To share or not to share, that is the question? Parent blogging and child safety on-line

I knew I wanted to blog for a long time. I enjoy writing and I find it therapeutic. I also knew that I wanted to focus my writing on my experiences of motherhood in all its shades of good, bad and grey. 100% though, this focus topic lands me square in the realm of the ‘mummy blogger’.img_3926

It is almost default that the poster face of a ‘mummy blogger’ account is generally the author’s own child or children, especially if your social media forum of choice (linked to your blog) is Instagram – as is the case for me – which is abundant with images of gorgeous little curly-mopped tinkers. Now, I totally get the attraction of sharing photos of your delightful offspring as it’s the same instinct that prompted the collective “ahhhh” at the sight of a sleeping new-born cusped by a giant peony and photographed by Anne Geddes back in the day (I can’t be the only one to remember those cards, surely?!). We are innately attracted to cute, and pretty brings in the crowd, especially in the visually-oriented app of Instagram with its ‘carefully curated’ feeds. We’ve all seen them, surely, those beautifully polished ‘squares’ showing cherubic infants and happy mums with the wistful, Gingham filter, to give us the ‘white, picket fence’ image of parenting. Now, I’m not throwing any shade as I feckin’ love those accounts as much as the next mum, as contrived as they are (because we all bloody know there is very little Gingham in real life parenting but it’s nice to dream!).

You’ve only got to glance at my account to know I’m just not one of those mums. I mean, I barely have my shit sufficiently together to lay the dinner on the table each day let alone post a heavily-filtered flat-lay of some vegan, organic, gluten-free, protein-dense, zero-calorie, no-bake, refined sugar-free, home-made cookies with a side of rose petals artfully sprinkled over them and a gap-toothed infant snapped in the act of sneaking one (I say ‘snapped’ but it’s a safe guess said infant was more than likely bribed with baby crack to get the ‘action’ shot, or is that just me applying my own shady principles?!)

I’m more, ‘harassed mum’. The kind of mum that, yes, would openly bribe the child with shop-bought cookies whilst doing the Aldi shop just to keep the peace. Now, I could happily shell picture after picture of  my home looking like the place has just been turned over in a police raid, with my kid in the midst of it all staring at You Tube like she’s been hypnotised (effectively she has, let’s not beat around the bush here). Thing is, I’d rather administer a swift punch to my face than show you lot the state of my lounge. Heck, my hives get hives just at the thought! Anyone that knows me well will know that I have shared my daughter’s beautiful face on my private social media for years because, quite frankly, she is the prettiest kid in the world (not biased, she is genuinely a babe). So, why can’t I find it in me to post my daughter’s photo on my blog or associated social media accounts? Well, lots of reasons, I suppose, but mainly just one: it’s public.

End of blog post. Thank you for reading.

img_3930Nah, jokes aside, in an ideal world I would happily post her image on a public forum without a care in the world. There is a natural, boasty, proud parent in us all. Its why our social media timelines are flooded with school photos and birthday shots: because we want the world to see what we see, and that is our precious bundle of perfection. Like I’ve said, I’ve done it for years (albeit on my private account). I joined social media when my daughter was first born and it’s fair to say over the last decade I’ve really learnt as I go along, as has been the case for many of us entering parenthood at a time in which social media was advancing rapidly. I suppose you could say we are the guinea pig generation of parents sharing our children’s lives on social media (aptly named ‘sharenting’). Now, I can’t say I’ve ever posted pics of my kid in the complete nude or doing a crap on the potty (and if I have I don’t recall doing so) but I do know I have very much changed my posting habits about her over the years. One such change is not posting photos of my daughter sleeping; a change I made way before she commented that she doesn’t like having photos of her being taken while asleep (that hurt my ovaries, but yup, totally get it; if I woke up to my Mum taking a photo of me asleep at 42 years old my instinct would probably be to drop kick her).

Parenting is a flux state of renegotiating those boundaries, isn’t it? And making changes to our parenting when things no longer ‘fit’. As my attitude has changed, so have my social media habits including making retrospective changes.  For example, I regularly delete photos off my social media or have changed whole photos albums to the ‘me only’ setting on Facebook after a certain amount of time as it just feels a bit weird to leave open access to something I may have shared 8 years ago (c’mon, admit it, we’ve all had a snoop at someone’s back catalogue of images and tried really hard not to accidentally thumb a ‘like’ on something they posted from 2010 so as to avoid looking a bit stalkery). I’ll also always delete any photo my child does not give her approval to (or not post it in the first place as the situation may be). In fact, as she gets older and more aware of social media we have flicked through Facebook memories and – whilst she is happy for me to have photos and videos of her up – she will occasionally object to something that she now finds embarrassing and I take it down then and there so she can be assured its gone. Hearing her voice her opinion on images of herself has played no small part in me rethinking how I ‘sharent’ on-line, and is a pretty good exercise for any parent who has ever shared information about their child on social media. In fact, I think the whole landscape of sharenting is going to change massively as our offspring become parents themselves or voice their adult thoughts on the matter, but that’s a separate blog post.img_3931

So, we’ve established that I’ve possibly overshared on my private accounts albeit to relatively small numbers of people and likely no axe murderers amongst my family and friends (here’s hoping!!) but where does that leave me with my public account? Well, in all honesty, it leaves me with an absolute bloody conundrum. My choice not to share easily identifiable images of my child means I don’t have a stock pile of cute images that I can readily pilfer when creativity strikes. It means my account isn’t particularly aesthetically pleasing and, bizarrely for a parenting account, images of an actual child are pretty sparse. Indeed, the hardest part for me (which, confusingly, can equally be the easiest part) is that I don’t get to self-indulge in sharing images of my most treasured person in the world: my girl. In all honesty, it makes that part of blogging much, much harder.

That said, the conundrum this presents to me in terms of visual content is also my greatest defence as it forces me to reflect more on what I am putting out into the public domain. It means I mostly post retrospectively which creates time and space for me to check that I am not unwittingly posting personal/private details but also allows me to reflect on whether I am actually content to hit ‘share’ on any thought, anecdote or story. And, most importantly, it allows me to consider any repercussions from what I am sharing, namely along two paths: child protection and child consent.

Child Protection

To reiterate, I follow a lot of ‘warts and all’ accounts and I get why parents want to showcase their children, I really do, and I am not here to criticise those people. All I know is that we all come at any given situation from our own unique perspective and sharing my child publicly is just not for me. In my case it is most likely because of my past, professional experience, but once you are aware of the ‘dark side’ of the internet you can’t unlearn it so my approach will always be that of ‘worst case scenario’. I’m not saying that’s right, or wrong, but it’s my experience and so I have to go with it. To reconcile that, I counter my actions with caution. It means I typically try to adapt my images to reduce the risk of them falling into the wrong hands and being adapted for inappropriate means. Look, let’s be real here, that crap does happen, and, yes, whilst I don’t wish to be ruled by fear, I would rather err on the side of caution and act accordingly. At the end of the day, choosing to ignore that predators do exist, doesn’t mean they’re going to ignore you and your public profile though. In fact, the more ignorant you are, the better for them, I’d say. So, yup, if it means I can’t post that super cute picture of my baby in the bath then so be it. I can happily live with that.

There are accounts out there though whose actions deliberately increase the risk for children and I do struggle with that. Without naming names (as I don’t wish to generate traffic to any accounts in case the images remain) I recently called out and reported a white ‘influencer’ for posting a photo of a seemingly naked black child spread eagled on a surf board with him sat behind her. Even writing this makes my blood boil as he effectively left the child’s image at massive risk of being adapted to graphic ends (let alone the ethical dilemmas this raised around the child’s vulnerability, consent and so on). And don’t even get me started on those accounts who are a bit loose on their kids’ privacy (that’s polite speak for those people who turn a deaf ear when people point out their kids’ privates are on show or, even worse, block them!), or those who use click bait titles that would likely attract the wrong ‘sorts’. Absolute madness, in my book. No amount of money accrued through advertising from increased engagement could tempt me to pull such stunts.

img_3937Most people aren’t like that though (thankfully) and I expect most would generally be mortified if they realised their images increased risk for their child. That said, there is never any harm in being informed so we can make considered choices, and there are many helpful tips out there that can simply add a string to your bow. For me, I find approaching any potential image through the lens of safeguarding to be a really helpful tool. For example, I will often reject using an image if I feel there is too much scope for someone else to be superimposed on to the image in a ‘dodgy’ way. I also frequently use blurred/shadowed/black and white/non-facial/part facial images as they are apparently less appealing to those wishing to generate paedophile material (I get that everyone is not as extreme as me). And I won’t ever post images of my child nude etc. (now that is not extreme and if you do that you are a fool). And before anyone thinks I’m blowing smoke up my own arse, I have posted things on my private accounts before that I wouldn’t dream of posting now, or to my public account. That’s the learning curve for you.

The other fairly common advice around child protection concerns grooming or exploitation, and the NSPCC offer helpful advice on this (click here for the link). Now this is an area I’ve really made changes to over time and you would be hard pushed not to have heard of the advice to avoid sharing identifiers of your child such as their full name, address, school etc. Yet still many people will post images of their children’s school certificates with their full names on or colour pictures of their kiddies in school uniform with badges or book bags clearly visible. And some parenting accounts I see also post photos or videos of school events or parties where other children are clearly visible. Surely, people can’t plead ignorance on that count since every school or activity event always starts with the social media protocol announcement. I would be livid if I watched someone’s stories on a public platform and a picture/video of my daughter came up. Surely a regard for other people should always come before ‘content’?

I remember Anna Whitehouse, famously known as Mother Pukka (as per her social media handle), wrote a really informative article about privacy a while back (click here for link). She mentioned information harvesting to steal people’s identity which was an aspect I hadn’t thought of in terms of my child. I truly believe the temptation is to shrug off information like this or eye roll at the extremity of it. But, how many of us have looked at our parents’ parenting choices – heavily influenced by the health-and-safety-devoid, ‘laissez faire’ attitude of the 80s – and think ‘like fxxk’ would I ever do that with my kid (not making your kids wear seatbelts anyone?). Yeah, we joke that perhaps society is a bit health and safety mad nowadays but given the choice between letting your kid climb a massive slide atop hard-as-nails concrete (like it was in the 80s, lol) or a smaller, less bone-breaking-should-they-fall-off, slide upon squishy tarmac like it is now, which would you choose (OK, so I’d go for the 80s slide – just once though – for the craic of watching my kid brick herself…). Jokes aside, perhaps one day our children will look at us in the same way as we look at our parents and say in absolute incredulity: “tell me how you thought it was a good idea to post a shit tonne of identifying information about me on the internet again, Mum?” Hmmm. Who knows, but maybe there’s no harm in us all calming our tits a bit with what we share about the next generation.

Child consent

The impetus for this post was a recent decision by the singer/presenter/all round babe that is Rochelle Humes to show her children’s faces on her Instagram account for the first time. I am sure I am not alone in my reaction which was to make that cooey sound that someone makes when seeing someone’s new baby for the first time. Her children are beautiful and cute and I completely understood her when she said that her prior decision not to show her children came from a place of protection “possibly to a fault”. In fact, my initial reaction to this was to question whether I am being too risk-averse in my own decision-making around my daughter as I found it so sweet seeing pictures of her kids for the first time. But in the same way as I respect Rochelle’s choice to now share her children, I have reconciled it is not for me at this time in my life and with my daughter the age she is (although interestingly it annoys my daughter that I don’t show her face).

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Rochelle mentioned her eldest child questioning why she does not share her image on her account which seems to have helped Rochelle make an informed choice – having discussed it with her eldest – to share a little more. Not everyone will agree with her decision but you can’t deny that her decision appears considered and I can totally respect that. I can also respect a parent’s choice to share their children on-line and those who don’t. It is a parent’s choice, fully. But is it really that simple? Of course it’s not, lol, it’s parenting, it’s complex as heck. All I know is, perhaps if you have younger children and you have not considered the ramifications of your choice to share them on public platforms then perhaps now is as good a time as any to do so as it is easier to make an informed decision going forward than it is to back peddle from a route you may have gone down unintentionally.

I get it’s horses for courses but what works for me is a ‘snippet’ approach to what I share. I don’t diarise my daughter’s life and try to instead focus on my experiences of motherhood. I avoid using her name on-line so she doesn’t become personalised and I absolutely will not discuss anything private on here pertaining to her. It’s really hard to write a post like this without sounding preachy but with Safer Internet Day 2020 being today it seems a topical post, especially in the burgeoning market of ‘mummy blogging’. As my daughter gets older I am becoming more acutely aware of needing to lead by example, and my on-line habits (including the amount of time I spend on my phone) are rightly under scrutiny. And the older she gets the clearer her voice becomes and I would be a fool to disregard that for the sake of social media. Because the reality is, she’s catching me up every day and in a few short years she’ll be an adult. Within that space, I have to navigate tween life, teenage years and young emerging adult. Some of these phases are, hands down, going to be massive flash points of emotions and hormones and she may not to want to have an endless on-line diary for her friends – or frenemies – to dip into for embarrassing content. I may, or may not, get this right. But I’d like to try. So to do that I aim to keep her at the fore of what I share, not the audience for whom I may be sharing it to.

So here’s to Safer Internet Day 2020. It’s not just for the kiddies 😉

SoM xxximg_6018

 

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