parent opinion

"Please don’t upload photos of my kids to social media. They are not your ‘content’."

My friends and family know that I live for a funny photo or video – especially if it’s of them. One of my favourite things to do is video my husband fixing things or mowing the lawn, and then upload it to Instagram Stories, with Salt-N-Pepa’s ‘Whatta Man’ playing over the top of it. So, it may surprise you to hear that although I have videoed myself moving a snail from my driveway (I didn’t want my car to squish it) and my phone storage is filled with photos of my children, there is one rule that I have for visitors to my home: please don’t upload photos or videos of my kids to social media. My kids are not your ‘content’.

‘Content creator’ is a new job title that sounds almost Godlike. What it actually means is that this person has the fun and creative task of making content for the internet, such as written articles, photos, comics, memes, podcasts and any other digital thing you can think of. Professionally, I am a content creator. But have you noticed that everyone else is also a content creator, no matter what their day job might be? Everywhere around me, my fellow millennials are uploading anything and everything to social media. And I’m sorry, but I feel uncomfortable when I see that my kids have been included in someone else’s feed – and without our permission.

Here’s what happens. A visitor will come to our house, say hi to my kids, and within the first minute have their phone out to snap photos and take videos of my kids. My children, who are two and five, will ask the guest to play with them. The guest will oblige, which is lovely, but then I will see them covertly videoing my child’s hands and voice as they make a blobby play-dough creature. After an energetic play-session, the visitor will then sit on our couch and spend the next fifteen minutes or so uploading these photos and videos to social media. My children will be standing in front of them, asking them questions or pulling on their hand for the next activity, only to be ignored – all for a cuter, less angry digital version of them that is being beamed out to the world.

At the end of the day, after I’ve either tidied the house or decided that I can’t be bothered, I’ll be on a personal social media binge… and I’ll do a double-take when I find the photos and videos of my kids. It looks like my everyday life, only it’s on someone else’s social media feed.

 

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Look, I think it is nice when visitors want to take photos of my kids. It shows that they love my children and family, and that means a lot to me. It’s just the social media part of it that’s icky.

First of all, when a phone is being held up to my kid’s face for maximum photo and video coverage, my kids aren’t seeing their friend or relative – they’re seeing the back of a smartphone. And, when large amounts of time are spent uploading that, it implicitly tells my kids that the guest is more interested in their phone than the kids.

I also see the comments after the upload – usually saying that the kids are sweet and that the uploader is a really great and fun person. This tells me that the visitor is in it for the ‘likes’, and not the actual relationship with the child.

Even if I explicitly (yet kindly) explain that I don’t want photos or videos of my kids uploaded to social media, there are still some people who are sneaky about it. I’ve seen photos of my kids’ backs, or the videos of their hands and voices. Sure, no-one can see my kids’ faces, but part of them and their personality is still being put out there. And it makes me feel disrespected.

I feel even worse when I find out that my kids and their day have been published on social media, and yet there’s no photo, selfie or tag of me. I’m the person who tidied the house so that the guests didn’t trip over the millions of toys and break their leg, I baked or bought food, I got the kids clean and ready. If I’m the reason why there’s a relationship with the kids in the first place, I’d at least like to be asked for permission to publish images of my kids – and a photo, caption or tag to show that I exist would be nice. Yes, me – the woman who birthed these munchkins and got her vagina AND stomach smashed in the process (RIP). It’s gotten to the point where I wonder if maybe I don’t look pretty enough to be in my guests’ digital photo albums, that maybe I’m not ‘on-brand’ enough for them. I’ve even thought that perhaps I’m too boring for them to immortalise in their grid.

Strangely, even though visitors won’t photograph me, I’ve seen photos of my house décor (OK, clutter) appear on visitors’ social media. I’ve scrolled through social media apps on my phone to be freaked out when I see a photo of a school portrait from my kid’s preschool, a merit award, a book I’m reading or my kid’s favourite toy. I can’t help but feel as though my privacy has been invaded. Is it normal to secretly photograph another person’s belongings, or is that just what visitors do these days?

 

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Friday feels. (She’s listening to songs from the My Little Pony reboot.)

A post shared by Carla Gee (@bycarlagee) on

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There are glimpses of my home and my children (though not their faces) on my own Instagram. That is my daily life – I’m mostly a stay-at-home mum (as much as I loathe that term), so it’s fitting that a view into my world will sometimes be about my life as a mum. But for people who don’t see me or my children often, and spend their rare visits with my kids staring at their phone instead, putting my children’s images on their social media is a false representation. It says, “I’m really involved in this kid’s life, and I’m constantly playing fun games with them,” when the reality is that this person spent ages doodling over a photo of my kid using the Instagram Stories tools, and then deliberated over the perfect GIF to go with it, while the kid in question started yelling at them, “Do you even hear me?”

I want my children to have ownership over their stories and images. And by that, I mean the memorable things that have happened in their lifetime, and the body and face they inhabit – as well as the digital versions.

Although I write about my experiences of motherhood, rarely is it a funny or embarrassing story about something my kids have done. It’s usually about my personal stuff-ups, or an opinion. Those amusing childhood moments are the property of my kids. As is their knotty bed hair, favourite t-shirt and dirt-covered hands and everything else that comes with being a fun-loving, spontaneous and non-curated child, who is being their unedited self in their own home.

Storytelling is a wonderful part of being human, and when my children choose to tell their stories and share their faces, it will be on their own terms – whether they do it publicly, privately or not at all.

This is an unpopular and possibly old-fashioned opinion to have about social media. No one likes being told what to do with their photos. I’ve been perceived as rude and judgemental. And truth be told, I enjoy seeing the photos that other parents post of their kids. I love watching my friends’ adorable nieces, nephews and god-children in their Instagram Stories. The thing is, I respect their choice, and don’t tell them to do things differently. I would like to be extended the same courtesy.

Maybe you think I’m uptight. Or perhaps you agree with me. I don’t really mind, because I’m an adult, and it’s my job and privilege to share my opinions. The thing is, my children are small and vulnerable, and I see it as my responsibility to protect them in the real world and the digital world. And let’s face it, the lines between real life and digital life are becoming increasingly blurred. Like most, I am still figuring out my parenting style, while attempting to use social media in a way that brings me joy and not strife.

Most importantly, I want my interactions with other people – and especially my kids – to be real and tangible and personal. And there’s no filter in the world that can replicate that.

Carla Gee lives in Canberra, and when she’s supposed to be writing, she instead makes Instagram Stories about weird magpies, bad Netflix movies and her husband’s gross new moustache. You can find her on Instagram as @bycarlagee.

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