Reality Check

Good afternoon! The Deputy here; lucky Lenore is still in Spain!

In the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times today, the headline reads, “Guardians of Their Smiles: It’s fun to post pictures online of baby’s first bath, but some parents wonder if it’s safe.” As the article points out, much of this fuss can be chalked up to “technopanic”, not reality. The article quotes David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. “’There is this characterization of pedophiles using the Internet as an L. L. Bean catalog, but this is not the way it happens.’” In fact it’s much more mundane than you would think; they simply log onto chat rooms and websites where confused teens think they would like something different than your typical goofy high school student. Sad, but true. (Please note that Lenore addresses this very topic in her book on pages 161-164.)

So if the issue of whether or not to post pictures of your children on the Internet isn’t REALLY about predators, what is it about then? I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Free-Range Kids is a many-layered concept that includes…feminism. Or lack there of. What this article shows is that for some reason women are not there for each other. It’s like Salem, MA all over again (I know, not quite.). But bear with me…Replace “She shouldn’t have let her walk to school” with “She shouldn’t keep black cats as PETS, for God’s sake.” And replace, “She shouldn’t have posted pictures of her child’s pool party on Facebook” with “Well, what do you expect when someone knows so, so much about herbs?”

Let’s face it; parenting is a real job, a hard job, and an important job. We are all just doing the best we can.

34 Responses

  1. I love your parallels and think they’re very apt. I think that the constant barrage of angry criticism on all sides reinforces itself by making people unsure of the choices they’ve made, and encourages them to seek that security by criticizing the opposite choice.

    When, really, we should be saying, “We’re all giving it our best, and we’re all going to get some of it wrong sometimes”–and then moving on with our lives. But of course that’s not what happens, and never has been.

    So Mr. Nonymous and I have decided that we’re willing to post photos up to a certain point, and then stop. One reason is, yes, security. But here are some other reasons:

    1) Our children are not going to be fascinating to anyone but us.
    2) Really, do our children need to see pictures of themselves everywhere?
    3) I have friends who want children and for a variety of reasons don’t have them. Having gone through our own struggles with this, we know that Facebook can sometimes feel like a barrage of photos of what you can’t have. We don’t want to make other people feel that way, because it sucks.

    Now, that’s my approach, and reasons for it. Does that mean that I think my friends who post pictures of their children are thoughtless louts raising narcissistic monsters doomed to abuse by strangers? Not at all, because posting pictures is only one act in a lifetime of parenting. Their approach is different, that’s all.

  2. You make an analogously sound argument, I agree completely. I post pics of special occasions, keep my various social networking accounts open to friends and family only for the most part…but I am not what one would call hypervigilant about it. And, that is okay…really.

  3. apt analogy, deputy. i’d go further with it than just feminism and women not looking out for each other. men are darned if they do, darned if they don’t. if they aren’t involved with kids and nurturing (their own or as teachers, troupe leaders, or coaches) , they’re deadbeats, sexists, insensitive louts. if they are involved (even with their own kids!) our society views them as predators and pedophiles.

  4. Spot on, Deputy. Love the analogy. I *do* know quite a bit about herbs, matter of fact, and I’ve owned two black dogs in my lifetime (and about 6 white ones).

    And my son’s professional pictures from when he was about 18 months and under, and which my husband briefly had on a web page he designed, are still floating around internet archives, even though the site’s been down for years–which is great, because most of them got destroyed in a move. We went, did a screen grab, and now have them again.

  5. I don’t think it is such a crazy comparison at all, and that really freaks me out!

  6. Hey, I wrote this same basic story for (and interviewed Lenore for it) earlier this month!

    Parents, safety advocates debate risk of publishing photos of children:

    and a sidebar about privacy:

    Privacy also a concern with online photos of children:

    They are more in-depth, with a couple of great Lenore quotes, if you’re interested in reading!

  7. This has always bugged me. It seems very unlikely that anyone woud trace a child on the basis of a photo on the internet – I know there are people who will tell you this happens, but I’ve not seen any evidence that this is that case, so I ain’t buyin it.

    All that’s left is the “yuck factor” or the idea that someone would look at your child in a deviant way. But so what if they did? Do we then ban all images of children just in case someone might be turned on by them? It makes no sense to me.

  8. I have family that lives far away. The internet is a much easier (and cheaper) form of keeping grandparents and such up to date. I put videos and pictures of my daughter on the internet…and oh my goodness! I even use her name. I use mine too by the way.

    Even when you factor in the internet, the safest way to protect your children is to teach them!

  9. Casey – Exactly! That’s the reason I post picures of my kids on Facebook. I have family and friends all over the world and it is easier to post pictures there than mail them all over. Besides, this way they can look once and don’t have to feel like they should keep pictures of other people’s kids. I, for one, love when my friends and families post pictures of their kids, houses, etc. on Facebook. It makes me feel closer to them and I feel more connected to their lives.

    I don’t worry about pedophiles. That’s just stupid. Most criminals will go for the easy mark, they’re not gonna hunt down some random child on the internet.

  10. I can never understand why people get so worked up about pictures of kids on the internet, unless they are seriously deluding themselves about there being a huge difference between the intentions of people randomly scanning the internet and the intentions of those of strangers they might see out and about in their own neighborhoods. I would rather have some pervert in another state looking at a cute picture of my kid online than have that same person see my kid out in public and follow us home from the store. But no one is saying that you shouldn’t take your kids to Target, you know? So why is it dangerous to have a picture online? I’m going to keep sharing pictures of my kids with my Facebook friends and concentrate my energies on making my kids savvy about avoiding real dangers.

  11. Frankly, Nancy, I’ve always wondered about that myself. If Mr. Freaky So-and-so is going to track down my nieces based upon what I’ve said online and the pictures that I’ve posted (with parent’s consent), what’s to stop him from tracking them down just by walking around my city until he finds a kid to snatch?

  12. Exactly! It IS like Salem all over again. Did you read the last part about the Dad putting a video of his kids’ Christmas program on YouTube? The mom that asked him to take it down did not just ask him, she forwarded her email to EVERYONE, and there got to be a rampage on message boards about his parenting skills. Now the poor guy won’t even take his camera to school functions anymore.

    Seriously, if you want it taken down, fine. But to publicly flog the guy? Why not just throw him in the water and see if he floats?

  13. Here’s an instance of someone using a personal photo posted online without permission:

    Of course, I’m sure the pedophiles in the Czech Republic were wanking off as they drove by the billboard. We should ban photos entirely. Crude stick drawings get the same point across.

  14. Karli, that’s just outrageous! But maybe it explains why our school last year banned video cameras on school property. Stills, OK, Video, no. I don’t get it.

    The theory I used to hear when I worked in the media – and parents and schools in general were much touchier about video – was that someone could take an image of your kid and work Photoshop or Premiere voo-doo magic and somehow turn it into porn. Hey, I didn’t say it was a reasonable theory did I? I suppose it’s technically possible with Photoshop, but I don’t know enough about pervs to know if it’s common practice. I suspect not, though.

  15. There is no safety issue about a photo on the internet. Who cares if a paedophile finds a child’s photo. The child is not hurt. The paedophile has more direct interactive strategies. Child pornography is a safety issue because of the abuse of the photographer, usually a family member but maybe a kidnapper, and therefore there is a direct contact in situ.
    There is a dignity issue at the heart of all media on the internet and remember, no matter how well-done, the child hasn’t the maturity to appropriately approve of display of their photo on the net, so I suggest only post to sites that can be privatised for the same people you would show the family album to ie family and (known) friends.

  16. I think this is a more general human behavior thing – I see it as feminist in that it so widely involves women in our society, but the general principal applies to people in general.

    I see parallels to the way professional bodies (and before them guilds and priesthoods) attempt to create status and value for their members by policing their spheres. They create norms, rules and ways of doing things. Some of which have a clear reason but many of which are about maintaining status and exclusivity.

    Humans have attempted to make their areas of expertise appear more exclusive and out of reach to general population for a long time – and I think that is, to some extent, a bit of what is going on now with parenting. People feel very under valued as parents – criticism of others is a way to say “see it’s not so simple, I am special.” While with parenting it is still primarily women who do this it’s not a tactic that is particular to women.

    I don’t think it’s very healthy for society but I appreciate the desire to have parenting valued more. Would love to have society value families without making it something we have to be so normative about.

    On the posting photos on the Internet thing – I’m with Owen59. I’m not put off by the idea of pedophiles but I do try to consider my children’s dignity and consent. Internet pictures are around for a long time. It’s one thing to occasionally show the embarrassing photos you’ve taken to loved ones and another to have them available for all their classmates to find.

  17. So does that mean I should remove the pictures of my children wearing the t-shirts with their full names, social security numbers, addresses, and code to the garage door? Darnit. Those were cute pictures.

  18. Thank you thank you thank you!! This is really the defining issue! The question is WHY WHY do women judge each other and tear each other down??? I would submit that perhaps it is because we are now expected to be PERFECT parents, not just parents, and any criticism of another Mom makes one feel better about one’s own parenting skills?? (“Oh I would NEVER do that….”) I just don’t get it….did this kind of attitude exist in my Mom’s generation?? Has the stress and anxiety of the New World we live in spilled over to the job of parenting, making us so UNCONFIDENT about our decisions that we must tear other Moms down to make ourselves feel better????? You’re right, parenting is the toughest job in the world. Lets remember that we all are doing the best we can, making mistakes every day, and hopefully learning from them.

  19. My kids’ photos are only in places where I can (for the most part) control access to them. Joe Schmo can’t just go see my kids’ pictures. Not for safety reasons, but because I just don’t think it’s cool to broadcast them to the entire internet. I wouldn’t want pictures of myself to be seen by everyone in the world, and I don’t think my kids will appreciate it when they’re older either, knowing everyone in the world saw their baby pictures.

    That said, I don’t give a fig if other people put their kids’ pictures online. That’s their perogative, and if the kids end up not liking it when they’re older, not my problem.

    Of course, you know mine will be the kids who, as adults, ask why I didn’t love them enough to show everyone that first bath…

  20. If your pictures are on a computer and that computer is connected to a network, people can get them if they really wanted to. Simply because they’re not on Facebook or Photobucket or MySpace doesn’t mean they’re “safe”. But to think that people are out there looking for my kids’ pictures would put me in the realm of the unnecessarily paranoid thinks-everyone-is-out-to-get-me-and-my-kids helecopter parent, of which I’m the furthest thing from it.

    My kids pics are everywhere. I would be flattered if they eneded up on a billboard advertising a restaurant in Russia. LOL

  21. Well, if someone gets turned on by staring at a picture of a naked baby, they sure need help. but if we don’t watch out, we will be forcing our kids to wear burkas on the street so those men who can’t help themselves won’t feel tempted.
    That said, I agree 100% with many people here that preserving our kids’ dignity is part of our responsibility as parents. And we shouldn’t display their pictures thoughtlessly, because they may suffer from it later on. It really has nothing to do with kidnappers, paedophiles and such, but rather with good or bad taste, in my opinion.

  22. @ Helen – “On the posting photos on the Internet thing – I’m with Owen59. I’m not put off by the idea of pedophiles but I do try to consider my children’s dignity and consent. Internet pictures are around for a long time. It’s one thing to occasionally show the embarrassing photos you’ve taken to loved ones and another to have them available for all their classmates to find.”

    Nicely put. Sites like Facebook can be great for sharing photos of those special moments with your kids – first birthday, a Halloween party, etc – but often the line between “cute enough to share” and “cute but really not for public consumption” can get blurred or downright ignored. That picture of your kid nekked in the bath may be cute to you, but posting it on the internet? I think it’s more of a crime against personal consideration and good taste. I remember how mortified I was as a teen to see those photos of me in a bath tucked away in albums that I know for sure came out often when I was little, I can’t imagine the embarrassment if I knew those photos were out floating around the web, especially considering how scarily techno-savvy kids are these days.

    Also, why anyone thinks it’s cute & a good idea to post a pic of your kid’s first successful bowel movement in the toilet – including photographic evidence of said movement – is completely beyond me (I wish I were using hyperbole, but I’m not).

    Admittedly, taste is very subjective. But poor taste is still not a good reason for fingerpointing and accusations that by posting those kind of pics, a parent is putting their child at risk of exposure to pedophiles.

    @ KateNonymous – your list of criteria for what & how much to post on FB is great! It’s sensible and considerate – and as for reason #3, I think that principle also works for friends who don’t have children by choice.

  23. The feminist angle of free range parenting is definitely an interesting point. Until recently, motherhood has typically been one of the few social realms in which it’s been acceptable for women to be competitive and judgmental (hard for women to be competitive in anything else when they’re told that ultimately they belong in the home). There is so much pressure to be the perfect parent that it seems like any little misstep or mistake (and there always are some) is cause for guilt; perhaps looking around and pointing out perceived flaws in other parents is an extreme method of coping, a “yeah, I might have messed up, but at least I’m not doing what THAT other parent is doing!” sort of deflection. Parenting is a hard job, but maybe part of the problem is that it’s been put on so high a pedestal, so extremely idealized, that parents are made to believe that they’re not allowed to mess up at all – which is impossible as we’re all human and prone to mistakes.

    That kind of attitude also leaves little room for people to be anything other than parents. Parenting is of course a huge part of one’s life, but it’s not the only thing, right? There’s also one’s job/career, your relationship with your partner/spouse, your relationship with friends, your personal interests/hobbies – ideally, there’s balance and a flow of give & take between all these things in a person’s life, and yet parents, especially mothers, are told that in order to be the “perfect parent” they must completely subsume themselves to parenthood and that their ONLY concern must be for the welfare of their children. I honestly wonder if fetishization of parenthood leads to or in large part contributes to the hypervigilance and overprotective paranoia that the free-range philosophy is trying to counter.

  24. I was in a meeting at work (a University) to discuss institution polices regarding social networking sites. Is it appropriate for a campus department to have a facebook site to promote its activities and events?

    A fellow staff member brought up his personal facebook page to illustrate how he has ‘work’ events on it. His latest update was a picture of his daughter, in the 10yo range.

    The University’s lawyer was in the room, and immediately said: “I would be careful about what pictures I post, there are increasing attacks on children”. Or words very very close to that.

    This was before I had heard of Lenore, but it didn’t ring true for either me or my co-worker.

  25. @MFA Grad–Thanks! I was including my child-free friends in “various reasons,” but for them I would suspect that #1 would be even more applicable.

    As for videos or photos of other people–including other children–I would always ask before posting them. I just think it’s polite. I’ve got my reasons for making specific choices, and I’m willing to respect other people when they have a different preference. I do that with my adult friends, and can’t think why I wouldn’t extend that to children.

  26. @ KateNonymous – LOL, probably – I’m really glad to see that you’re ok with how “[Your] children are not going to be fascinating to anyone but [you].” I like getting occasional updates about my friends children because they are a large part of my friends’ lives, but that’s not ALL I hope to see on their FB pages. Good point too about posting pics/videos with other people’s kids. I’m sure you and Mr. Nonymous are doing a bang-up job raising your kids. 🙂

  27. Okay, I can attest to how hard it is to find someone on the internet.

    Not long ago, I met a really sweet girl who works at a local restaurant. I found out that not too long after I met her, she got in a terrible car accident, and I wanted to make sure she was okay. All I knew was her first name, where she worked, and the general area she lived in. I did eventually find her, but it took hours upon hours of searching to do it. And I had a lot more information than just a photo: name, workplace, area, and appearance.

    I’ve interacted greatly with police officers in Billings, MT (through NAMI’s Crisis Intervention Training program), and one thing I learned was that people who target others, no matter the motivation or purpose, want an easy target. With all that information I had, it was still difficult, and too much trouble for the typical criminal to go through, since going through those channels, I was still unable to find out where she lived or what her work schedule was (I had to ask her for that information).

    It’s likely that photos of children are not going to have so much information attached. Maybe a relative’s name, if on Facebook or other social networking site. Maybe the same on a personal website. Most people I know don’t put their addresses on the web beyond private conversations, so that is nothing any typical criminal has the will to actually use. Google Earth is probably a worse security problem than putting a child’s picture on the internet.

  28. @MFA Grad, we’re just starting on our first–but we’re both trying to learn from others. A lot of our opinions on sharing come from what other friends have done.

    I’m delighted to see pictures of my friends’ kids. But we have one friend who sends links to–no joke–hundreds of pictures each month. Not a selected few, which would be fine, but literally hundreds at a time. It would never have occurred to us to do that, but now we have a concrete example of why we don’t want to!

    And I don’t have any qualms about that child’s safety. I just think her parents have misjudged other people’s level of interest. It isn’t some kind of crime against humanity, but it is a little silly.

  29. @ KateNonymous – LOL! Yeah, I know a few people like that, too. It’s certainly not a crime (but it can be somewhat of a headscratcher) and the only danger that kid is in is danger of future embarrassment once he hits the oh-so-fun years of teenage angst and self-consciousness (and if memory serves me correctly, embarrassment as a teenager is totally unavoidable).

  30. @KateNonymous: Perhaps not a crime against humanity, but I have had some problems with my e-mail server because of nutters who send whole files with their little angels’ pictures. Worse than spam, and just as punishable, I say…

  31. I have a question – I’m not concerned about evil boogiemen seeing pictures of my kid online – but I am concerned about nutso law enforcement or other hall monitor types. We have a Mobile Me account, on which we post pictures of our daughter for faraway relatives and also so that we don’t have to send out emails with photos attached to our more techno-idiot relatives, and it’s password protected, but we recently took some video and photos of her in the tub and I’m scared to post them because I’m scared that dateline guy might come crashing through my door or something. Should I be?

  32. @Ricki
    I’d say if the dateline guy came crashing in he’d get the bad end of the deal. Stand up to such people and tell them it’s up to them to prove that sonething’s illegal, and if it turns out not to be, they’ve got some explaining to do. I don’t like the “sue everyone” mentality in much of the US, but in that case I’d recommend suing the pants off the media organisation for mental anguish, character assassination, damage to reputation, etc.

    I’ve posted family photos online for more than a decade with no problems. Once in a while a concerned friend will ask me if I’m “afraid” to have pictures of my kids *online* (spoken with hushed, fearful awe). I look at them like such a thought never occured to me and ask them exactly what I should be afraid of happening. I’ve never found any who had a concrete reason to fear anything. It’s all a vague feeling of “wrongness” that someone taught them about the big, bad Internet.

  33. Not quite the same, how about not even close? I don’t really care if it’s safe to post pics or not, not an issue for me, but what passes for critical analysis these days is VERY scary. It’s not an analogously sound argument. Women and men who post pictures of their kids don’t possess special knowledge or ability that make them seem supernatural (sorry to break that one to ya). They’re not perceived as being weird or socially undesirable or any of the other things that “witches” were. They’re perceived, rightly or wrongly, as taking a risk with their children’s safety. There is no long-standing property dispute between free-rangers or hoverers. Helicopter parents don’t want free-rangers to be thrown in jail, dunked, hung, or burned at the stake. I have several friends and a SIL who work for Children’s Services. They can’t even begin to deal with the cases of physical abuse and neglect that come along let alone worry about who has a metaphorical black cat. And what does feminism have to do with it? My free-range stay-at-home SIL (who thinks God wants her to) and my working SIL both post pics of their kids. Gosh, how do I figure out which is a feminist now???

    It doesn’t take deep analysis to get that many men and women criticize these sorts of things because a) they believe it’s a risk–many people do; b) they care about kids; or c) they are afraid of what kind of a world this will turn into if we don’t care about kids. There’s nothing wrong with that, either.

    If you feel criticized, how about saying to the person “I feel criticized when you say that. I love my kids. I just don’t think this is as dangerous as you do.” Then let go of it. (It’s worked for me before!)

    How about looking at your bad analogy this way: are you the witch being falsely accused or are you the persecuted victim pointing fingers at invisible demons?

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