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When Your Online Presence Starts with Your Parents

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By Rachel Smith
@_TheRachelSmith

Facebook was found in 2004 and I’ve had an account since 2005—so for the last 11 years, my entire life has been detailed out in a timeline fashion for all of my Facebook friends and family to see. In 2005, I was a freshman in college so my Facebook timeline starts quite abruptly with a combination of posts from high school friends and new college buddies, pictures of my new found freedom away at school mixed in with nostalgic pictures from home, confusing conversations about concerts and homework.

On Facebook, it is as if my life started in 2005, right at the intersection of high school and college—there are no pictures from when I was born or of my childhood growing up, no photos from picture day in middle school or of prom in high school. In the world of social media, I was dropped in as an 18 year old adolescent, and able to make my own decisions about what to post and (probably more importantly) what not to post—I controlled my social media presence.

But fast forward 11 years, and others are not so lucky. With social media booming, it is no surprise that parents are taking to various platforms to share photos of their kids—some starting at birth. A baby born yesterday, probably already has a photo on Facebook today. From day one, some children will have their entire lives chronicled on social media—including embarrassing bath photos and ones with a finger up their nose. What was once reserved for physical photo albums that get pulled out when close friends and family stop by to visit is now plastered all over social media for a much larger audience—and the newborn baby or one year old doesn’t have a say in how they are portrayed online. For some, their online presence will start with their parents.

Online privacy is such an important and hot topic, but many parents post photos of their kids online without thinking twice about it—would their child even want that online? How might they feel about this when they are a teenager or applying for college?

BBC News recently posted a news article—“Should children ban their parents from social media?”—addressing this topic that cited a survey by Nominet (a domain name company). According to the survey, as reported by BBC, “In the UK, the average parent with a social media account has posted 1,498 photos of their child online by their fifth birthday.” Nearly 1,500 photos posted online, and the child has not one say in it. In the US, I would think the number of photos might be even higher.

The article talks about how kids who are now in their teens are having uncomfortable conversations with their parents about taking down some photos from when they were little that are embarrassing or maybe inconsistent with how they see themselves now that they are older. And what is most poignant in the article is the notion that it is typically parents who are the ones harping on their kids about being careful about what they post online, when they themselves may not have thought of the repercussions of what they post. Just because a photo isn’t embarrassing or inappropriate doesn’t mean that it may not have an impact on their child when they are old enough to understand social media.

I sound like I may not agree with parents posting about their children online—but in reality, I am not quite sure how I feel about it. Social media is meant to be social where you share some of life’s greatest moments (among other things) with your friends and family online. The memories you make with your child are no doubt some of the ones you would want to share with others, but they are also the memories that will define who your child is online. How one resolves this conundrum when social media is so popular is a good question—avoid posting until your child is old enough to give consent and you miss out on the purpose of social media; post too much information or too many photos and you rob your child of the opportunity to define who they want to be online. Some kids might not have a problem with their parents sharing baby photos and others might be flattered that they have a living record of their childhood, but how does a parent know until their child is old enough to tell them? Like many things in life, maybe moderation is the answer—it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, but there does have to be some thought put into it. After all, a child born in 2005 is just now realizing the extent to which who they are online may already be established— whether it how they want to be perceived or not.