Before anybody leaves me a comment about how their parents read their diary when they were a kid and it traumatized them for life, let me just say that I’m not talking about the privacy between a child and his or her parents. I’m talking about the child’s right to privacy from the general public.
All this crazy media about the Duggar family and the debate about whether or not they should have publicly admitted their son’s actions has cemented for me my conviction about protecting and respecting the privacy of my own girls. Ever since I ran across the idea of respecting my child’s privacy, I decided to remove all photos of them from online, to not post personal details about their lives and to make sure I do not share anything that might embarrass them in the future. It probably sounds pretty extreme, but let me share about my journey to where I am.
I’m not saying it’s always wrong to share pics of our kiddos. In fact, there are quite a few friends I love to keep up with on Instagram and Facebook and I love to see how their little ones are doing. Here’s the thing, though… would I want somebody sharing pictures of me for all the world to see? Yes, most people I know use at least some level of a privacy setting, but once it’s online it just isn’t really private anymore.
Even if the child wants to have the picture/video posted, is it really safe? Especially for younger children who might have some creepy grown male fans out there (most of whom you know and trust!!) watching your location tags and status updates about where you’ll be this afternoon. Not a happy thought, but a very real danger. (Check out my series “Protecting Our Children from Predators” to learn how common these types of things are.)
The real truth is that a child or teen is not mature enough to make the decision of whether or not they should have their pictures and videos posted online, so we parents are ultimately responsible for that decision. Most of us make it by default because we want to share with our friends and family how stinkin’ cute our little ones are! It’s fun, but is it really our decision to make for them? Fifty years ago, would we have taken pictures of our children and pasted them all over town along with their names and other identifying info. People would have thought we were nuts if we had, but now it’s so commonplace to spread their pics all over the world via the internet that nobody even blinks.
Apart from the safety issue, I truly feel that it’s the child’s decision how much of their lives they want to make public… once they are grown up. When they are mature enough to understand all the ramifications of it, they can decide to either share as much or as little with the world as they are comfortable with sharing. It is no more appropriate for me to expose them to the public without their permission than it would be for me to take photos and video of adult relatives and plaster them online without permission.
When I finally applied the standard I had been using (while posting my children’s pics all over this blog and on Facebook) to an adult relative, I was able to see that it was something that I would never do to somebody else. Only to my own children. There’s something seriously wrong with that standard, right??
So now here I am seeing the Duggars at the center of the media frenzy and I can’t help thinking that it could have been any of us. We’ve all had sins, failures and poor choices in our pasts. Those children should never have been put into the position of having to publicly deal with the sin, pain and trauma. If the parents felt that being on TV was somehow a great witness, fine. The children should not have been involved in that until they were grown and were able to make that decision for themselves. Yes, it wouldn’t have been the same show without the children in it, but that’s the point. The family should have been a sacred, private unit, not a form of entertainment for the general public. (I have my own personal thoughts on how the parents should have handled the behavior of their son, but regardless of how I feel about it, those girls absolutely should not have to go through what they are going through now in front of all the world.)
Back to the topic of privacy for children in general, there are still plenty of ways to share with actual family and friends without exposing them to all the world. Private emails of photos (I know, those can be hacked but that’s not the same as posting them publicly), Instagram accounts with just friends and family allowed to see what is posted or good old-fashioned printed pics. Facebook actually assumes ownership of any photos you post on there, so don’t be fooled by those “privacy” settings.
Whatever you decide about the level of privacy you give your kiddos, just make sure it’s intentional. So often we default to what everybody else seems to be doing without giving it any thought. Discuss it with your spouse and kids, then decide what private details and photos are going to be made public. Really consider whether it’s something that you’d share if it were somebody else’s child or a grown relative. Don’t just go on auto-pilot. Be intentional.