I’m at an age where several of my fellow millennials are in the full flush of parenthood. My social media feeds are filled with photos and videos of babies and toddlers doing what babies and toddlers do. Of course, not everyone is happy when this happens. The German police released a statement on Facebook last week urging parents to stop posting photos of their children on Facebook and other social media sites. The post states that through their parents’ actions children’s rights to privacy are infringed, they could be bullied and fall prey to paedophiles.
I agree with the sentiment and believe it is also good advice for South Africans. In a country with a rising level of online predators, parents should be mindful of the kind of photos and videos they upload. Toilet-training selfies and half-naked shots at the beach are probably not good choices to upload. If content of your children is posted, it should be shared to friends and family on the private settings of the social media platforms used. Parents can also protect their children further by ensuring that the pictures do not include any identifying features such as a school name or street address.
Besides the danger of online predators, parents should be aware that the internet never forgets. Some might argue that posting a video of a toddler’s bumpy slide ride is harmless fun. However, this is a type of video that may well be used to ridicule a child later on in life. It is a worrying fact that incidents such as that experienced by Saheti School reveals that we’re living in a time where online bullying among South African children has become commonplace and our schools are still finding their feet when dealing with this issue.
When a parent posts content, they’re beginning a virtual history and creating an online identity for that child. In the best-case scenario, a person would be able to look back and see documented evidence that they were loved and appreciated by their parents. This is best seen in the case of two-year-old Oratilwe Hlongwane who became an internet sensation this year after a mobile video displaying his skills as a DJ went viral. Hlongwane has received thousands of Facebook fans and sponsorship deals and may likely grow up appreciative that his parents supported his abilities from an early age. However, some children may end up feeling resentful of the online identify crafted for them by their parents before they have the ability to figure out who they are.
Sharing images of their little bundles of joy to friends and family online can be an enriching experience for parents. But, it should be done considering the safety and dignity of the child involved. If my own parents were living at a time where posting online was in vogue, I probably wouldn’t have begrudged them the odd picture shared on Facebook to their friends. But, the embarrassing bath-time photos remain hidden away in the recesses of a dusty photo album and for that I’m thankful.