Parents are the worst. I can say this because I am one. But even before I had a baby, I loathed parents for their inability to recognise that no one cares about their child as much as they do. And nowhere is this delusion more evident than on social media.
Scrolling through my Facebook feed, I used to flag up articles I’d save and read later. Now it’s clogged up with photos of other people’s children – little Sophie* eating broccoli at seven months, Arthur* full of cold and miserable, or Amara* dressed as a #princess for #WorldBookDay. Other than grandparents or a doting aunt, why can’t parents see no one is interested? Just start a family WhatsApp group.
Having unfollowed the worst offenders, I now have five friends who post pictures I enjoy: infrequent, selective and often with a self-deprecating take. These friends choose images that neither humiliate their kids nor brag about their achievements. They gauge the response and act accordingly – why can’t everyone take the hint if posts attract likes from only their partner and a few NCT mums? Far from being a minor irritant to followers, posting pictures of your children is dangerous to them, hurtful to others and self-centred in the extreme.
When my daughter was born five months ago, my husband and I rang friends and family, then after a fortnight posted one photograph of her that we removed a few days later. Most people didn’t know I was even pregnant, and once we felt friends had been informed, we took it down as we saw no need for it to stay online. Throughout my pregnancy, I kept bump pics offline. Mindful of friends who have had miscarriages and stillbirths, struggled with IVF, or can’t have children at all, I didn’t feel the need to rub our joy in their faces, and the same is true now. When friends ask for photos I gladly text a couple, but I’m not arrogant enough to assume all my contacts want to see her.
One might argue that everyone has a right to post whatever they like – but I would urge caution. Posting children’s photographs online is selfish. Every update is cropped and curated to elicit a response, to indulge egos, and seek attention. Why else would we share a statement or post? No one can deny the thrill as notifications ping from friends, and you click refresh to see who’s liked your photo. But your child did not consent to you sharing their image with upwards of 400 people, most of whom you probably never see in real life.
A recent Ofcom study revealed that 56% of UK parents do not post photos or videos of their children on social media, with 87% saying they want their children’s lives to remain private. But, if my Facebook feed is anything to go by, people don’t practise what they preach. ere’s also evidence that suggests your kids crave that privacy, too. The Pew Research Center found that 18 to 29-year-olds are more likely than older adults to have tried to protect their online privacy, reported harm because of privacy problems, removed names from photos in which they were tagged, and deleted unwanted comments. When Facebook launched in 2004 and users were posting pictures with reckless abandon, their kids were aged between five and 16. It’s these children, now young adults, who have to clear up the damage.
Sharing photos of children in school uniform, using nicknames and including house numbers and street names in the background opens them up to danger from predators – even potential kidnappers. Can you honestly say you trust or even know everyone on your Facebook feed? To argue that online lives aren’t real is naïve at best and stupid at worst. Not knowing the ramifications of an online footprint is reason enough to err on the side of caution.
My role as a parent is to protect my child from harm – whether it’s real or in the future. Parading her online opens her up to public scrutiny. She has a lifetime of that ahead of her, it doesn’t need to start now just so I can receive smug satisfaction on social media.