Posting your kids’ pictures on social media? It seems only fair

There not being enough hand-wringing and parental guilt in the world, NPR provides a public service today by telling us not to post pictures of our kids on social media.

You know, like this:


We were making suet that morning.

Or like this:


That’s one of my favorites. Flying a kite on a beach in Maine the day before we moved to Minnesota. It doesn’t get much better than being a 6-year-old kid flying a kite at the beach.

Where were we? Oh, yes, violating the little critters’ privacy by posting their pictures online.

“We’re big proponents of bodily autonomy and not forcing him to hug or kiss people unless he wants to, but it never occurred to me that I should ask his permission to post photos of him online,” says Burbridge, a mom of two in Wakefield, Mass. “Now when I post photos of him on Facebook, I show him the photo and get his okay. I get to approve tags and photos of myself I want posted — why not my child?”

It’s a fair question, I guess. Do children have privacy rights? “Bodily autonomy” as they say on Facebook.

The American Academy of Pediatrics meeting last week invented a new term for this: “sharenting” and says by the time your kid is 3 or 4, start asking them whether it’s OK for you to share a picture online, according to the pediatricians and the parents who believe them.

“We’re in no way trying to silence parents’ voices,” Steinberg says. “At the same time, we recognize that children might have an interest in entering adulthood free to create their own digital footprint.”

They cited a study presented earlier this year of 249 pairs of parents and their children in which more than twice as many children than parents wanted rules on what parents could share.

“The parents said, ‘We don’t need rules — we’re fine,’ and the children said, ‘Our parents need rules,’ ” Keith says. “The children wanted autonomy about this issue and were worried about their parents sharing information about them.”

She pointed out that the American Academy of Pediatrics offers guidelines to parents on monitoring their children’s social media use, but not the other way around, something David Hill, chair of the AAP Council on Communications and Media, expects will become an important part of AAP’s messaging.

I used to write a blog about being a father but I haven’t updated it much in years. Why not? Because my kids are adults now and to write about them — especially to write honestly — would violate their privacy. I wouldn’t post pictures of them on the blog either. At some point, they own their lives.

Where is that point? I don’t know. But it’s not 3 or 4, when, as I recall, I didn’t ask the kids whether it would be OK with them if they had to go to bed.

There’s logic — I guess — in asserting the hypocrisy of not extending adult considerations and courtesies to kids at a younger age. And certainly not putting pictures of your kids online that could be digitally stolen and turned in to child pornography is common sense.

Some parents find the best route for them is not to share at all. Bridget O’Hanlon and her husband, who live in Cleveland, decided before their daughter was born that they would not post her photos online. When a few family members did post pictures, O’Hanlon and her husband made their wishes clear.

“It’s been hard not to share pics of her because people always want to know how babies and toddlers are doing and to see pictures, but we made the decision to have social media, she did not,” O’Hanlon told NPR via Facebook Messenger.

If you don’t want to put your kids’ pictures online, that’s fine; don’t put them online.

But one of the reasons parenthood is so hard is because there are so many people in the business or pleasure of telling you how you’re doing it wrong. And there’s no greater expert on how to be a parent than the ones who’ve been doing it for a couple of years, tops.

At some point, we stopped listening to them at our house and neither of the young men who once lived there is serving time. Yet.

We made a different sort of unspoken deal that most parents, who we now suspect are probably doing it wrong, make instead: Your mother gets to experience hours — sometimes days — of pain for the privilege of spitting you out of a small orifice, we’ll wipe your tush on a regular basis, your parents will give up sleep in your early years, then exchange their youthful energy for the privilege of keeping you safe until you reach an age when you tell them you hate them and you wish you’d never been born, emerging from your cocoon (your room) years later to reveal you plan to attend a $60,000-a-year college in Europe, a place they’ve never been to because they put their money aside so you could go to college and come home after one semester to remind them how uneducated they are in the way the world works; and when we die, you get the cash, the house, and all the mementos of you we’ve hoarded over the years.

In exchange, we get to post a picture of you online making suet and flying kites.

That may not seem logical, but it feels more than fair.

  • joetron2030

    I’ll preface this by saying that I have 10 and 13 y.o. kids and that I don’t post many pictures of them to social media just because I’m not much of a picture taker. Too busy experiencing the moment.

    But, when I do take a picture that I plan on posting online, I usually let them see it first in case they’re not happy with how the picture came out and want it retaken or they just don’t want it posted online. More often than not, they have no problems with the pictures posted online.

    I also tend to only post them to Facebook (and on the rare occasion Google Plus) where I have more direct control over who can see the pictures vs. Twitter and Instagram.

  • Veronica

    As someone who *does* work as a parenting resource, I’m just going to add my 4 cents:

    Infant mental health is a real thing, and it’s becoming startlingly clear that some common parenting practices need to be called into question. I always tell parents to try to see life through their children’s eyes, to understand from day 1 they are dealing with an actual human being who has ideas and feelings, but also a tiny human whose needs can only be met with adult help. In a decade of working with parents, parents really do want their kids to be happy, responsible, and caring adults.

    So here’s always my advice: From day 1, treat your child the exact way you’d want to be treated. So, understand that babies get thirsty just like every other human ever, except they can’t walk over to the fridge and grab a beverage of their choosing. Parenting initially is modeling behavior for our kids to pick up on, the start of engaging in respectful lines of communication before they can speak, and to make sure, even at age 2 or 3, you are explaining things and are willing to listen to what they have to say.

    Now, any good parent knows that some things with our kids are negotiable, and some things are not. Posting pictures on social media…pretty negotiable. Wearing a coat to the bus stop when it’s 37 degrees outside? Not negotiable. But if you have started out from the very beginning by establishing trust, those tough conversations end up being much easier.

    Again, science is telling us that the way we parent our very tiny ones, even before age 3, will have significant impact on them for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, it now looks like kids should be screened for mental health issues starting at age 5. Parenting is hard– really hard. However, I’d advocate for doing everything we can to give parents more support socially and financially so we don’t end up with another generation of Baby Boomers in the future. ;-p

    • Jeff

      I didn’t get the memo – is this Baby Boomer bashing week? I’m pretty sensitive you know. sniff, sniff.

      • Here’s a social security check. Use it to dry your tears. There’ll be more. :*)

        • Jeff

          sobbing… Thanks!

    • JamieHX

      And what, exactly, is wrong with Boomers that is not wrong with every other generation?

  • MrE85

    I’m glad we didn’t have the Internet when I was younger.

  • Rob

    I just don’t understand the impulse or rationale for posting kids photos online. I suggest making an email group of family members and friends who are really, truly, deeply interested in seeing photos of your little darlings, and attaching your kids photos to emails whenever you’re overcome by an irresistible urge to share.

    • People used to keep pictures of their kids in their wallets and would pull them out to show them to others who didn’t care.

      I never found that confusing, personally.

      • Rob

        Never said anything about confusion. Also not sure why you’d want to foist your kid photos on people who didn’t care. Plus, you retained the photo when you did the wallet flip, way unlike the online share.

        • Ah, I was thrown off by the words “I don’t understand.”

          • Rob

            Last I looked, not appreciating an impulse isn’t the same as confusion.

          • I didn’t consider the possibility that “I don’t , understand” means “I don’t appreciate”. My error.

          • Rob

            No worries

    • Melissa

      I enjoy seeing pictures of friends’ kids. I don’t need to be “really, truly, deeply, interested” to enjoy seeing a cute picture. I would much rather look at those than read political rants or see pictures of everything you’ve eaten today, but maybe others do. If you don’t want to see pictures of people’s children, just hide their posts from your feed.

      P.S. Cute pictures, Bob =)

      • Rob

        I love to see cute pictures of politicians ranting. Plus, I make it a point never to post food pictures, whether it’s of the barbecued iguana I enjoyed recently, or anything else.

  • Mike

    The cottage industry of parents sniping at each other over petty issues, or trying to claim moral superiority by virtue of consumer choices, is more or less the very definition of a first-world problem. The fact that so many people get worked up over this stuff is itself an example of the bourgeois decadence of late capitalism, and merits little attention from serious people. That’s to say it’s a perfect topic for NPR’s target audience.

    Just go back in time a short distance to understand when the problems were real. I remember my grandmother talking about being a teenager in the Great Depression and literally not having enough to eat. Not to mention there are plenty of parents in our country and world today who have actual things to worry about.

    If one’s children are fed, housed, and clothed, have a school to attend and a few activities to partake in, along with a modicum of adult supervision and a reasonable assurance of physical safety, everything else is optional, regardless of what the busybody neighbor or the self-important authority figure says. If human beings were as delicate as various people selling something would have us believe, we would have gone extinct ages ago.

    Post, or don’t post. It’s really all the same.

    • Precious, indeed.

      People get “worked up” over it because to them there’s nothing more important than raising their children.

      That’s a feature not a bug.

      • Mike

        If people actually believe this is some sort of serious debate, that proves my point better than I ever could.