“Maybe we should have another baby?,” I wondered as I gazed at the sweet baby photos of my first-born.
Delete. Delete. Delete.
Suddenly, a photo flashed on my screen of my then 10-month old son on the day he used his dinner to paint our dining room walls in a style reminiscent of Jackson Pollock.
“Then again, maybe our family is just the right size,” I thought while also reflecting on how much the spaghetti did indeed suck that night.
Delete. Delete. Delete.
I am in the process of removing all the photos I have ever posted of my children on social media – a whopping 1,857 in all. I recognize these deleting attempts might be futile, as I am sure a few copies remain out there in the digital soup of cyberspace. Nevertheless, my heart feels a little lighter knowing the hardcopies of these photos will remain privately kept in our home and I will be starting over on social media with a relatively clean slate.
I currently live in Germany with my husband and two children. For years, I have been posting on social media almost daily updates from Oompah-band-land to my family and friends back home. Social media remains to this day my go-to plan for maintaining these long distance relationships, although recently the German government recommended that parents abstain from sharing photos of their children online out of privacy concerns. Moreover, some European countries have adopted radical privacy laws that give children the right to sue, even jail, their share-happy parents.
However, this political climate that I find myself in is not the sole reason for my deleting frenzy today. I can assure you all that I am not afraid my offspring suddenly becoming vengeful for that time I shared a cute photo of them.
My true motivation is to prove to my children that they should always have a choice when it comes to their bodies and I am as serious as a heart attack about that. Whether their body is physically present or digitally represented, the rules for respecting body autonomy and consent should always apply. No matter what. Therefore, in the future, I will always ask my children for their consent before posting their photos online.
Have I gone bonkers? Maybe. But, consider this…
A recent study by The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics, found that children between the ages of 11 -17 years old are engaging in sending (15%) and receiving (27%) sexually explicit images, aka “sexting,” with more frequency than ever before. While these statistics are indeed alarming, especially when you consider sexting with anyone under 18 is in violation of U.S. state and federal laws (even amongst peers), it becomes even more disturbing when you take into account that 12% of the children had admitted to forwarding such materials without consent.
In addition to sexting, the disturbing trends of upskirting, revenge porn, and various forms of cyberbullying are further examples of how someone’s digitial body can be violated by disregarding their right to give consent. My children and yours will no doubt be confronted with these issues head on despite our best efforts to educate and protect them. As parents, all we can do is hope that we have prepared them well enough to navigate their online presence responsibly and kind-heartedly. Otherwise, their actions could have legal as well as deadly consequences.
So what steps could we, as parents, take to prepare our children for this wild world of social media?
I believe teaching young children about consent and respecting other people’s boundaries may be the key.
Let me be honest here, I know there have been countless times my children were obviously not that into me photographing or videotaping them. In fact, I probably have a hundred or more photos of them mentally giving me the middle finger. However, I recognize now that this violated their right to consent and disregarded their wish to maintain some boundaries with me. My pressuring them was annoying at best and dangerous at worst.
By making them comply with the parental-paparazzi at all times, I may have inadvertently been teaching them how to override their protective instincts. These are the same instincts that signal to them when something “just doesn’t feel right” and those are critical to keeping them safe from child predators.
Just as I wouldn’t dream of forcing my children to hug or kiss someone they really didn’t want to (sorry, Grandma!), I shouldn’t be forcing their digital body onto my smartphone and social media without their consent. By allowing my children the right to say “no” or “I don’t want to share that,” this will hopefully prepare them for the day they will have photo/video requests from friends, love interests, or even a creepy online weirdo. This will help ensure that they feel comfortable and safe online.
Moreover, I believe I am also giving them the skills to recognize and respect other people’s digital boundaries which will lay the foundation for them to make healthier, safer, and more responsible choices later on when they become curious and ridiculously hormonal adolescents.
Now, please excuse me, I have some work to do and possibly so do you.
Delete. Delete. Delete.