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Are Parents Considering Their Child’s Online Presence?

/ Thoughts & Opinion

Take a second and think back to when you were in primary school. Before classroom computers were abundant and before interactive whiteboards. Back when entertainment involved playing with sand, wooden trains, half chewed bits of Lego and flicking bogies at classmates.

Now imagine that once you hit the age of 13 (your first year of secondary school for those of us in Scotland), you got handed your Facebook log in details and were informed that your entire life to this point (all 13 years and 9 months of it) had been catalogued on a Facebook profile on your behalf, and that you could visit, log in and continue to add to it as you wished.

You log in to find that while you were innocently living your childhood, running about in the mud, getting your birthday cake, singing songs at Christmas, meeting new friends, playing with your pets, having your first kiss and so on, your parents had been taking pictures, videos and writing journalistic entries about the minutia of your existence.

Every decision you made, everything you said, anything embarrassing you did, that time you broke your arm trying to skateboard backwards down a hill, the first time you tasted ice cream – all of it was online in a browsable timeline. Not only that, but your baby scans and pictures of your mum’s belly from months before you helplessly flopped out into this world were there too.

How would you feel about it?

I ask, because aside from the fact that you will not be able to experience this potentially defining moment, you may end up seeing it happen with your own children or children of your friends.

Consider the last time a friend uploaded or tagged a picture of you doing something embarrassing. Something perhaps you didn’t think anybody would see, or something you don’t want anybody to know about. How did that work out? Were there repercussions, or was it just the hassle of trying to un-tag yourself.

Imagine having to un-tag yourself in all the photos taken of you in 8 years.

How many of you, either yourself or your friends have posted up pictures of their children online? How many posted a baby scan when they or their wife were pregnant? What about birthday photos, days out, holidays?

Now, how many times did you (or those involved) consider whether or not the child would be OK with the photo being online?

The New York Times mentioned a study conducted by AVG that said 92% of American children have an online presence by the time they’re two years old.

One third of mothers in the United States said that they had posted pictures of their newborns online, and 34 percent of American mothers had posted sonograms of their babies in the womb.

What happens when those children get old enough to comprehend the internet and Instagram or Facebook (or whatever other social network exists at the time) and realise that their lives have already been catalogued and put on display for all (or just some) to see?

I understand that some fairly comprehensive (and often confusing) privacy settings exist online and that platforms like Facebook allow you to only share with those who you want to see, but let’s face it, how careful are we all with that stuff really? Do we all exercise those privacy settings correctly? Do you really consider how many people have access to photos and videos and writing about your children? I don’t know how many parents give it any serious consideration.

I don’t think this is a case of worrying about who has external access so much as considering the fact that anybody at all has access. When I put something online, I have a choice. I can post it or I can not post it. I make that decision multiple times a day. When you post things about your children or other people’s children, you’re making that decision for them.

Until they’re old enough to decide for themselves, I think all content regarding your child should be left offline. By all means catalogue it at home, but I’d like to see more restraint in posting updates, photos and the like online.

In the same way that a child born into a certain religion ends up with very little choice, or a child brought up to support a certain football team by his parents might have a hard time choosing another, you’re forcing your child to have an online presence, whether or not they want that.

I grew up without that worry. That element didn’t exist in my life. Sure, my parents took photos and video and showed people from time to time, but the fact that they were physical photos meant that they were kept at home, away from the public or someone else’s server space, where they were (and still are) in albums that both my parents and I can choose to show to people as and when we want.

By the time I was aware of the internet, I was able to decide myself whether or not to post things, and even now, looking back at the decisions I’d made in the past I’m not sure they were all in my own best interests. I often shared far too much online and over the years this has drifted off into the internet abyss. Who knows where it is, or who’s had a cheap laugh at my naive adolescence.

It’s getting easier and easier to snap away photos, video, status updates and all sorts of things on behalf of your kids these days. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but as soon as you share it online through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or whatever else is to hand then you have to consider a few things. Not only how you feel about other people seeing the content (presumably you don’t mind) but more importantly, those people who are the subject of the content and their consent to you showcasing their life in such a way.

So how is growing up alongside social networking going to affect children? How are they going to feel when they realise that their life up to this point has been publicised without their consent? Is there going to be some horrible drawback that we never saw coming? What about the ease of marketing to these kids? Little Jimmy was photographed in a football strip, so with a bit of clever marketing when he hits 16 he could end up getting a birthday message from the relevant football club. Where do you draw the line with this sort of thing? I can see it getting out of hand.

Imagine being a moody teenager, going through puberty, having trouble with bullying. You’ve got the stress of exams at school, friendship issues and you’re learning about the opposite sex. The last thing you need is this dumped on your plate. Hey kid, here’s your life up to this point. Here’s why you’re such a messed up kid, here’s a flick-book of your entire existence up to this point. There’s a fun afternoon of un-tagging for you. Is there going to be some sort of post-traumatic stress syndrome backlash? Is that “Charlie Bit Me” kid going to turn in to some sort of biting-related maniac in later years?

I often get a little sad that I missed out on the incredible technology kids get these days. I got my first mobile phone (with monophonic ringtone) after leaving high school at the age of 18. My first computer didn’t have enough power to play an mp3 file and do anything else at the same time. My interactive whiteboard was a chalk-driven blackboard. My parents didn’t set me up a website or tag me in a Facebook time line, or upload photos of me to Instagram. In a way, I’m glad that the things I can share about my childhood are my choice. They can be my chosen moments. The things I want people to know about or see, not what anybody else has decided to expose.

This post was originally written for the QueryClick blog.

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Alex Cowles

About The Author: Alex Cowles

A largely cynical and often sarcastic designer and front-end developer by day. Unknown international DJ & music producer extraordinaire by night (and at weekends). You probably won't like him.