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Monday, May 9, 2016

you won't find pictures of my kids online

With social media becoming such an integral part of our lives, it's easy to lose sight of the long-term ramifications of the content we share online. As a parent, I've been cautious from the beginning about what I post about my children online. I'm also a realist- I do have a few pictures if you look carefully- but they are innocuous and rare. You may have noticed that I don't have any pictures of my family (at least with their faces) on my blog. Today I want to share some of my thoughts on sharing pictures and stories about my children online.

Although I was always somewhat aware of the risks of sharing things- especially images- online, and I've always been a naturally private person, my opinion on the matter really became solidified after attending a professional development session on teaching internet safety to students (yeah, I never thought I'd say that either). In the session, the presenter demonstrated the full extent of what I already sort-of assumed: once something is online, you can never really get rid of it. He showed us how easy it is to find, save, and share content that was removed completely from the internet YEARS ago. We saw a seemingly-innocuous website that, many years ago, was a website for the KKK. And we could easily see who ran the website, who changed it, and when (and yes, the website was still being run by the same people). We found videos that had been uploaded and later deleted. It was all still there, and it didn't take any special coding or hacking to find it.

When my daughters were born, we were living in a completely different continent from the rest of my family. You can imagine the pressure, even obligation, I felt to share pictures and stories of the girls' every little milestone with the world online. But the one thought that has always kept me from sharing most of them is this:

Will my children be embarrassed if anyone sees this when they are teenagers? 
What about when they're looking for a job?

Every time I see a celebrity on a talk show or something and they pull up pictures of them from their childhood, it freaks me out. People can find this stuff, and it's not always flattering! I wouldn't want someone posting content about me on the internet without asking me first, and I don't think it's fair for me to share content about my children without their consent either. It's alarming to think about the long trail of online content this generation of children is going to already have when they reach an age when they can start controlling their online presence for themselves. And there's nothing they can do to make it go away, ever. I want my kids to feel that they control their own online image, not that it was handed to them by their parents.

Now, there is obviously no way to completely control what other people might choose to do with your children's images and stories. But here are some alternative ways to share content with friends and family to keep them updated on your children without taking control of their online image:

1. Print pictures to send as gifts

It takes a little more time and money than sharing online, but there are so many reasons why printing out copies of photos and sending them to family is a great idea! It avoids the internet altogether, and it is a wonderful keepsake gift. It doesn't even have to be a special occasion- this is a great way to get in the habit of putting things in the mail to people for no other reason than to brighten their day! And rather than just getting prints, you could also make a calendar with photos from the previous year, or make other gifts out of your photos too.

2. Start a secure "group" with very limited members

This solution doesn't avoid the problem of putting things online completely, but it does protect the content a lot more than just posting them to your social media pages. You can set up "secret" or password-protected groups on many social media sites, or set up a password-protected website. If you choose to go this route (as I have), make sure to think hard about who you allow to have access to the content, and make it very clear to them your policy on sharing content with people outside the group. I've found that most people are very understanding when I explain why I want to keep their photos private.

3. Use video chat instead

Obviously you can't use this for everything, but if you live far away from close family and friends, try setting up regular video chat sessions for them to see the kids rather than posting pictures of their everyday lives. Again, you'll need to explain to them that you don't want the video to be recorded or saved in any way, but it is a much safer alternative that is actually in many ways better than photos for keeping people connected to the children's day-to-day lives.

What are your thoughts on sharing content of your children online? I know this can be a touchy subject, but I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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