If "Children are Born Persons," Do They Have a Right to Digital Privacy?
Questions of privacy have plagued me since I became a mother through international adoption in 2010. Our social workers told us to keep the information about our son's birthparents private. We wouldn't want him overhearing it from someone else at Thanksgiving. Every detail of this sacred story should come from us, and no one else. As adoptive parents, we fully intended to emotionally and financially support our son's search for his birth family when he was ready to do so. We both felt strongly that the first contact should be on his terms when he was ready. Because of this, we kept his digital footprint pretty invisible.
(You can read more about the particulars of why digital privacy is especially important in adoption at Your Child's Story Isn't Yours to Showcase and this article from Social Work Today.)
When we gave birth to our second son, we found ourselves struggling with the same question. It felt odd to post thousands of pictures of the cutest newborn we'd ever seen when we'd posted virtually no pictures of his older brother. So we didn't do it.
When we gave birth to our daughter, we didn't post pictures of her either.
This was met with downright shock by friends and family. I had a teenager in our Youth Group laugh at me when I asked her to take down pictures of my children from her social media platforms. I've had relatives refuse to take down pictures after I've asked. We've been repeatedly told that we were the "only" family who checked the "You may not use pictures of our kids on your website/ads/etc" box. When we made this decision for our family, we had no idea we were being counter-cultural. In addition to many eye rolls, someone compared me to Michael Jackson putting masks on his kids.
I toured the UN a few weeks before becoming a Mom. I was fascinated by The United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child. I even bought a mug with some of them listed! This is one of the reasons the Charlotte Mason method so deeply resonated with me. I believe children are born persons with individual God-given perfectly unique personalities. I believe they have innate human rights. And I believe they have a right to privacy. They have a right to grow-up, make mistakes, and endure bad hair phases without present or future public scrutiny.
A Senior Research Fellow at UNICEF recently said, "[Parents] also can overexpose their children by oversharing images of children online. When you protect your child's privacy you help develop a child’s personality and protect other rights including freedom of expression and the right to the access of information.”
Most of the children in my life have had their every moment documented online, from the first time they opened their eyes to their first tantrum. Every child is now living in The Truman Show. They have no say. They cannot refuse. One day they may resent the fact that strangers watched their childhood unfold. They may want to run for public office one day and grimace as pictures of them potty training or crying at the end of a long day are splashed across the world.
This is not to say you shouldn't share pictures of your beautiful kids. Heaven knows I "Like" enough of them to be considered part of the problem. But we need to use common sense.
Here are some questions we should ask ourselves before sharing:
- Would I walk into an adult friend's house/work/hospital room, take this picture, and post it online?If the answer is no, then you might not want to post it of your children.
- Are you using your child's picture for "Like's"? Our children are born persons, not cute accessories. They are human beings made in the image of God, not supporting cast members in the story of our lives. Always ask why you're posting a picture of your child before you share.
- Am I keeping them safe? Do you post too much identifying information - names, schools, locations, etc. that would make them a target?
I'm just asking some questions today, not raining judgment. We're all doing the best we can in the Digital Age. Stay strong. Mother On.