The Internet Is Permanent

So I did a thing on the internet, you know, as I do. But this time I was taken back by the response…

A few years ago I uploaded a photo to the internet and I have lived to regret it. I’ve torn myself apart because of that photo, even though I doubt anyone close to me realises the impact my decision to upload it has actually had on me and how I parent.

You see, that photo got so big it was taken from my page and spread all over the internet and through the media.

That photo was of my son.

That photo was of him crying.

Now it was reported on in a very sympathetic and kind way by news outlets. Many people commenting on my page were lovely too. And yes, I posted it for “a good reason”, yes I was holding him in my arms at the time, yes he knew the photo was being taken (in fact he asked for it to be taken to be sent to his Dad.)

But I still know in my conscience that the photo shouldn’t have been shared to the internet. And now there is absolutely nothing I can do now it’s out of my hands.

People may dismiss this and think it couldn’t happen to them simply because I have a larger than average following. But that’s not true. People are screenshotting and sharing your images whether you know it or not. The permanence of the internet is why we should use parental control when letting our kids go online using browsers and apps. But it is not just kids who need to learn this!

And this image truly got me thinking about what is and in’t okay for kids online.

So I set out on a quest to have this conversation with other people. To challenge our ideas, understand where we each draw the line, and warm them of this feeling of regret I hold. Also to understand how children feel when they are having these photos/videos taken and how they will feel when they grow up and these photos are on the internet.

Trying to empathise wasn’t enough. I wanted to feel first hand what they felt.

Here’s what I posted:

Over the last few days, I gave explicit permission to my husband to take candid photos of me in various different scenarios (except the nappy photo which was staged, hospital photo which was after a traumatic birth years ago, the “stranger” photo which I asked permission for from the lovely person who took it, and the crying photo where I forced myself to watch a sad movie and Liam snapped away, haha)

Why? Well all of these photos are situations similar to what I’ve taken of my children in and… put online. Photos I see other parents do frequently as well.

For me, it wasn’t always to a public audience and sometimes they were deleted. But as we all know…once you upload an image to the internet, it’s there forever. #TheInternetIsPermanent

And I’ve come to think deeply about if I’ve done that to my children, would I like a similar photo of myself online? If not, why did I do that to my kids?!

Is being relatable to other parents, finding it funny or having a purpose to the photo, reason enough to upload?

Some of the photos I’ve taken of my kids I’ve come to deeply regret.
Others I think were fine but inappropriate for online.
Others I still think are sweet for a 3 year old but maybe not me at 29.
Others are appropriate for me but certainly not for my kids.
Others rely on the context to make the photo okay.
And others, well, I’m still working on what I think.

There’s always going to be differing opinions of what is and isn’t okay. But when it comes to our children, they rely on us to make the most ethical and best choices for them. I just hope this challenges some (myself included) to think more about this.

I’m never going to be perfect (the “perfect parent” is a myth FYI) And in my attempt to empathise, my kids may even find these photos alone embarrassing (I was never destined to be a “cool” mum anyway, ha!)

But here’s me (in all my glory) trying my best to challenge myself and, at the very least, it’s my best attempt not to be a hypocrite!

Personally, I learnt that having a camera in your face is exhausting. I thought I might just find it annoying, but it’s honestly tiring. I also discovered where I drew the line.

However, it was the response by others that I found the most interesting.

I noticed that most people commenting positively were people that don’t want children, haven’t had children, couldn’t have children, or had children raised outside of this specific digital age (no facebook, instagram etc.)

Many of my friends who are parents and nearly always supportive of what I do online either ignored it completely or inboxed me their disapproval. Many parents I don’t know did the same.

And it’s clear why.

Parents are constantly picked apart. Whether it’s allowing your child to have a dummy, what you pack in their school lunchbox or how active you are with them at the park, there’s never ending judgement of parents. Parenting is an exhausting and emotional gig. Having me raise an issue that they might not have thought too deeply about, feels like another attack and another problem parents they have to take on. And no parent wants to hear that all the physically and emotionally strenuous work they apply to parenting, isn’t perfect.

But far more surprisingly was how the issue of consent was raised and reacted to.

Consent has become a regularly discussed issue in the public domain, especially after the rise of the #MeToo movement. And so it should be, it’s extremely important.

Generally speaking, the conversations around consent are usually about how men need to have the consent of women. Women (and gender diverse people) are overwhelmingly the victims of acts in which no consent was given.

No surprises, the demographic of my following is around 90% women. Therefore it was mostly women (mothers) commenting and interacting with the post.

But when “children’s consent” was raised, it made many mothers commenting defensive and/or dismissive. How is it that so many women that I’m sure would advocate for consent for women, had such a difficult time coming to terms with the fact that they may not have been given consent or disregarded consent. That they should put more consideration into their kids and consent.

I know that consent with children is a far more grey area than with adults because we have to act in the child’s best interests and make many decisions on their behalf. However, it worries me how many believe consent is something adults do exclusively, not kids, and kids do what adults tell them.

I’m never going to say we need to stop having fun or sharing our children online. But what are the repercussions on future children raised with an even more ambiguous understanding of consent and their personal boundaries than those of us that didn’t have this social media age as a factor? What are their lives going to hold if we aren’t even giving consideration to their experience and what we’re exampling to them?

To listen to more about my experience doing this, listen to Episode S4 E6 titled “Kids Online” on my podcast We Want To Be Better.