
I don’t imagine I will post any pictures of my children online until they are old enough to know what the internet is and approve whatever it is I want to post of them. But, to be frank, I feel no responsibility or desire for anyone on the internet to see my children. We all have better ways to let the people we love see our children. Let’s use them.