Do parents ask their children for permission to publish their photos on social networks? Usually not. Do children get annoyed by unauthorized violations of their privacy? Usually yes. Austrian media reported last month that an Austrian girl is taking her parents to court for posting photographs from her childhood without first gaining her consent. And she is just one out of many teenagers who don't want their lives to be displayed by their parents on the Internet.
A study by researchers at the University of Washington and the University of Michigan disclosed that most children want their parents to stop sharing pictures of them on social media without asking in advance. “Children’s frustration with parents over sharing stands apart as a unique challenge that transcends existing power dynamics. Children feel frustrated that parents publicly contribute to their online presence without permission,” the report noted. The survey of some 250 parents and children confirmed that children are twice as likely to ask adults not to “over share” by posting information about them online without their permission.
Earlier this year, French parents were warned that they could face legal action from their children in the future if they posted pictures of them on social media without permission. The French police issued the warning in the wake of a chain post on Facebook called the Motherhood Challenge, an online “game” for women to post pictures that “make them happy to be mothers” and then to share the request with others. Under France’s strict privacy laws, parents could face up to a year in prison or fines of up to 45.000 Euros if found guilty of publishing intimate details of the private lives of other people, including their children, without their consent.
In the modern digital age, many parents are living through the lens of their phones and cameras rather than in the moment: 80 per cent of adults say they’ve seen parents put their attempts to get perfect photos ahead of their child’s enjoyment of an event, according to another American study titled “Getting a Like over Having a Life”.
The report tells stories about people’s obsession with posting photos on their social media profiles and especially photos of their children. In the report, the mother of a 3-year-old child testified that she had disciplined her son, who threw a tantrum that she thought was funny. “I disciplined him again just so I could video it. After uploading the video on Instagram I thought: What did I just do?”
Typical parents will post almost 1.000 photos of their children online before they turn five, according to another recent survey by The Parent Zone, a U.K.-based site devoted to Internet safety and parenting in the digital age. More than half of these photos are posted on Facebook, while the remainder are posted on Twitter, Instagram, and other sites. A quarter of all parents say they never ask permission of the people in their photos before sharing them, and nearly one-fifth of parents have never checked their privacy settings. Indeed, less than half of the parents surveyed are even aware that photos often contain data about where they were taken.
“My out-of-state son came home for a funeral. He had taken a picture with his best friends and shared it with me, and I posted it on Facebook. Immediately he called, upset because he had used a sick day for the funeral and didn’t want anyone to know he was home for an extended weekend.” This is a confession from one of the mothers who participated in the Getting a Like study and who, after her son’s complaint, deleted the photo.
Even though adults “should know better,” it seems that their behavior on the Internet is often as thoughtless as is their children’s. Whatever the motives for posting children’s photos are (and they are usually composed of love and admiration), parents should have in mind that the decision to appear online should be made by their children.
Because while privacy in the digital age may have new and unforeseen dimensions, the consequences of irresponsible parenting have always been the same.
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