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.
But here is where it gets a bit more serious. I’ve also seen people writing much more personal details about their children online. For example, articles where they discuss how they found out that their daughter has a learning difficulty, or that their son is on the autism spectrum. Certainly more awareness of these types of things is a good thing. We want to encourage the world to be more accepting, we want to educate people and no one should feel the need to hide these sorts of facts about themselves. But what if that child, as they grow older, decides that they don’t want absolutely everyone to know?
Just the other day I came across an article written by a mother, explaining the difficulties her son is facing due to his love for toys typically considered ‘girly.’ My first instinct was – this is great, once again we need more awareness of this type of thing. The world needs to stop pigeon holing people. However, if this particular child is already having a hard time due to the judgements of others, what happens in a few years time if a friend comes across this article and discovers this information, which the child may or may not want kept to himself? In fact, the mother states that the child is already rushing to hide his ‘girl’s’ toys when friends come to play. If he doesn’t want his own friends to know now, isn’t publishing these details for the entire world to see counter productive? I’ll admit there is no easy answer here – because in the larger sense, raising this awareness may mean others may become more tolerant, perhaps they’ll think twice before they raise their eyebrows quizzically when they see a little boy carrying a doll through the shops. But will the author’s son end up suffering as a result?
In the case of certain online closed networks, there is of course the opportunity for some control – privacy settings can ensure that photographs and personal status updates stay within particular circles of people – but when it comes to open blog posts or online articles, then it’s out there in the public eye forever.
So my question is, are we about to be hit with a wave of unprecedented issues when the next generation, the children of the iGeneration - reach a certain age? Because once upon a time, the only way a parent could humiliate their kids was by pulling out the family photo album for an awkward show-and-tell on the couch with their daughter’s date while she was adding the last round of hairspray or adjusting her shoulder pads in the bathroom. Is Facebook going to be the modern day equivalent of this humiliating rite of passage, except without any limits or boundaries? Or will it simply not matter because they’ll all be on a level playing field? With each and every person’s history online, laid out for anyone to see, perhaps the embarrassment factor will become moot. ‘Oh yes, you saw that photo of me dressed up in my Mum’s bra when I was five? Whatevs, I’ve seen you with a pair of superman undies on your head. What of it?’
Do you post about your kids on Facebook? Where do you draw the line?