Author: Veronika Baltmane
Have you ever felt uncomfortable while your parents were showing your childhood photos to all your relatives? Especially, if these were pictures of you sitting naked in a bath or at the beach? Now try to imagine your emotions if a picture like this was posted on the social network available to thousands, no, better yet, millions of people. Seems pretty awkward, doesn’t it?
Nowadays I see a lot of shots of newborns, toddlers and teens posted on Instagram and Facebook. Moreover, the phenomenon when parents share pictures of their children now has earned a special term called sharenting. This situation raises many questions in my mind. How do all these children feel about these photos? Do they even know about being published on social media? And the main question is “Are we risking with a child’s mental health by posting his picture on social media”?
In this article, I am going to focus only on mental health and avoid any other consequences of posting which could lead to serious problems, for example, kidnapping, paedophilia etc. First of all, I want to find out, if it is even legal to publish your son’s or daughter’s photo on your social media profile.
Legal side of the issue
According to European Union (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), whose renewal came into force this May, you have to ask for a written permission of the person whose photo you are going to use, for example, for a new post on your Instagram since photos are personal data. In Latvia, the Law of Children Rights Protection says, that until the person is 18 years old, parents take full responsibility of them. So, what does it mean in the context of photo publishing? Mainly, that that until your children are 18 you can post photos of them without any repercussions even if they are against it, but you have to ask a parent for their permission if you want to post a picture of their child.
The public opinion
Once I had found out how sharenting works legally I wanted to understand what other people thought about the matter. I made a quick survey to find out what is my friends and followers’ attitude towards children photos on social media. 387 people filled out the questionnaire. Only 32% of respondents were publishing their own, their relatives’ or friends’ children photos in network profiles. 48.6% of people answered that, in their opinion, photo publishing is unacceptable and should not be done at all. I also wanted to cognize the opinion on which is the best age when children could appear on different social media, when photos could be freely posted without any negations from society. The answers you can see in the chart below.
As you can see, the majority thinks that the best age when you can start to publish photos of children is when they are 10-12 years old. This is the age when a child is judicious enough and you can ask if he or she doesn’t mind this picture being posted. One of my colleagues expressed a good opinion, that you can ask the child starting from the age of 3 if he or she likes the photo, would he or she like to change something and so on. This could be a nice indicator whether the photo is admissible for social media. This actually shows if there is a possibility that your child will feel uncomfortable about this picture in the future as well.
The next thing which interested me – the public opinion about the main question of this article. 63% of respondents agreed that children pictures on social media could affect their physical or mental health in the future. So, let’s find the answer – can they?
Cause and effect
I want to point out that as of now there are no extensive researchs provided since sharenting has become popular only during the last few years, but doctors and psychologists are already aware of the future consequences. Of course, it seems nice when a parent posts the first steps, the first ice cream of his child, captures how a little kid is playing in the garden, laughing. But has mom or dad ever thought that by publishing it, they are creating a child’s digital identity on social media even before the child appears on it by himself?
It may seem, that teens will not register on Facebook or Instagram this early, but the report of Ofcom media “Children and parents: media use and attitudes” provided in UK, 2017 shows, that 46% of 11-years-olds, 51% of 12-years-olds and 28% of 10-years-olds now have their own social media profiles.
Can parents be sure that their offspring will like the content posted about his or her childhood? In my opinion, no, because some of the parents went too far. You will understand what I mean after a few paragraphs.
The Royal Society of Public Health article “Social media and young people’s mental health and wellbeing” reports that 7 of 10 teenagers have experienced cyberbullying on social media. Reasons why this hunting starts could be various, but, in my consideration, childhood photos could be noteworthy cause of it. All pictures below were taken from stock images and are not copyright protected. These photos maybe do not look very dramatic, but if you quickly check any insta-mom or insta-dad account, you most likely will find pictures of naked children taking a bath or playing at the beach, hilarious pictures of a newborn and accurate record of child’s daily activity.
As for me, pictures like this could serve as a motive for mockery of a teenager mainly because they are showing a very personal, I would even say, intimate side of a person. Besides, the phenomenon called “digital kidnapping” appears on the Internet right now. People steal photos of children and in the worst cases even make an online group where they post them and discuss, comment and even laugh at childhood photos. Unfortunately, this is an outright example of how cyberbullying happens. And that’s exactly what can influence a teenager’s mental health badly. Victims of bullying are more likely to experience low academic performance, depression, anxiety, self-harm, feelings of loneliness and changes in sleeping and eating patterns – all of which could alter the course of development of a young person. In addition, if a child was to see embarrassing photos of themselves (posted for years without their permission), it could potentially damage the level of trust previously shared between them and their parents. This may predispose the child to isolate themselves and develop inferiority complex.
To conclude, I will just answer the question posed in the beginning of the article. Yes, we are risking with a child’s mental health by posting his pictures on social media because this can lead to the serious psychological problems mentioned above.
Article sources: The EU General Data Protection Regulation – homepage // https://www.eugdpr.org/  The Saeima of the Republic of Latvia. Law on the Protection of the Children’s Rights (22.07.1998.) Legal Acts of the Republic of Latvia homepage // https://likumi.lv/  Children and parents: media use and attitudes report 2017. Report from the Ofcom homepage // https://www.ofcom.org.uk/  Status of Mind: Social media and young people’s mental health. Report from the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) homepage // https://www.rsph.org.uk/  The effects of social media “sharenting”. Post from the Sovereign Health Group homepage // https://www.sovteens.com/
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