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Momlife: Parent or publisher? Raising children in the age of 'sharenting'

Sat, Oct 21st 2017 07:10 pm
Why you haven't seen my baby's face online
By Michelle Blackley Glynn
Posting photos of your child on social media has become so commonplace that people expect it - from the delivery room to graduation, and hash tags to match; how else do you prove you're a parent if you haven't uploaded a family photo album?
It's the norm to see parents broadcast the particulars of their family-life online, otherwise known as "sharenting," but what if you don't want to bombard a mass audience with digital images of the most precious thing in your life - not to mention a member of one of society's most vulnerable groups?
I never, or at least very rarely, post pictures of my son. I did crack a few times and posted a photo of his stocking-covered feet and a trio of face-not-visible photos on Instagram. In one sense, it felt like posting them was somewhat exploiting him. It's impossible to police others' thoughts, and lifting a photo from social media sites is very simple. Therefore, I decided that to really reveal my son on the world-wide-web would be terrifying.
Given the enormous amounts of searchable personal data we share, isn't it our job as parents to protect the digital identity of our children? Today, we don't just have to trust the people we are sharing images with won't share or misuse them, but we also have to trust they have their own robust privacy settings.
In the U.S., the vast majority of babies already have an online presence due to our TMI culture. Many children make their internet-debut as grayscale ultrasound images. Online content is forever, so what rights do children have when it comes to their safety and privacy?
According to a March 2015 study conducted by the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan, 68 percent of 569 parents of children ages 4 and under said they worry about their child's online privacy; and 67 percent worry their children's photos might be shared.
Additional published reports indicated a simple Google search brings up databases of children's photos, compiled by an online predator. With an average of almost 1,000 photos posted by a child's 5th birthday, could-be criminals have access to a plethora of pictures.
Facebook and Instagram are attempting to update privacy settings specifically to deal with a vast amount of children's photos below 5 years old; and some would argue it's not enough. As a result, children's advocates like the American Academy of Pediatrics are in the early stages of crafting a PSA to illustrate this conflict between a parent's freedom to publish and a child's right to privacy.
Andrew Gilden, assistant professor of law at Willamette University, said the main issue is there's no control.
"That posted video may be cute at the time, but when the kid grows up and embarks on a career, it could be embarrassing," Gilden said in a recent telephone inter view. "From a policy perspective, its up to the social media companies. Legally comparable is the California 'Online Eraser' Law, which requires social media companies to allow people the ability to delete posts that were made public when they were minors."
Besides the digital footprint being created for youngsters, another issue social media creates is for their Gen X and even Millennial parents. What Baby Boomers know as keeping up with the Joneses is now referred to as FOMO (fear of missing out). Comparable to holiday cards with a family dressed in white, the cliché photo is not intended for themselves, it's to present a façade to the recipient.
Previously published articles suggest an increase of narcissism, especially among Millennials, thanks to social media.
The smiling faces, vacation photos and rambling declarations of love we often see on social media platforms may just be bookmarks of everyday life, yet research has proven these exaggerated good times put forth by our social media communities take a toll on our self-esteem. Add parenting to that, combined with a healthy dose of competitiveness, and there is another level of the social media dilemma.
"This is an issue that comes up a lot: How much can you read into someone's smile? There is a sense of what peoples' lives appear to be on social media are not at all what they really are," Gilden said. "I often challenge my students, 'How well can you read happiness into a photo when they are framed to make you see it a certain way?' "
Gilden said the psychology is comparable to an advertiser's business model of making the viewer want to purchase the wonderful products that will replicate the situation in the image. However, he said this generation of children growing up in a world of internet-content would be able to see through the filters.
"Kids are smarter than adults when it comes to superficiality. The boundaries of images need to be managed, however, this generation is less critical," Gilden said. "On one hand, a 12-year-old can hack into the Russian government, yet there is still a role for an adult to shape the values and help their children understand what they are engaging with."
With parents digitally bragging, are their children picking up bad life skills? Children learn by example, even a bad example, according to Buffalo-based child psychologist Justin Naylor. He said family values today must include navigating social media, and helping guide decision-making skills.
It's tempting to share a smile, milestone and funny video of an adorable infant, but, instead of 'Likes,' I see the positive affirmation in reality. As my son gets older, I don't want him to constantly be posing for a photo - as if life is digitally first. While I would love to show off the amazing things we get to do, I also feel as though daily activities and family trips have become too public, and I would rather enjoy them in the moment.
"Momlife" is a column written by Michelle Blackley Glynn, who has been a print journalist since 2000. While the focus of these articles may be her opinion, they will also include expert voices. Parenting choices vary and are personal. Such topics, especially motherhood, can present hot-button perspectives. Glynn looks forward to hearing feedback and suggestions for future articles.
Follow Glynn on Twitter @shellblackley.

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