Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Protecting Kids' Privacy Online

The oldest known photograph featuring a living person, taken in Paris, 1838.
There are two people on the sidewalk, one shining the other's shoes. Source
According to this source, we now take as many photos every two minutes as were taken in all of the 1800’s. Ten percent of all photographs in existence were taken in the last twelve months. In the first week of his life, my firstborn son was likely more photographed than I was in the first five years of my life, thanks to digital photography. The pictures of our long-awaited baby were seen by more people in that week than the number of people who have ever seen a baby picture of me. I was enraptured with that tiny bundle of newborn fuzz and wanted to share pictures of him with everybody I had ever met.

O's newborn hand
That delicate newborn is now a sweet, talkative five and a half year old who loves soccer and reading The Magic Treehouse books. I've tried to refrain from posting photographs of my kids faces on this blog, and from revealing their first names on this site, but lately I find myself wondering if I should even be posting photos of them on Facebook for friends and family to see, or blogging anecdotes about them. When he tuns 32 and I finally let him access the internet, will he be embarrassed to find his photographic history online? 

The planets aligned perfectly the other day, and I made a joke that was actually funny. Of course, I have no proof because my chronically sleep-deprived brain cannot recall what said joke actually was, but my husband remarked that I am funny. There was a time in my life, probably around grade five or six, when I really wanted to be the funny girl, that quirky girl whom you couldn’t help but like. I rounded out the persona by wearing the funkiest earrings that Claire’s carried in the early 90’s, and made some other questionable fashion statements in pursuit of my new identity. I may have confessed this before, but I actually owned and wore a tee-shirt with a 3D, moulded out of rubber or plastic of some sort, hot dog, complete with bun, ketchup and mustard. I kid you not, it said “What a Wiener!” I'm pretty sure I didn't even get the innuendo; I just thought it was funny. I bought it at Liquidation World, which should have been my first clue that it was, perhaps, not intended to be part of a regular, everyday wardrobe. There was another in shirt our costume dresser, which was a more suitable place for such trappings, that had a rubbery anatomical heart with flames coming out of it, and said “Heart Burn.” That one would actually be quite useful now if I still had it. I could wear it most evenings and just point to the shirt when anyone asks how I am feeling. 

The rubber tee-shirt saga was one of many stages in which I tried on a new facet of my identity, sometimes without even being aware of it until the stage had passed. Luckily, everybody else was too busy figuring out their own identity to remember my awkward stages. Or, possibly, I just had friends who were nice enough to pretend to forget about the whole wiener teeshirt thing. In retrospect, it was probably a good thing that I switched schools the following year and had to wear a uniform for the rest of my school career until university. 

The internet does not forget. I cringe to think of what it would have been like to be a teenager in the age of digital photos and instant uploads and Facebooks. Honestly, I’m glad to have some space from the old incarnations of myself. Are my kids going to inherit a public record of their morphing identity, awkward stages and all? Will they resent me posting about the cute things they say as toddlers, photographs of them with spaghetti all over their faces, and whatever awkward pre-teen antics they explore? Will they resent me posting pictures of them when I see them as handsome, but they are painfully self-conscious?

O experiencing the "high tech" of my childhood
On the other hand, those beautiful boys permeate every aspect of my life right now. Could I even carve out an online presence without including something about them? Will they be glad to have some record of their early days beyond what their memories hold? Will my candor about the struggles of parenthood bring them some relief when they experience the joy and fulfilment, interspersed with tedium and exhaustion of raising their own children? In any case, don’t they at least kind of owe me some writing material fodder in exchange for all the sleepless nights and Superstore meltdowns?

T on the beach
I’m sure that it will be more difficult for my children to disentangle themselves from the record of their various stages and identities in this, the internet age. What do you think? Beyond the obvious need to maintain at least some basic level of anonymity to safeguard your children from online predators, how far does our duty to safeguard their privacy need to encroach on our desire to authentically share about our lives online? 

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