About a week ago I landed, not entirely accidentally, right in front of an article I had long been waiting to discover. Its advertising line warned: “Children born to the Facebook generation will grow up to find a huge number of photos of themselves available online.” That is, they will find a huge online legacy about themselves even if they don’t want it.
The article, written by Hannah Webster, Communications Manager at Independent Association of Prep Schools in the UK, lays out some of the tragic aspects of sharing today. It argues, quite reasonably, against a world where people post 12-week scans of babies in their mothers’ wombs. “These children,” she says, “have an online presence before they are born – before they even know of their own existence.”
Webster’s observation should not be taken lightly. Many people have spoken about the risks of identity theft and Internet surveillance. (Both noteworthy discussions.) But is it possible to see beyond that? Webster reminds us that millions of images of children appear in all sorts of media today. And, while is hardly an ill-intentioned gesture, the volume suggests people are not thinking this through. The incorporation of this discussion back into the personal sphere is one of Webster’s largest contributions with this article:
The question about this is not really whether or not this is ‘safe’ for children — it is hard to imagine what kind of physical harm this could cause. Nor is it about how much irritation you may cause less baby-friendly Facebook friends. No, the question we really should be addressing focuses on how this affects the children themselves. Is such rapid and apparently limitless capability to celebrate children really healthy for them?
All infants solipsistically believe they are the center of the universe. They do not comprehend that there is anything outside of their own experience… If every last reaction and quirk of a child is posted online for everyone to revel in… the realization that the world does not revolve according to this child’s satisfaction may well be delayed.
The bottom line is, in over-celebrating children online, adults are creating an unlimited archive (an online legacy) of children’s lives without their consent. This, in my view, is almost illegal. These children are being robbed of their anonymity. How can they be free and independent if others have created an identity for them? As Webster wisely suggests:
Every person gets to an age where they wish to shed their child self and move on; this is a healthy stage in every kid’s life and to which every individual should be entitled.
I like to think that in the near future there will be a button that allows people to erase all images about certain people. But even then, the consequences of overexposing children’s lives without their consent might be impossible to avoid. If you’re not convinced, take a look at the list of possible side effects collected by Juliet Richards (i.e., developing an identity, developing privacy, modeling). Or prepare yourself for the following statistics, gathered in the UK but applicable to the US and other countries with high Internet use:
According to a recent study done by print site Posterista, 94 percent of parents in the United Kingdom post pictures of their kids online. And 64 percent of parents upload images of their children to social media outlets at least three times a week.
Is it worth it? I think it’s time to start looking beyond the gratifications of instant posting and start thinking about children’s lives.
—Alexia Raynal, Zeteo Managing Editor
To read more posts in the fields of children and childhood by Alexia Raynal, visit her ZiR page here.
Attain Magazine Online: “The Facebook Legacy,” by Hannah Webster
Time Magazine Online: “Should Parents Post Pictures of Their Kids on Facebook?” by Eliana Dockterman
BlogHer: “What will your Facebook Legacy Be?” by Juliet Richards