R and G took part in their nativity at Christmas. I lost count of the number of people in the run up to the big day that asked me if we were allowed to photograph and film the play. It didn’t occur to me at any point that we wouldn’t be able to and I was proved right. Every single parent had their camera or phone out (in our case Dh had the video camera and I had the camera) and there were so many flashes that it was like a film premiere.
At the unofficial after-party one of the parents got out her laptop and we gathered round it to ooh and aah at our children. When we got home Dh put our video onto his computer and uploaded it to YouTube but made it a private video so that we could send the link to family and friends but no-one else could see it otherwise. I put the photos up on my (locked down) Facebook account, to be viewed by my friends only and I haven’t put any on HoT. I imagine that most of the other parents have done the same.
I’m quite horrified to hear that some parents demand (not ones that I know, but friends in other parts of the country have experienced this) that their little darlings faces are blanked or pixelated out of photos and videos…and I’m not talking things that are publicly available on YouTube here. These are things on locked-down social networking accounts. They are not available to the great unwashed that roam the wilds of the Internet looking for pictures of random cute children and doing god knows what with them.
There seems to be a tension between those parents that choose to put their child’s life online and those that refuse to. The former camp (and I include myself in this) are happy to blog and post photos and videos of their children, although I do have some self-imposed limits on the amount of information I put. For example, I rarely put the girls’ full names online, I don’t mention any of their friends explicitly and certainly not by name and I don’t mention the area we live in because, frankly, I don’t want to get burgled when we go on holiday. (In any case, the house isn’t ours and we don’t have anything worth stealing). I have set my own sharing parameters, based on what I feel comfortable with for my family
The latter camp includes some of the most tech-savvy people I know but they have made a decision to not put their child’s life online. This is sometimes done for perfectly sound reasons e.g. children that have been removed from their parents and are now in foster care placements or have been adopted, so it makes absolute sense for them to be wary about broadcasting a child’s life online. The same goes for fractured or estranged families. I’m talking about the ones who make a deliberate choice for their child without any of these caveats.
Do they genuinely think their child is more precious and special than other children? Are they saying that their child is so wonderful that they arrogantly assume that every single paedophile will be really, really interested in their offspring? Does it say more about the parents’ predilections than anything else? Taking this example to its logical conclusion, do these parents refuse to take their precious offspring to the supermarket for fear that a random stranger will dare to glance at them? Heaven forbid! I’m playing devil’s advocate here but you can probably see what I’m getting it.
I grew up in a world without social networking. I guess I could describe myself as an analogue/digital hybrid. Computers didn’t really feature in my life until I was about 8 years old. I didn’t get my own PC until I was 17. I typed my first year A-Level coursework on an electric typewriter after painstakingly writing it out in longhand. Facebook, Flicker, blogs and Twitter were all yet to come in an unimaginable future.
R and G were born into, and are growing up in, a world where the television programmes they want to watch are available on demand. They know that if Mummy takes a picture of them on her touch-screen phone, she will send it to Daddy and Nanny to see and they’ll probably reply in a matter of minutes. They know to swipe the screen of a smartphone to scroll through pictures of themselves. They can see pictures of their friends at parties on Mummy’s laptop (they’ve finally stopped calling it a Poncuter, sadly) and they’ve watched the hundreds of videos that we’ve taken of them over the last four years.
Of course, they don’t know that Mummy writes a warts ‘n’ all blog about them and that a random video of them babbling when they were 8 months old has had 669,000 views on YouTube in the last year, but there’s plenty of time for that. Their short lives have been documented through various social media platforms, but in a reasonably controlled way. How is Precious Child X going to feel when they reach the age where they understand social media and ask Mummy and Daddy why their faces were blanked out of that nativity video that all their little friends were in? At certain, more sensitive moments in my formative years I would have assumed that it was because I was so hideous that I had been hidden from view for my own good. What about their parents’ Facebook photos? There are lots of pictures of Mummy and Daddy and their family and friends, but the child doesn’t feature at all. I’d feel like I had been written out of my parents’ history.
The childhood narrative has changed since we were growing up. Our digital native offspring will expect to see their lives documented online in some form or other and if they aren’t, they are probably going to wonder why. I’m not arguing that the naysayers are necessarily wrong, but that they are going to have some interesting questions to deal with in a few years’ time. Childhood is changing and we as parents need to keep up with the latest developments.