When I was thirteen my brother found a photograph of me with my two front teeth missing. It was a close up shot, and I was grinning madly up at camera. My brother was threatening to pass it around school, I was horrified. I snatched the photo from his hands (there was probably a frenzied pursuit around the house first) and threw it straight into the pot-bellied stove we used to have burning in the kitchen. I remember watching the photo bubble up in the heat before melting away to nothing, swallowed by the fire. Crisis averted, evidence destroyed, reputation intact.
Something occurred to me recently. This event was in the mid nineties. Facebook didn’t exist. I’m not sure if we even had dial up Internet in our home yet. So once I destroyed that photo - it had no more lives. These days though, if someone snaps an unflattering photo of you, it’s likely to be online within minutes. And once it starts travelling those optic fibre cables – it’s going to be hard to catch hold of it.
And here’s what I’ve noticed, most people like to post cute, crazy photos of their kids on Facebook. They like to reveal details about their children’s day-to-day lives. Things along the lines of:
Omigod, Max is afraid of the dark and asked to have his big sister’s princess lamp in his room, how cute is that?
Right now, little Max is none the wiser. He’s a toddler, he doesn’t care which adorable anecdotes his parents are sharing about him with their social media network, sometimes accompanied by photographic evidence.
But what happens when these kids reach high school? When all of their friends are hooked up to Facebook or Instagram like it’s an IV drip? What happens if they all start Googling one another? And someone comes across a photo of a schoolmate in the bathtub with their siblings. As a teenager, having these sorts of personal family memories in the public eye would - for many kids – be absolutely mortifying.
This is something I’m guilty of myself by the way – because to be honest, it’s never occurred to me to look ahead to the future. In fact, I find it impossible to imagine that my small girls will one day be teenagers, that they’ll find things embarrassing, that they’ll no longer want to hold my hand as we walk through the shopping centre (well actually, my two year old already refuses to hold my hand, but I’m fairly sure that has less to do with protecting her image and more to do with her ongoing assertion that she is in charge. Of the world.) I’ve posted cute photos of the two of them with their faces squished by swimming caps and goggles; along with status updates about the funny, silly things they say. But I’ve never stopped to wonder if my sharing these things with the world might bother them one day. And what you may have noticed – is that I’m doing it again RIGHT NOW. Here I am, writing about them in this article. A little hypocritical you might ask? Yes, I know, hush.