A child’s privacy – when does it begin?

Privacy has been on my mind a lot in the last couple of days. It all started with one of my Facebook friends posting the occasional picture of one of the babies she watches pretty regularly. All of the pictures are completely appropriate (and adorable), but it still made me think about whether the baby’s parents are aware of – and more importantly, okay with – her sharing photos of their child online.

It’s new-ish territory; after all, social media makes sharing more instant and public than emailing a select group of family and friends or, *gasp*, actually mailing photo prints of the little one’s recent accomplishments. None of us is a stranger to privacy debates, but for me it’s one thing to consider how much of myself I want to put out there and a completely different thing to think about in terms of our child. I am an adult, with the capacity and resources to control my online presence and take steps to correct any abuses of my name, likeness, etc. My husband has the same capacity and resources, but Kid A does not. Even in our tech-centered world, it’s a little strange to think that even before he has taken a breath or experienced gravity that he may already have his own online presence.

Admittedly, we have taken liberties in that department – we created his online presence the day we announced the pregnancy via social media. We have given the Web world his name, a guesstimate of his birth date, and even his first two pictures. This whole blog, while not always focusing on him specifically, came into being because of him. We will use the Internet to tell the world when he becomes a part of it, and in order to reach our nearest and dearest who are farthest away we will also use it to share the milestones I mentioned earlier. So, it falls to us as the creators of that presence to responsibly curate it until he is old enough to begin taking on that role himself.

The issue of posting pictures on Facebook was the center of my concern. Who has the right to post pictures of our son – grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends? How much veto power should we exercise over those decisions? What about sharing pictures that we have posted? After some discussion at the dinner table last night, I think we came up with a pretty safe set of best practices:

  • Who has the right to post pictures?  Grandparents and aunts and uncles, I believe, should have the right to share pictures that they take while A is with them. With that power comes great responsibility, of course, but he is an important part of their lives and vice versa and we can certainly trust our closest loved ones to treat his privacy (and ours) with the same consideration we do. Outside of immediate family, express permission should be given.
  • Veto power: On that note, there are certain pictures that Brian and I agreed would never be appropriate. Bath time pictures are just unacceptable in general – I would honestly be angry if I even knew these pictures were taken. Diaper pictures are not as bad, but should not be shared on the Internet. Basically, A should be clothed in shared pictures. Beyond that, as amusing as the idea of the “we’ll pull this out when he’s 16” picture may be in theory, nothing that potentially hurtful to his dignity should become public (even pseudo-public) fodder. Those are the pictures that should remain safely in the family’s hands.
  • Sharing our pictures? Ohhhh, but this is a much easier question than I originally thought. My concern, like so many others who share pictures on Facebook, was that any of my friends could share our pictures and thereby open them up to a wider audience than we intended. However, Facebook’s privacy settings (when used properly) don’t allow that to happen. If you, my Facebook friend, share a picture I posted, then only our mutual friends will actually be able to see the picture – everyone else will see a notification that the picture is restricted. And let’s face it – anybody who should be seeing those pictures is already my friend as it is.

This will obviously be a work in progress, but I’m willing to do what I can from the beginning to preserve A’s privacy online so when he is old enough to curate his own online presence he doesn’t have to go back and undo any damage.

On that note…

One of my Huffington Post reads this morning is a timely piece of kindling for the privacy fire. What I Found in My 5-Year-Old Daughter’s Diary is blogger Kim Bongiorno’s ode to her little girl’s capacity to love – and also, in my not-so-singular opinion based on the comments she’s received, an inappropriate violation of her little girl’s privacy.

Facts, based on the post:

  • Bongiorno’s daughter requested a diary; when she received it, she took specific steps to maintain her privacy (wearing the key on a ring and giving vocal warnings about her intent to write, specifically)
  • Bongiorno, curious about her daughter’s writing, opened and read the diary
  • Touched by what she read, Bongiorno snapped photos of various pages and attached them to her post

Bongiorno describes specific thoughts she worried her daughter was having, and admits that “curiosity got the best of [her]”, though at no time does she mention ever sitting down with her daughter and just asking – whether about her thoughts or for permission to read her diary. Instead, she took it upon herself to unlock it and read. Then, she posted her daughter’s writing for the world to see – again, without any indication that she asked for permission to do so.

I can understand part of the motivation here, though I don’t think the situation was serious enough to require breaking trust with her daughter. If a parent is concerned that their child is engaged in harmful thought patterns or behavior, and talking to them fails, it is understandable if not entirely kosher to look for guidance in her/his more private thoughts. But going a step further and sharing those thoughts with potentially millions of strangers is completely unacceptable. I don’t care that she’s five, that she’s working on her spelling or that her innermost thoughts are innocent and pure and just make you want to go “awww”. They are her thoughts, and clearly she has reached an age where she boasts at least a basic understanding of privacy.

Several commenters on the original post mention that their privacy was violated in similar fashion by overly curious parents, and even years later they have trouble coming to terms with the repercussions of that behavior. I consider myself lucky that my private thoughts remained so, but that makes me even more dedicated to making sure we do the same for our kids.

I’m not Kim Bongiorno. I don’t know her and do not know how her family works. Maybe she’s completely right in her comments that her daughter will be “tickled” rather than tormented when (and it is a “when”) she sees her childhood diary pages in the eternal history of the Web, and maybe she isn’t. And disagree with her though I do, I don’t want this to be an indictment of her personally. All I can really say is, this is a prime reminder to me of how not to build trust with A and his potential future siblings.



One thought on “A child’s privacy – when does it begin?

  1. Hey sweetheart,
    First, I must remind you how much I’ve enjoyed reading your thoughts and posts along this journey. I wish I could hug and support you when you need it, but, as you mentioned, sometimes those we love are just a bit out of reach.
    Second, I’m a bit taken aback by Bongiorno’s such wide sharing of her daughter’s private diary. Even if her daughter is “tickled” to some degree, surely another part of her will feel hurt. I agree with you. I can’t imagine doing that to someone, especially considering it fully and then doing it anyway. Oy vey.
    Hoping you’re well and missing you dearly 🙂

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