Like a lot of mums, I am excited about my children entering primary school this year. As with many parents, my first inclination will be to take a photo of them in their school uniforms, and to share this milestone with family and friends through social media. If you’re like me, with family overseas or far away, social media becomes the ‘global photo album for remote relatives.’
One of my highly respected colleagues from academia, Amanda Third, messaged me on Facebook about the importance of educating parents around the implications of sharing photos online before #BacktoSchool week. Her note really made me rethink my approach and agree that highlighting these issues for other parents would be beneficial. A fortnight into my role as eSafety Commissioner, I thought I would seek Amanda’s professional perspective on the issue, as well as her own approach as a parent to navigating the online world with her kindergartner.
Julie: Our research shows 56% of Australian parents posted content about their children on social media. Others are more circumspect as they may be concerned about putting their children at risk, or want to shield them from embarrassment later in life if the photos resurface. How should parents approach the issues of posting their kids’ photos online? And, is this really a big deal or just life in the 21st century?
Amanda: You’re right—it can be confusing. But if you believe it’s important to celebrate significant moments with friends and family members near and far by sharing photos of your children, it’s just as important to have conversations with your children about what you plan to do with those images.
By having conversations early and often, your child is going to grow up more conscious of the strengths and pitfalls of having their image shared. It’s also an important habit to help your children understand that you will continue to be part of their online lives, helping them shape their digital identity and build their digital literacy.
Julie: I also subscribe to the notion that parents should have conversations with their kids frequently and earlier than they might think. I was surprised at my five-year-old’s response when I trialled this discussion with him. He asked me what really happens when you delete a photo online—and this started another conversation about the fallacy of “disappearing media” (in simpler terms, of course). Yet, we don’t want to go overboard, do we? My children cannot legally give me consent to share their photo, right?
Amanda: Technically, that’s right—but that’s not the point. By asking your child if it’s ok to take their picture, and then having a conversation about whether and how you can share it online, you’re modelling good practice. If you can have these kinds of conversations regularly, you’re helping your child start to understand how to navigate the digital world safely.
Julie: What I like about this approach is that you’re letting your children know at the get-go that they can speak to you about anything they encounter online, and that you plan to be involved in their digital lives. This can be easier said than done, so how would you recommend parents start the conversation with their children about taking and sharing their photos online?
Amanda: Whenever you want to take your child’s photo, you might want to explain why you’d like to take it, and then ask them whether it’s ok for you to do so. So, something like: “You look so fantastic in your new school uniform. I’d really like to take a photo so we can share this on social media with Aunty Helen so that she can show your cousins how great you look in your school uniform. What do you think?”
Julie: Ah, the Aunty Helen test! I suspect these conversations are going to look different for every household but if we can get parents talking to their children before sharing online, it will be a great start to the school year—and a great first step toward digital literacy for our children.
Please see some great step-by-step tips below on how to get involved in #talkb4sharing.
Through the #talkb4sharing initiative, the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner and the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University are encouraging parents to talk to their children about how and why they share their back-to-school photos online.