When Will It Become Illegal to Take ANY Photos of Kids?

Hi Readers — Here’s a piece I wrote for ParentDish about the topic of kiddie pix. Adults are getting really paranoid about the idea of children in photos, as if any snapshot or video of a kid is going to be used for scary, nefarious or disgusting purposes. As a reporter and sometime video maker, I can’t stand the fact that in many cases, we’re not even allowed to shoot casual images of kids at play, if their faces are identifiable. That’s why so often on TV you’ll see pictures of kids’ LEGS running around a playground, but not the rest of them.

Think of how grateful we are to have archival photos like these:Today, you’d have to get releases from these kids’ parents to publish that, or possibly even to take it! Once again, normalcy (the desire to take a lovely picture) is being de-normalized.

It may not sound like a big deal, but it is another brick in the “When it comes to children, no one can be trusted” wall. Sure, kids have rights, but how about the right to live in a society that doesn’t second-guess every interaction between child and world? — Lenore

111 Responses

  1. I am engaged in a little campaign to have the TV permanently turned off at the health club child care I attend, based on the AAP recommendations about no media under age 2, etc.

    One day I showed up a the center and all 12 children were clustered loosely around the wall mounted TV monitors looking up at the cartoon images–a better image of baby birds awaiting their daily feeding from mama bird, I’ve never seen.

    I snapped a picture with my camera phone (with the intention of sharing it with the club manager to help make my point). No children’s faces showed. While I was working out, apparently a couple of parents freaked out and when I returned to the childcare I was immediately told that they would call the police if I didn’t delete it immediately.

    Incidentally, when I returned, my one ally at the child care had turned off the TV and all the remaining 10 or so kids were happily engaged in what? PLAYING. I observed a game of house, a basketball shooting contest, climbing on the structure and sliding, and playing with toys together or individually. I wanted to take the “after” picture to help prove my point, but, alas I was forbidden.

  2. So sad. One of the most exciting things when you are a kid is getting your picture taken at some school or town event and having it end up in the paper! My kids love when this happens and we cut out the pictures for the scrapbooks. My FIL still has old newspapers with my husband and brother in them from the 80s…

    It would be so sad for that not to happen anymore. I do have a friend who signs the paper at the begining of every school year stating she DOES NOT want her children’s photos to be taken where they will appear in the paper or on TV. She also does not allow them in the elementary school yearbook. I think those kids are going to be sad someday that they don’t have those things to look back at.

  3. I’d have let them call the police. Sheesh. It’s not illegal to take pictures (despite the experience of that one guy in the mall that was posted on this blog some time back).

    Every time one of my kids starts a new year at preschool, enrolls in Vacation Bible School, etc., I’m asked to sign a “media release” form. At first I thought this was because there were going to be documentaries and marketing materials made about the program, but none of that has ever materialized; now I think it’s just about what you describe here… defense against paranoid parents, should someone snap a photo at some point.

  4. Oh boy Lenore, you really opened up a pet peeve of mine here.

    I encounter this a lot, and the fact is, it is completely 100% legal to take a photograph of a child in public. Absolutely, totally, 100% legal.

    Anyone that thinks otherwise hasn’t done their research.

    Also, there has been this art form around for decades called street photography, which is all about photographing people in public candidly, to showcase real American life in a genuine, un-posed form. One of the pioneers was Henri Cartier Bresson. There are museums devoted to his street photography work, so yeah–I’d say it’s legal & legitimate.

    I myself am a hobbyist photographer & have been known to take candids of children before, trying to replicate the works of such persons, even as I realize I’ll never be that good. It’s not often that I do, but I’ve done it. Here’s one such photo I took, some 5 years ago: (http://www.pbase.com/image/45962627.jpg)

    Much more often, I take photos of our niece-nephew & post them online, too–and they parents don’t mind. Those are the people I associate with; those who freak out over that, while I’m all about respecting wishes, basically I have nothing to do with them at all, this is such a huge issue for me.

    Also on a fairly regular basis, I will be at our nearby lake, taking photos of the ducks (here’s a photo: http://www.pbase.com/image/110471587.jpg)–showing no interest whatsoever in any children in anyway. Yet people will see me and yell “don’t take photos of my kids,” not realizing that (a) I’m not doing that and (b) it’s legal if I do so anyway.

    My reply: “don’t worry, I only take photographs of things that look good.” Ha ha. Puts them in their place every time.

    I have a feeling I will be contributing to this thread again later.

  5. I felt this yesterday – I was taking joyful pictures at a community event – went to blog about it – and realized that I had no idea if the parents would want photos up. I have no way of asking. I know some of my friends think I’m crazy for luring people to my house with enticing photos of my boys on a swingset. I am more fearful, if at all) of people following us home from the market than from the web. 🙂 If I want the article to focus on what we are doing, I try to angle the shots if the kids are in them, so my blog doesn’t look like a family scrapbook. If the post is specific about the child, then he should be the focus of the shot. When will we start meeting moms at the library and say this is fluffy bear, this is prickly bear, and this is baby bear. . . . When the background check comes back, I’ll take the bags off their heads and maybe after a month of communication I’ll give you their first name only. 🙂

  6. I remember when I was a kid, like maybe 5th grade, a guy from the local paper took a picture of me and a friend swimming at the city pool. He came over and asked me if it was okay if he used the picture in the newspaper, and what my name and age was. He did not ask my mom, because funny enough I was at the pool without a parent! OMG! I went home excited and told my parents I was going to be in the paper! And they thought that was pretty cool, too.

    Now, I have to admit, these days if I saw a random guy taking pictures of kids in a public place, and didn’t see a visible nametag or lanyard or something, I would likely approach him and ask him what it was for, but not be too worried about it if he had a good answer. There’s a big difference in asking for more information (ie, credentials) and just generally freaking out over it.

    I have also been in a situation, at a public beach, where a guy was taking pictures of women in their bathing suits using a zoom lens, and when approached had no ID or even a decent story, and we told the lifeguards and he was asked to leave. Again, gathering information is the key to safety.

  7. I actually think this is really weird too. My son’s school sent home a permission slip that I have to sign in order to let them take pictures of my child during activities (including the school play) and be displayed in the school. IN THE SCHOOL. That is the only place the pictures are being displayed!

    The fact that the permission slip existed made me paranoid, I read through it over and over thinking there had to be something dangerous that I was missing… surely they weren’t asking permission for my son’s photo to be hung on the wall in his own classroom?

    Yes, they were.

  8. heck, I’m afraid of taking pics of my own kids playing in the house clothed only in diapers (a common sight since it’s so hot and my eldest hates clothes).

    Wonder if the ultrasound pictures I’ll get this afternoon will be considered taboo in the future?

  9. This is particularly ironic given the dramatic increase in the use of video surveillance over the last few years. It’s OK for a store or company to videotape your kid if they walk by the building – but not OK to photograph them in a public park.

    That said, I think there is some sense in not wanting our privacy or that of our children invaded. I’d be pretty mad if a photo of my daughter was published somewhere without my consent, and I’d probably look suspiciously at anyone taking photos of her until/unless I got an explanation. Since photos are sometimes used for completely unrelated stories in news articles (ie “I need a picture of a sad kid for this story on children with incarcerated parents”), I wouldn’t want any photos used for commercial purposes. With the way so many people now sell their photos online, it’s hard to tell who’s doing an assignment for a class and who’s selling photos. I have to say I’d definitely think of privacy issues before thinking “pervert!” though.

    Stories like the following don’t help my concerns either.

  10. @Cindy-that’s terrible! I used to work at a gym childcare, and my friend who worked there with me had gone in one day and taken a bunch of pictures which she then turned into two poster-sized collages for the childcare room wall. Over the years it was fun for us, as well as for the long-time kids, to look back at the pictures and remember everyone that had been baby-sat there. My kids had made good friends there. (In fact, just yesterday my son spent the day playing with one of those children, even though we’ve since moved a state over!)
    Even the gym I go to now has collages of pictures taken at various parties.

    People are worried about what “psychos” are going to see pictures of their kids, but really, I think you need to be a little psycho to think of calling the polilce when someone snaps a picture of your kid!

  11. PS, my apologies, the link to the ducks photo was goofed up. Here it is:

    As I stated, I focus (pardon the pun) on those who don’t have a problem with this sort of thing, and they really like the photos I take. The paranoia types–sure, I won’t take photos of their kids, but I also have absolutely nothing to do with them in anyway whatsoever even with adult things, I’m so firm on my position with this. I don’t mean to be ugly, but it just bothers me so much.

    I’ve even been asked, for pay, to take photos of one’s kids, because quite a few people think I do a good job. I’m flattered, but also take a stand: I tell them that I’m an aspiring photographer (I am, somewhat) and I need a portfolio to prove my abilities; thus, in return for me taking photos of you & your family etc, you must be totally 100% okay with me showcasing these photos online or wherever for this purpose. Otherwise, deal’s off, I won’t do it.

    I’ve never had a problem.

  12. Well here’s a wee good news story.

    Two weeks ago I visited a Mud Pies outdoor session for families. I wanted to write a blog post about these weekly family sessions in woods. I asked if anyone minded my taking photos of their children and the purpose of the exercise. No-one did. Furthermore, many of the parents had their cameras out and were snapping away too. Hooray. Here’s the posting…http://creativestarlearning.blogspot.com/2010/08/mud-pies-family-adventures.html

    I’ve also found that all schools I’ve worked with have given me permission to snap away. Big thanks to all these great places. I did take care to avoid any children (usually 1 or 0) with restrictions on photos. I also sometimes do blur faces – but that’s my paranoia and not the schools and parents and children. Some are very pleased and proud to have their children and project publicised.

    Finally when I was in Sweden, the people who organised my trip found the concept of needing permission to take photos laughable. I was actively encouraged to take photos of children at every place I visited. Big thanks again. My presentations have lots of Swedish children doing great things outside.

    I do know the very real need for some children not to have their photo displayed publicly. This is important where there are family issues. For example, a child at risk of being abducted or one whose family is under witness protection. But these cases are small and children can be carefully left out of photos.

    There are many sensible people in this world who are making a difference in their own quiet way. Thank you too.

  13. I can see the photo albums of the future, adults only, no kids! This moral panic has to stop. The world has ALWAYS been a dangerous place, it’s just the media is reporting it more now, which in turn is heightening the fear factor.

    For God’s sake, let your kids be kids!

    I remember when I was growing up, kids were everywhere, and I myself, would walk in the woods and creek, miles from home, exploring everything, and never once was I harmed.

    A famous quote that still rings true: “The ONLY thing we have to fear, is fear itself!”

  14. It’s important to remember – it’s never illegal to take a picture of somebody (child or not) if you aren’t breaking an expectation of privacy. It is perfectly legal to take pictures (of your kids or not) at a playground, on the street, etc.

    The only exceptions are if the picture breaks the law (like a child in a sexual pose. Which does not cover nudity – a child nude, but non-sexual is legal).

    You WILL need a release to use the picture commercially, but not to take the picture, or to use it in a non-commercial use.

    Schools are covered by a different set of laws – so in they need a permission slip in order for an employee to take the child’s picture, but a parent can take pictures all they want.

    Now places (like a school or health club) can have their own policy, and ‘expel’ you from the location for violating it, but no crime has been committed (unless you refuse to leave, in which case the violation is trespass).

    Also note – nobody, police or otherwise, have the legal ability to force you to delete your images or turn over your camera/film/memory card. The only case where you camera can be taken, is if you are being arrested by an officer of the law, and they have to have probably cause for the arrest.

  15. Juliet –

    You get away with it much easier because you are a women. Men are always considered predators – no matter the circumstance.

    This is why many school will no longer allow (or avoid at all cost) male parents to be chaperons for field trips. As a future parent, this disgusts me.

  16. @Eric You are absolutely right about your explanation. I am a hobbyist photographer & have discussed this with other camera bugs numerous times, and you are correct–legally, you can photograph at will in public if there is no expectation of privacy. When you’re in the park, there is ZERO expectation of privacy, and photography is legal just as you explained it.

    @Juliet Robertson. Thank you for that wonderful story. I have some of my own I could share, of the families whose kids I saw making a cute pose and I just took the photo–period, no asking or anything–and I then would show them the photo and even get their contact information to send it to them.

    People who know me know that’s who & what I am, a camera bug who happens to, when everything aligns properly, get some pretty killer photos of kids. I use real cameras (Nikon digital SLRs) not camera phones or pocket “point & click” cheapos, there’s no “lag” at all, the shots can easily be enlarged 11×14 or larger, and I’ve been into photography as a hobby to whatever extent since 1983 as a 14 year old.

    Their attitude of openness is absolutely wonderful. Rather than get upset at those who aren’t in agreement, I just embrace those who are easy-going like this. I choose to fill my time with THESE people, and the paranoia types can just choose to live in their cold world–I won’t be a part of it.

    I think it’s time I sat back & stopped posting for awhile, let others chime in equally–sorry if I’m “hogging” this too much.

  17. Eric said it best. You can take all of the public photos of children you want. On private property, they can set the rules, and expel you for trespass if you break them. You can, however, legally take photos of someone on private property as long as you are on public property. The only exeptions are military bases and a few other government facilities.

    People in general are grossly uninformed about photography rights, children or otherwise. As for a photo release, that would only be if the photo were being used commercially, as in an advertisement. You can make a print and sell it, if it is being sold as “art.” You can also freely use the photo for “news,” even in a blog.

  18. Eric- you are almost totally right. One place does have the right to ask you not to take photographs: your bank. I worked at a bank and had a man stand in our line and take photographs constantly until he reached the counter. We confiscated the camera. He claimed he was taking photos of the “pretty girls” but an awful lot of his photos had no girls, but plenty of cameras and doors in them.

  19. Gina,

    Wrong – even banks don’t have that right. Banks can kick you out for that (just like any other private institution) but there is no law that gives them the right to take your camera.

    If it would have gone to court (a civil suit) the bank would have lost big time.

    Places (like where you worked) get away with it because people don’t know better, and it ‘sounds believable’. It is NEVER legal for a private citizen (like a bank employee) to take the property of another person.

    Note – all of my comments are specific to the US

  20. This is one of the most ridiculous fears out there. Really, taking pics of kids for the purpose of school activities, community wellness, posterity even, is wrong now? I remember going to friends kids recitals just a few years ago, and parents had their cameras (standalone and phone) and camcorders out in droves. Children were happy to get their pictures taken. It encouraged them to express their inner joy and self-esteem. Everyday that goes by with your children is a day that you will never get back. That’s why ever since the camera was invented, we have been taking photos of anything and everything.

    Fear really has gotten the best of many people, to the point that children are no longer depicted as children. But rather personal and private property, with no feelings, no emotions, no sentience. So what is the point of having children at all if you can’t enjoy them as little human beings growing up, or enjoy the time you spend with them.

    Now I can understand about taking photos or videos of kids under the age of 15 for profit without parental consent. ie. background extras for a tv show or commercial. But this has much to do with child labor laws than predatory fears. But taking pics of your kids, or random children for that matter in a park or center, either because your photographer capturing the essence of emotions of kids at play, or someone who is taking a before and after pic to prove a point on a cause, or capturing something that happens once a year like birthdays. How can that be wrong? These pics aren’t provocative, they aren’t demeaning. They are fun, artistic, and emotional (happy).

    If this is going to be the norm, than these people complaining can’t be hypocrites. Meaning any and all pics of children must be taken down. These include photos of child actors, models, and musicians. Pictures of children should no longer be allowed in magazines, newspapers, or the internet. Because predators can easily take THESE pics from their sources and do whatever they want them as much as they can with pictures they take themselves. If good people with common sense are to be reprimanded for taking pics of children, then there should be a law that bans ANY form of children being caught on film under the age of 15. I’m sure even these dummy folks who take offence of pictures of kids being taken, will find that completely ridiculous as well. But then again, these fearful people have no logic and common sense.

    @ susanstarr: who knows. They way society is becoming these days, that maybe a possiblity. After all, they are “naked” in those pics.

  21. Doh! I just realized there’s another Eric here. I’ll use EricS from here on in. I do agree with Eric.

  22. I used to take a ton of photos of my kids. Once I did get asked to stop taking photos at a park. I asked why. They said they didn’t feel comfortable with me taking photos. I told them I was only intentionally shooting my kids and if anyone else got in the frame it was pure chance. They left but soon returned with an officer and I had to show my photos. I know I didn’t really NEED to show them I just didn’t feel like being dragged into a station while I was playing/out with my kids. Oh, and I didn’t have to delete any. In fact, while the officer was reviewing them I heard a few ‘Oh, good shot!’.


  23. I, too, don’t get all the fuss.

    Security risk: seriously, how many children are plausibly in a witness protection pogram or something similar?

    Predators: like, the guy is adding to his wall collage of newparer floppies, maps and snapshots, like you see in the movies Gimme a break. The grand majority of criminals are way too lazy.

    Creeps: listen, if a person wants to oogle provocative photos, there are many more choices out there than a random photo at a playground. I hate that that’s true, it hurts my heart to think about it, but come on people, have some perspective.

    That being said, I think there are appropriate cautions to take, for example:

    – Pools post a “no cameras in the changeroom” rule (duh, but you can imagine kids goofing around and not understanding the bigger risks).
    – i think it’s a good move to casually investigate if some random dude with a camera piques your spidey sense.
    – And whenever I post photos, I edit! Sometimes a photo shows or projects something you didn’t intend. If it’s potentially embarrassing or akward – take it down! Way more sensible than an all-out ban.

  24. As a parent, I am encountering this more and more. I’ve always had to sign the media release at school but just recently I noticed a sign at the pool my son’s daycamp operates out of.
    Just before you go into the viewing area to watch the children swim it informs you that you are not allowed to take pictures in this area. If you would like a picture of your child you must let the swim instructor know so they can arrange for your child to stand on the deck alone so you can take their picture.
    I’m guessing they have implemented this policy to ensure that no other children are in the picture you take. I think its sad that now I am limited to one picture of my son on the side of the pool because some people are paranoid about their children being in my photo.

  25. I work for a local newspaper and this winter, a school in our coverage area called to tell us about an upcoming event. We decided it would make a nice stand-alone or “wild-cut” photo and sent a photographer. When he got there, they wouldn’t let him take any photos for the same paranoid reasons explained here. Ridiculous.

    I do have to say, though, that they were the only outfit we’ve had trouble with. We’ve gotten great photos of kids at community events, at library programs, at parks, at most of the other schools we cover. We even got a terrific photo, dropped off by an excited grandparent of a little girl ACTUALLY PETTING a fawn that had wandered into her yard.

  26. Thank you, Eric, for outlining the legal issues here. I hope readers will heed them!

    I’m a photographer and a mom, so I (gasp!) spend a lot of my time taking pictures in places full of kids. I’ve prepared myself for the inevitable encounter with a paranoid parent, but in 4.5 years, it hasn’t happened once. (In fact, the only time I ever was asked to stop shooting in my entire photographic career was inside a Montgomery Ward store 15 years ago.) Maybe I just live in a very laid-back community?

  27. It is not just photographing kids where people freak out. A police officer threatened to arrest my brother for taking time-lapse photos. Despite that in the past he has filmed for Homeland Security, the officer thought he may be a terrorist casing a bridge to blow up. The bridge wasn’t even in the picture. The paranoid policeman thought my brother’s suduku puzzle was a codebook. If one was looking for a bridge’s weaknesses they would use a cheap point ant shoot and not use a professional $50,000 video camera.
    I went to take some pictures in a restaurant to use on their new website. I should have asked first but wanted them to be un-posed and casual. The attitude from one employee was instead of politely asking why or seeing no danger was to immediately assume that the pictures were for some evil purpose and called the owner on vacation.

    As for getting legal permission to use photos for commercial use, a National children’s photography studio filed for bankruptcy early this year. The parents that freak out about pictures of their kids would really be up in arms that those pictures may end up in the hands of one of their creditors.

    What about all the old photos of babies on bearskin rugs? We had a 50 year old picture of my brothers and sisters in a bathtub. I used it for a Mother’s Day greeting card with the message:
    Thanks mom for keeping us clean …
    and not drowning us when you had the chance!

  28. @timkenwest, “i think it’s a good move to casually investigate if some random dude with a camera piques your spidey sense.”

    How about some random lady with a camera?

    Yay, it’s the old “all men are potential predators” meme! Damn, I feel so bad for men these days. I doubt I could make the same statement I did above (about freely shooting in parks) if I were a guy.

  29. I don’t see this as a clear issue. Thanks both to technological advances and to a general decline in societal politeness levels — in addition to government and business paranoia — privacy is an increasingly valid concern. What was once an concern only for movie stars, politicians, and the very wealthy now affects everyone. We live in an age when doing something stupid in public is likely to get you on YouTube, if not the evening news. Mistakenly send an e-mail to the wrong person (who hasn’t done that?) and a private moment might be heard around the world.

    Once upon a time, a casual photograph might end up in someone’s photo album (more likely in someone’s unsorted box), or in a local paper of small circulation. The chances of it ending up in a place where it could be seen by more than a handful of people were slim indeed. But that’s no longer true. Even the poorest, stupidest photos are being published online for all the world (or at least the long list of Facebook friends-of-friends) to see — and to pass around.

    The days of “security by obscurity” are over. Everyone is potentially famous, and at risk for problems only the famous had to worry about in the past. It’s a situation we’re going to have to learn to live with — there’s no putting that electronic genie back into the bottle — and paranoid regulations aren’t helping.

    What we really need is a great deal more of what has become uncommon indeed: common sense and common courtesy.

  30. @ Library Diva: I can see that being a really awesome pic. Such randomness with nature. How often does that happen? And people want to prevent that.

    I’m not a shutter bug, but when I’m at the park, or pool with my nephew, I like to take some pics and videos with my camera phone. Especially when I see him doing something completely random and unexpected. There’s also times when he makes friends (yes, children do make friends with other kids). I’m used to just taking pics of family and friends with strangers (kids or adults we meet) at the park, pool, fairgrounds, pretty much any public or private area. But I’ve learned to find the medium in living with paranoid people. So before I take a pic, I usually ask if it’s cool. I’m glad to say that I’ve never had anyone say “no”. Even the times I didn’t ask, no one ever got the police involved. There have been times when mothers would approach me and ask to see the pics. Not by paranoia, but out of curiosity. Some have given me their email addresses so that I can forward the pics that I took with their kids in the shot. I’ve even made “park friends” with a couple of parents. It’s sad that some people have forgotten the community aspect part of picture taking.

  31. @ Dot Khan: “The paranoid policeman thought my brother’s suduku puzzle was a codebook.”


    And we are suppose to rely on people of authority like that person? I’m more inclined to trust my friends nerdy 11 year old. At least he’s far more technically savvy than that officer. But then again, authorities are people too. Just because they are in a certain position, it doesn’t make them immune from the “ignoramous and stupid bug”.

  32. I don’t think it’s necessarily a laid-back community. I think it’s that you’re a woman. According to society these days, women are safe and all men are presumed to have bad intentions until proven otherwise. I really wanted a boy when I had my daughter but I’m kinda glad for a girl now (outside of the fact that I adore my daughter). I don’t want to raise a boy in the current anti-man climate. I don’t want to have to explain to my child that, solely based on him having a Y chromosome, he will be suspect and feared starting the moment he hits puberty.

  33. I once got stopped by campus security for taking pictures of an empty playground. This was for my photography class’s first assignment and when it was due, the teacher asked people to share experiences like that. Part of the learning experience… (Also had some students get the third degree for taking pictures inside stores.)

    I have a printout of my negative-4-month-old’s privates from the sonogram. Prechild porn?!? D:

  34. Privacy is dead. Cameras are so small now, and embedded in phones and such, that people could be taking pictures of you (and your kids) and you’d never even know it.

  35. Linda,

    Who cares if a photo is posted online for all to see? What is the worst that can happen? That what I don’t get about all this fear about having a picture taken. They are just pictures. It’s not part of your soul, if someone does something with the picture it doesn’t effect you. Some of the fear parents have like abductions, I can at least understand but the fear of having a picture taken honestly baffles me.

  36. @ Donna, I think you are completely right (though my community is laid-back), and as I said in another comment, I feel so bad for men in these times. I have three sons, and I am concerned about them “getting into trouble” doing nothing but just being guys. Sigh.

  37. I work at a nature centre at a public park in Canda and we ask parents to complete a photo release so that we can take photos of their children taking part in our programs. We recently e-mailed about 45 of these families to ask if we could use photos of their children on our Facebook page and on our website. Every single family that responded (about 90% replied) had no issue with us sharing the photos in these venues. Only 1 or 2 parents asked us not to name their childre in the photos.

    The only issue I have with my child being photographed is the intended use of the photo. I wouldn’t have a problem with a friend using a photo of her for their portfolio, but I would object if that photo ended up in promo material. I would not be okay with my child’s photo being used for commerical usage without some form of compensation because at that point she’s not a child being photographed, she’s a model selling a product/service.

    As an adult, I’ve opted out of being photographed at events I’ve attended for work purposes since I didn’t want to necessarily align myself with the company hosting the event. ie: staffing a booth at a fair highlighting volunteer opportunities hosted by a religious organization. It’s one thing to take the photo, but I don’t want to end up on a brochure or other material that promote an organization I don’t have a relationship with.

    I guess my point is that I don’t mind photos being taken as long as I am fully aware of their usage and have control on how the image is used.

  38. HappyNat, having your photo online for the world to see may not bother you — and a lot of other people who post the weirdest YouTube videos! But can you understand that some — many — people do mind? That’s not paranoia, it’s privacy. Bloggers and the sensationalist media notwithstanding, not every private thought, opinion, fear, dream, love, tragedy, or picture should be public — especially without permission.

    Time was when a child randomly photographed on a playground might be considered “just a picture.” Thanks to Google, that child is no longer a “symbolic, ideal child” but an identifiable individual.

  39. No Linda in most cases I can’t understand why people would mind. I’m not talking about videos of you slipping on the ice or running around with a lobster attached to your ear. I’m not talking about someone posting a picture and saying hurtful things or including the person’s name. If someone takes a picture of me while in public I don’t care and can’t see the harm. If you or your kids happen to be in the background of a picture of my kids at the park and I post it on our blog, is that an invasion of your privacy?

    There are millions and millions of pictures online a few pictures of me and my kids being boring parents and children isn’t going to cause anyone to look twice. We just aren’t that special.

    I do agree that I don’t want my image or my kids images used for promo material for a company without my knowledge. But if any company wanted to use my image I would seriously question what godforsaken demographic they were aiming for.

  40. @HappyNat. I am 100% with you. It is no big deal and people do need to get over it. One should be respectful, yes, but the level of paranoia and discomfort people have about this is just ridiculous.

    Especially if you post at a photo-hosting site like Flickr or SmugMug (as opposed to Facebook), chances are no one who knows you is going to see it anyway. Lots of other people may, but unlike if you post them on Facebook, they are apt to be seen by people who wouldn’t even begin to put the name & face together. Much of society needs to lighten up & enjoy picture-taking. It’s fun and rewarding, not anywhere near the threat it’s made out to be.

  41. @ Linda Wightman,

    “Time was when a child randomly photographed on a playground might be considered “just a picture.” Thanks to Google, that child is no longer a “symbolic, ideal child” but an identifiable individual.”

    How, exactly, is someone going to identify this “randomly photographed” child? Without the child’s name or some distinguishing search term, an online viewer has no more chance of identifying said child than a random passerby in real life.

  42. I think of my kid as my work of art (co-created with her dad). So in the same way an artist of a watercolor would object to their painting being photographed by someone and posted to the web, I would have the same issue with someone doing the same with a photo of my child.

    Once someone takes a photo, you don’t have any control of the image. So I’d rather avoid having the photo taken at all.

  43. This paranoia has been building for a long time.
    As a news photographer, I was in a park and saw some kids enjoying summer vacation. I asked their mother if it was okay to take a couple of pictures for the paper. It was.
    Then a local public school principal arrived and informed me it was not okay unless approved by the school board. The mother pointed out that her kids were enrolled at a parochial school, but the principal said the law gave the public schools the right to overrule parents.
    My son is off to Boy Scout camp next week. Among the sheaf of paperwork to be signed is a publication release, in case his picture is taken. The boys are told not to bring cameras or personal first aid kits to camp.
    There is, of course, the rare situation in which a child is the pawn in a custody battle and the custodial parent doesn’t want the other parent to know the child’s whereabouts.

  44. In my father’s nursing home, there were signs that said “No pictures or video.” I ignored them. My father is very ill. I will gladly go to jail for more pictures of him smiling. I suspect the “no pics” rule is there to protect the staff rather than the residents, anyway. An aide saw me taking pictures and didn’t say anything.

    (He’s home now, so we’re free to take as many pictures as we like.)

  45. A good read (for Americans)


  46. I thought I’d throw out another side to taking pictures of kids because most people won’t think of it. My mom did foster care for 9 years before adopting two boys from foster care who have now been part of our family for 11 years. She had to be very careful about what was done with the photos of all of the children who lived with her because you can not publish photos of foster children. This is because many of these children ARE in situations where their location needs to be hidden. My mom was threatened and harassed by more than one biological parent whose children had been removed from their home and there was great concern when the biological father of my two brothers was released from jail because he had tracked down foster homes in the past.

    While I don’t think “no picture” policies are any more right than “zero tolerance” policies, there is another side to it that most people don’t think of. A simple “hey, can I take a picture of your child” would solve the problem, the paperwork process would (and should) be completely unnecessary if common sense was a little more common.

  47. I can second Eric’s legal description. We had a police officer visit our school after we had a “rash” (that is, 3) instances of strangers standing outside the school taking pictures of children. The officer said that even at a private school, there’s no expectation of privacy in the outdoor playground. That prompted some parents to request a privacy/security fence, but the officer talked them down explaining that’s a false security feature and it makes his job more difficult.

    He also explained that if you feel something weird is going on you should call a police officer. Even though there’s no law against taking the pictures, you can still ask nicely to have them deleted. He suggested you ask the officer to do that for you. He said that, as a father, he’ll get in the face of anyone taking pictures that seem suspect, but most of the time he thinks we all need to just calm down. He did say we should tell children not to talk to people taking pictures unless a school official has let the children know it’s ok. We did have one of the unknown photographers try to get personal information out of the children, supposedly for a newspaper story. It was odd that they RAN away when the police car pulled in the parking lot! In that case, the kids knew to get an adult, which they did.

    Anyway, I take pictures and I don’t ask. If anyone confronts me I explain I’m taking personal photos and I’m not even posting them online (though it’s my right to do so if it’s not for commercial gain or illegal). We have some very paranoid people in my town and I have a friend who does not sign photo releases for any reason.

  48. @rebecca, your analogy doesn’t hold. An artist would not object to a photo of their work in context hanging in a show (which is the artwork equivalent of a park photo of a random child).

    What an artist would object to is a photo of their work which was then claimed to be someone else’s (the analogy would be internet creeps who steal photos of pregnant bellies and kids to claim them as their own) or used commercially without their permission (no one is suggesting that is an ok practice with photos of kids, either).

  49. @Katie — you’d be astonished at how much information is out there that you don’t even think about, and how easy it is to put two and two together. I’ve shocked people by telling them their deceased relative’s social security number, which is very, very easy for anyone to get. A random online viewer is not going to bother to identify a child in a park photo, but the point is it can be done by someone who wants to badly enough, whereas in the past it was nearly impossible.

    It’s probably healthy to admit that privacy is dead and accept it — just as we accept the risks of driving in our cars because we find the benefits outweigh them. But not everyone feels that way, and when I publish private information I try to do so in a way the “owners” of that information would be comfortable with.

    To use a familiar analogy, I may happily send my children to the park to play on their own and actively encourage such activities to others, but I also understand and respect parents who are not comfortable with that.

    That said, one has to expect public places to be public.

    @Dean — Were you in a public park, or on school grounds? What city? The school principal MIGHT have had the authority to overrule the parents at his school, though I’d fight it if I were the parent. If he truly had authority to make the rules in a public place, we’re in even more trouble than I thought. (And if he were my kids’ principal, I’d be seriously worried about his sanity.)

    @Andrea — My point exactly. Common sense and common courtesy work better than zero tolerance policies in any direction.

  50. “I think of my kid as my work of art (co-created with her dad).”

    There is a problem with this line of thinking. A child is not a work of art. Unlike art, children live in the world. They don’t just hang on a wall looking pretty for only you to enjoy. They interact with others. They use the same parks and facilities as other people. They attend cultural events, meetings, etc. worth noting. The attend parties hosted by others who want to record their event. Other people have a right to document their life and if your child happens to be in the picture sobeit.

    For example, if your child attends my child’s birthday party, I may very well take pictures of her and post them online for my friends and family to see. Frankly, I couldn’t care less about your child. I care about MY child and documenting MY child’s big day for which I nicely invited your child and entertained and fed her for a couple hours. If your “work of art” is too precious to be photographed, please don’t send her to my child’s birthday party because I’m not going to not take or post pictures of my child at her birthday party because your “work of art” is in the frame.

    Same with any other event. You want to attend a community picnic, you shouldn’t object to the community taking pictures of your and/or your children for their purposes. If you do object, don’t attend the event. Your child attends school; you shouldn’t object to pictures taken at school. Again, if you do object, home school. If you don’t want someone taking a picture of your child in a public park, stay home. The world is not yours to control.

  51. @Linda, I’m well aware that lots of information is available. You still haven’t explained how a random internet creep is going to be able to ID a child from a photo.

    Let’s say I post a picture on my blog of my kid playing in the park, and that picture happens to have another kid in it. I understand how easy it is for someone to ID my kid, and probably even figure out where the photo was taken. But it’s quite a leap from knowing the location of a park to knowing the identity of every person in a photo taken in that park.

  52. “A random online viewer is not going to bother to identify a child in a park photo, but the point is it can be done by someone who wants to badly enough, whereas in the past it was nearly impossible.”

    First, this is about like the abductor theory. “Because children can be abducted, they will be” is no different than “because they can identify a child in a picture, they will.”

    Second, in the past it was far from impossible to identify a random child in a photograph. Years later people have been able to piece together the identities of the randomly photographed. Nor can you compare identifying a face to social security numbers. A nameless face on the internet is not the same as a discreet number assigned to a specific purpose that is used for just about every single thing in your life. The average citizen does not have facial recognition software such that they can scan the entire internet and find a corresponding image with a name. If you want to identify a face in a picture, you are going to have to go about it with a lot of footwork and research just like you would have had to in the past.

  53. @Donna – Woah, there. Do you think if I thought of my kid like that, that I’d be reading this blog?

    My kid has appeared in community newspapers twice. In one she was identified by both her first and last name. When the pic was published, I heard from several family friends about having seen the photo. Not a problem with me; I had the opportunity to give permission and supply the photographer with her name.

    But maybe – just maybe – I don’t want my kid in the background of a photo that you post to Facebook with no privacy restrictions, or upload to Flickr to the Creative Commons.

    My kid is photographed at school. She attends a lab school and ECE students doing placements there will do photo boards as part of their placement requirements. Fine by me. They supply the form I need to sign, I’m happy to sign it. They identify kids by their initials only. Even if they used her full name, I’d be alright with it because I know the intended purpose of the photo.

    If I post photos of my friends’ kids online to my Facebook, I first ask my friends whether I can identify their kids. I think it’s the polite – and respectful – thing to do. As well, I don’t have a wide-open FB profile. And my Flickr account is available to friends and family only.

    I’m not trying to control the world. But I do expect that my kid to be treated with as much as respect as possible.

    @Katie – As I said, I would have an issue with my work of art being photographed and POSTED ON-LINE. I then lose control of the usage of the image. Gallery display is another matter.

  54. OK, I’ve held off for awhile, because I’ve said plenty, but now I feel compelled to post again, and I hope Lenore is okay with that.

    @Donna, you are so dead-on. I am with you 100%. DO NOT, and I repeat, DO NOT send your children my way into my home, my environment, and expect me to make all these ridiculous accommodations for a bunch of worry-wart paranoid schizophrenics who think that having a photo of their Junior hugging your Fido in the background will somehow result in the National Association of Perverts (I made that name up!) storming your premises with a Chuck Norris-like military tank and abduct your kids to the molesting underworld.

    That is the absolutely most ridiculous, baseless, senseless, and insane fear of all of them, and it’s utterly humorous if it weren’t so downright pathetic and stupid.

    And yes Donna, once again–if one is that paranoid, nothing they have any business doing other than putting walls around their house & never leaving it. Scared of that man in the park with the camera? That man in the park with the camera is ME, undertaking a completely legal and NORMAL act which has been going on for decades, and act that–until 7 years ago or so–was not looked at with any sort of fear or as if it was an undertaking of the pedophile. I am NOT putting my camera away or modifying my behavior in any matter whatsoever. I love taking photos, it’s legal, it’s beautiful, it’s been done for decades with NOWHERE NEAR the ramifications that’s made of it, and I’m not going to cater to the whims of the paranoid.

    I said it in my 1st post, and I will say it again–look up Henri Cartier Bresson. This is a man whose very life work was taking candid photographs of life around him. He became so good at it, and so famous, he was even commissioned to photograph the funeral of Gandhi in India. There are museums of his work in Houston Texas, Japan and France among other places.

    So we are talking someone whose very existence was predicated on candid photography, no permission asked, he just did it–and it now fills a museum.

    And yes, he was a solitary man.

    Me: I’m not anywhere near that good, & I don’t NORMALLY go out of my way to be that candid in my style, I’m here to capture beautiful moments–mostly of my children, but not totally–and it’s as innocent as it gets. I and others are not the ones who need to change, the paranoid types are–they need to just get over this irrational fear and wake up.

    I’m not being discourteous, I don’t chase people like the paparazzi, I don’t hide in the bushes with camouflage, I just stand sideline and photograph such wonderful moments. You could benefit so much if you’d just realize this and not be so paranoid. Heck, I’d be glad to give you a photo of your child myself, even print an 8×10 for you and let you have it, my way of saying “thank you” for how your child added a beautiful moment to the day with such a cute pose & allowed me to capture it with high-quality equipment.

    And I’m certainly going to photograph my own kids all I want to. Don’t want your children in the photo? Move them over. I probably don’t want them there either, if they’re in the background cluttering it up like a tree growing out of their head.

    But if your child hugs my child & makes a cute pose? I’m taking the photo, and guess I’m going to post it to my Flickr, and NO I am NOT going to crop your child out. Your child will remain nameless, “Jane Doe” if you please, if you prefer that. But I’m NOT going to spoil a beautiful moment because YOU have a senseless, baseless, schizophrenic hangup that’s rooted in pure insanity.

    There. I feel better now.

  55. “How about the right to live in a society that doesn’t second-guess every interaction between child and world?” YES! That is it exactly! Anyone who is interested in and enjoys the company of children other than those who share their DNA is assumed to have perverted motives. An acquaintance, since becoming a mother to a little girl, is even suspicious of her daughter’s uncles and male cousins even though none has shown even the teeniest cause for concern! Absurd! And FORGET taking those adorable and soon-to-be-mortifying-to-your-child bathtime pictures of YOUR OWN KID… You might be arrested for possession of child pornography even if all the photos do is sit quietly in your family album!

  56. I have to agree that this paranoia is out of control.

    However, there ARE times when it is appropriate to get permission to take a photo. I work for a non-profit agency that serves immigrants and refugees. Many of them are devout Muslims, and some of those devout Muslims feel that having their photo taken is sinful (it is “making a graven image” which is equivalent, in their minds, to idolatry). Since I genuinely respect their right to hold differing religious views, even though it seems silly to me, I always ask before taking their picture, even it it will never go anywhere but the classroom wall. I personally feel that is simple courtesy.

  57. This happened to a friend at National Night Out ( which was awesome) my next door neighbor was snapping pictures of all the kids sliding down the water slide and running around together. One of the moms freaked yelled at her and demanded the pictures be deleted right away. It was sad ;(

  58. Another reason, Susan, is in case of kids or parents who are in hiding, either officially or non. They might really want to limit who can find out where they are, for genuine safety reasons (and they understandably might not want to have to disclose those reasons individually to every teacher their child has!)

    A standard form every year, while a pain, could allow families with real privacy concerns (a crazy stalker ex, witness protection, actual risk of kidnapping by a noncustodial and/or abusive parent) to opt out without having to call extra attention to themselves.

    These issues are rare, but they’re the sort of rare that can’t be prevented with a call to the teacher to say “Yeah, my kid will die if you have this in the classroom, so can you help me out?”

    Not that this is what most schools are thinking when they do this, of course. But it *is* what strikes me as a valid reason for this sort of thing… though maybe the forms should be opt-out instead of opt-in.

  59. Before I learned about FreeRangeKids, I always sorta felt like I *should* be concerned about things that simply wasn’t. This was one of those things. We just get so used to the idea that we should never let anyone take a photo of our kids that it becomes the norm. Personally, I always wondered what the big fear was that I was so ignorant of. I just couldn’t think of how having my kids’ photo on some stranger’s camera could possibly cause harm. Or how having their picture in the local paper (along with their name and ages) was so bad.

    Thank God for FRK and Lenore! Now i know I’m no longer the ignorant one!

  60. Thanks Elanor, your blog is making my choice to stay here in Mexico MUCH easier 🙂

    Every time I read the site, I can’t believe how far we’ve degenerated socially; our distrust of everything has made people like turtles, forever hiding in their shells. It’s sad how much fear people have towards each other, and seems to be really prevalent. nationwide.

    I can’t wait for the pendulum to swing the other way- I’m sure it will eventually! FRK can lead the way back to sanity!

  61. I do my fieldwork in South India (I am there now, in fact) and in the course of my work I take lots of pictures. Including pictures of kids, Many of which are, frankly, adorable. Unfortunately, many of the kids in many of the communities in which I work do not wear clothes. I work among some of the poorest communities of fishers. I blog regularly in an effort to keep my family up-to-date while I am away, but as much as I want to share these pictures on my blog, or even just make them available on Flickr, I am absolutely terrified to do so. Someone with a low bar for personal dudgeon will come across them and call the FBI on me and all because indigent three year olds in India do not often wear pants. Now I ask you, what is it about the pile of garbage or the open sewer in the background of such a photo that makes it prurient, or heaven forfend!, pornography?

    It just makes me very sad that I cannot share the adorable parts of my otherwise very grim fieldwork with my family.

  62. Rebecca,

    Thanks for posting that fear mongering article, at least this gives me an example why people are so paranoid. Sure people can track where certain photos were taken, but WHO CARES? Is there a rash of pedophiles using this tracking device to hunt down children? Well, the article mentions a female who was tracked by a stranger while she was out with friends, no other details. So of the “130-million geo-tagged photos and videos on the site.” on flickr they don’t have one example of a person using it to track down and hurt a child.

    The article is filled with what ifs and what people could do. Well, people could follow you home from the grocery store, or the mall, they could stalk you at work or on vacation. Sure these things happen on very rare occasions, but you don’t lock yourself in your house for 80 years.

    Tis line kills me. “Fortunately, Pesce says, he was on vacation at the time, and the location information was inaccurate.” Fortunately for what? If the information had been accurate he child surly would have been abducted? Sheesh people get a grip.

  63. I haven’t read all the above comments, but wanted to say that countless tourists (usually Asian) have photographs of my blond-haired blue-eyed sons (yikes, is that too much information???) in their vacation pics. Sometimes they ask if they can pose with my kids. No problem. Sometimes they take pictures like they are at a photoshoot. Snap, snap, snap, snap. It doesn’t bother me, but my middle child does get a little uncomfortable as he is pretty shy of being in the spotlight. I let him hide behind my legs, and we discuss his feelings, but I don’t shoo away the men with cameras. This is an issue he needs to learn to cope with (it is only minor, certainly not a debilitating fear).
    Anyway, I am of the mindset that if some exceedingly rare pervert is going to get their jollies looking a pictures of my fully clothed, or even bathing suit clad kids, well, they can find equivalent material in the children’s clothing store flyers. I really really really hope that these crazy stories on this site are the exception and not the rule.

  64. “But maybe – just maybe – I don’t want my kid in the background of a photo that you post to Facebook with no privacy restrictions, or upload to Flickr to the Creative Commons.”

    And just how do you handle this? Do you tell him/her to avoid cameras at parties? At public parks, do you swoop down and whisk your child away every time you see a flash?

    Although I disagree with your position (and the article link you posted reads like just another knee-jerk scare tactic. “Oh my God! It happened ONCE so therefore it happens ALL THE TIME!”), I respect your right to be concerned with how your child’s image is used. However, and as Donna aptly said, others have a right to document their own lives.
    While I won’t take a random picture of your child, I’m also not going to wait around for your written permission to take a picture of MY child just because yours is in the background.

  65. All of these paranoid parents out there had better get it together. Go to therapy, do whatever you have to do, THE FIRST being to TURN OFF YOUR TV SET, or at least stop watching programs like Nancy Grace and Jane Valez-Mitchell.

    If something doesn’t change, if they DON’T get it together, we are going to soon have a generation of adults who may have well as stayed children because they are not going to know how to live independent lives, doing anything for themselves without Mommy right there.

    If you don’t let your children walk to the corner store with a buddy, if you don’t let them play outside in your OWN yard without hovering over them like a helicopter, how in the world do they EVER learn that they CAN function without you? Jiminy Crickets this scares me.

    Parents, grandparents, godparents, etc., all take pictures of their children at play. I never leave the house without my camera when I’m taking my grandchildren to the park. My point is I’m going to be shooting impromptu shots of my kids, so if you don’t want yours in it, TAKE THEM HOME. I refuse to live my life like it’s 30’s Nazi Germany.

  66. Our school has that policy but they also have a website where they post pictures of our kids. They never post names. I always sign the photo release. They are just wanting to avoid potential lawsuits.

    Honestly with all the images on the internet I think the risk is pretty low. A perv might find an image of my kids and download it to his computer. I guess it is better than him taking it himself and stalking my child.

  67. HappyHat, I just finished reading a book by Dean Koontz, some of you may have also read it, called, The Good Guy.

    I see that Mr. Koontz is feeling the hysteria swirling around about sex offenders (who are NOT all pedophiles, by the way, actually diagnosed REAL pedophiles are extremely rare) and one can tell that by the ending in his book. I won’t give it away, but it’s a real good read.

    Point is, the government (law enforcement, etc.) LOVES it when the populace is frightened. When we are scared of what we have been told are real threats to us, ESPECIALLY our children, they can do anything they want to do and we’ll cheer them on, even it if it is burning our constitution to ashes. This is going on daily.

    If people would just use their heads, COMMON SENSE, they would see that all of this crap about sexual offenders, which has now turned into, “sexual predators” (you tell me which is scarier sounding) and they are all described as salivating after our children, is BOLOGNA. We have shoved almost 700,000 people (by last count) on to this national sex offender registry. IF they were all pedophiles, predators, and salivating after our children, we’d be knee deep in missing children, found sexually assaulted and dead.

    It just doesn’t make any sense, but once you tell a parent there’s a threat to their child they are off to market.

    The limitations all of this man made fear is creating in our children’s lives is extremely detrimental, and it’s NOT worth it, not in my opinion. This IS scarring children for the rest of their lives.

    Your child has WAY WAY WAY more odds of being killed in a car accident then EVER being abducted by a stranger, yet we put our children in cars every single day.


  68. Ohhh, so that explains it. Last summer I was letting my free-range daughter run about at an outdoor music event. Soon a woman with a camera approached me, I actually thought “oh no, I’m gonna get a lecture”). Actually she just wanted to take photos of my daughter dancing for the paper.

    At the time I thought it was weird she would ask beforehand because now she had to get “natural” photos out of a child who knew she was being photographed. Now I understand…

    The photos turned out great and DD had a blast getting all the attention of having her pic in the paper. Makes me sad to think if I had taken this opportunity away from her.

  69. @rebecca, nice try, but no.

    “As I said, I would have an issue with my work of art being photographed and POSTED ON-LINE. I then lose control of the usage of the image. Gallery display is another matter.”

    I am a fine artist. I have participated in dozens of group shows (even organized/curated a few). Without exception, EVERY ARTIST I’VE EVER MET would like to have a photo taken in a gallery in which their work was hanging published online. We’re talking about a candid shot at the opening reception, in which a painting is visible over a patron’s shoulder, or perhaps a photo of the show used in a p/review run by a newspaper. That is publicity, that is what artists want. They WANT their work to be seen. This is part of why your analogy is poor.

    And thanks for the fearmongering link. I already said it would be easy to ID my kids or the location the picture was taken when I post it online. I still want to know how someone is going to ID your kid in my photo if I don’t post any identifying information about your kid.

    @Larry Harrison, THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for pointing out a tangible gain to “allowing” candid photography. (And your rant was brilliant, I was cracking up!)

  70. “But maybe – just maybe – I don’t want my kid in the background of a photo that you post to Facebook with no privacy restrictions, or upload to Flickr to the Creative Commons. ”

    And how do you intend to prevent that? If I’m at a park taking a picture of my kid and your kid is in the background, I’m not going to not take the picture. I’m not going to mess up the moment in order to stop to chase your child away. I’m not going to approach your child (that would probably get me arrested) to get your contact information so that I can check with you to confirm that it is okay for me to post a picture of my child online.

    We live in a world inhabited by other people. We get in the way of other people. We end up in pictures of other people. C’est la vie.

    I can understand some hesitance if a strange person started taking random pictures of your child. I’d probably ask him or her what she was doing. If he or she could give me a reasonable answer (art photography, school project), I’d let it go. If the person seems sketch, we’d move on.

    But this resistance some have to allowing their children to be photographed at an event they chose to attend; this resistance to them being in the background of pictures taken in a public place; the refusal to allow school pictures, etc. is just over the top.

  71. Linda: That incident was in a public park, adjacent to a summer vacation-closed public school and across the street from the private school the children attended. Note too, that the children’s mother was present. This was back in the days when news photographers were easily identified because they used huge, 9-pound cameras that did not lend themselves to use in sneakly, underhanded manner.

  72. My district has a sane method of handling the photo thing. In the handbook, under internet policy it says the parent must send a letter to the principal if they DO NOT want their child’s photograph/.video/podcast to appear on the internet.

    The 1st year we had this policy my campus has 1 family opt out.

    Last year No parents opted out.

    If a parent as a endangered child flag* on the child’s file/ or a child is in foster care, I go the extra step and directly ask the parent about posting.

    *We have to have legal paperwork to keep a parent from a child. We can’t take the word of the other parent, for obvious reasons. So if I have a child with a domestic problem, there is custody paper work in the folder. If there is anyone else that is not supposed to have contact (crazy uncle, unbalanced Grandmoter) that just takes a letter in the file.

    In either case our attendence clerk maintains a list of these kids. Their teachers (including specials), and the teachers on pick up duty have this information. Out of 700 kids last year there were 15 with these flags.

  73. Meh. I’m not sure this is as big a deal as it’s made out to be. I just took my little one to his last Music Together class. I took dozens of pics. (I’ve done it a couple of other times.) No one batted an eye.

    I love Free Range Kids, but sometimes I think Free Rangers might be a big paranoid themselves.

  74. That “photoright” link about halfway down the discussion is also used in the railway enthusiast community. Harassment of railfans by over-zealous rent-a-cops, transit police, or railroad employees is a big topic on “Trainorders.com” and other railfan sites. Regarding fathers as field trip chaperons: I used to volunteer for this service back in the 1970’s when my daughters were in middle school and I worked nights. I was usually assigned to the back of the bus (where the rowdier kids usually gravitated to) and was expected to keep them from doing anything more disruptive than trying to get “big rig” drivers to sound their air horns.

  75. I’ve never understood people’s unease about pictures of their children myself… I hear a lot of people saying thing like ‘Hmm, I want to ask my sister to take the pictures of my kids off her facebook’ and that kind of thing.

    Why? What’s going to happen? What could happen that will cause harm to your child?

    If some twisted weirdo gets hold of them and maybe adapts them and gets some sick kick out of them… well, you’ll never know and neither will your child. It’s a distasteful thought, but it’s not a danger to your child.

    But no, let’s wreck all manner of natural behaviour because a tiny minority of people have warped ideas.

  76. @Marvin Merton It is good that you haven’t encountered this sort of thing in your area. That is good news. I can tell you that I have encountered the paranoia though. I don’t let it stop me, but it’s irritating–and sad.

    @Claudia Conway Right on, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  77. @Claudia My family uses Facebook and flickr as a way to keep in touch. We are spread across US, Canada, and occasionally parts of Europe and Asia. My 5 yo neice refers to her cousins that “live in the computer” Every once in a while a family member will get a new friend that freaks because of the pictures. We handle them.

    One of the reasons I crack up about video games isolating kids – is the kids in my family play/chat with their cousins around the world via X-box. Judguing from the pictures of them also camping, watersking, snowskiing, and general partying (HS – Uni). I don’t think the gaming is turning them into couch potatos.

  78. These anecdotes really have me shaking my head — we live in such a messed up world, it’s not funny. Messed up in the sense that so many innocuous things have become moments of potential danger, esp. with regard to children.

    I’ve received the photo consent form (I think I had gotten one when my daughter joined Girl Scouts last year). I have no problem whatsover with her being photographed. She’s a bit of a ham anyway, and was thrilled to have her pic appear in a recent edition of our daily paper (unidentified, but with a bunch of other girls/counselors from her Girl Scout camp).

    With regard to pics of other kids — I try not to include other kids unless they are intentionally part of a group I’m photographing. I remember years ago, when I took a photography class at school, that I was taking some pics (candid) of kids in a public playground. Granted, I didn’t ask for permission, but no one saw me and thought “OMG — a child molester!” either. (We’re talking back in the early 80s, probably before all that stranger danger stuff started taking root…)

    And I do post her pics to Facebook — although my mother was (as usual) giving me grief for potentially exposing my daughter to strangers/perverts. I’m not sure what the likelihood of my account being hacked would be, but for now, I’m not losing sleep over it.

  79. One funny/sad thing about the idea of taking pictures to make memories for our own children, and other kids just being in the background — or missing:

    I took plenty of pictures and videos of birthday parties, recitals, school plays, campouts, and the like, but when our kids look back at them, they aren’t that interested in the pictures of themselves, but those of their friends. “Oh, I remember so-and-so; he was so funny!” “There’s such-and-such, we always ate lunch together.” “Why didn’t you take more pictures of our friends, Mom?”

  80. @kherbert, mine too, Many of my friends and family live out of state (and out of the country). The only way we get to see each other (and our children) is via FB. I’m sure somewhere out there someone is trolling for info, but the ability to keep in touch far outweighs any remote possibility of this actually affecting me directly.

    @Claudia, exactly.

  81. [http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4136/4870778360_a845fde99a_b.jpg]

  82. Entire busloads of Japanese tourists have photographed my Blond & Blue eyed daughter during our trips to Hawaii.

    She was photographed as much as Old Faithful during a camping trip to Yellowstone we were so ill prepared for – we didn’t realize how cold it was during the summer months, and she was toddling about in a woolly coat, cowboy boots and shorts.

    Countless strangers have her baby photos tucked away in albumns all over the world.

    She was a cute kid.

    Yes. I’m bragging.

  83. When our public library first started posting photos on the web, the administration told us we could not use photos that included anyone under 18–even if names were not used, and we had signed releases from parents! As a result, our busy Children’s room looked sadly unpopulated on our website–and what teen wants to visit a teen space without any other teens?

    Thankfully, this policy is no longer in effect.

  84. “That’s why so often on TV you’ll see pictures of kids’ LEGS running around a playground, but not the rest of them.”

    Legs?! Oh no! But that’s perverted! Those little kids and their sexy legs – how terribly bad and wrong!!


    Nobody who isn’t a paedophile would naturally think such a thing, and anybody who is a paedophile will quite easily be able to get hold of pictures anyway. So, do nothing to protect children at all while simultaneously crapping from a great height on people who are not inclined that way, also, as a side-benefit, make everybody who doesn’t think that way suddenly think that way.

    What I mean by that is that people who would never ever think of children as anything other than children are now being forced to think of children as potential sexual objects. So when they take pictures of their little daughter Jessie splashing around in a back garden paddling pool, they wonder in the back of their minds whether this is wrong or not. They wouldn’t have even thought of it before, but now they think of their child as a sexual object, not because they have a problem with paedophilic impulses but because they have been forced to do so by society.

    Great job. *very sarcastic applause*

  85. I really think this has more to do with money, copyright and royalties than with fear of child predators. People understandably don’t want their kids’ image floating around out there if they don’t know what it will be used for, or if someone’s going to make money off of it, or use it to advertise or promote something that they wouldn’t endorse and don’t want their kids’ image promoting.

    To use an adult’s image in any way for commercial purposes, you have to get that person to sign a release, so yes, it only makes sense that to use a child’s, you have to get their parents to sign.

    I really don’t think that the paranoia is coming from parents about taking pictures of their own kids/neighbors/playmates, but about people they don’t know shooting images for unknown purposes. That’s something perfectly reasonable to be wary of.

  86. @chavisory

    I’m afraid I’ve read too many stories about people getting into trouble for innocent naked pictures or semi-clothed pictures of their own kids, to think it isn’t a problem. :o(

    It’s seriously horrifying.

  87. Erm, that was meant to be a sad face! Ooops.

    😦 <– Like that!

  88. http://www.salon.com/life/feature/2006/07/18/photos
    This is a long story, but worth reading. It’s heartbreaking.


    This third one? This is actually a story about people who hoarded other peoples’ photographs from the development lab they worked in. They hoarded them for sexual purposes and the pictures were of teenagers. many of them were innocent shots but a significant number depicted erotic posing or nudity.

    The punishment for this genuine crime? A three-year supervision order. Pathetic. Absolutely pathetic. Course, there are two different countries involved here, but I still think it is appalling that innocent parents are treated so terribly when actual criminals do not get punished enough. We have stories in the UK of parents getting in trouble for taking pictures of children – I just can’t find any at the moment.

  89. If you’re not already feeling sick enough, here, have some more.


    I’m not posting these comments to be irritating, just to demonstrate that unfortunately there most certainly IS paranoia surrounding parents taking pictures of their own children.

  90. Timely article. Just this morning I was agonizing over whether to send photos of girls at Girl Scout day camp to all the parents of the girls in my group, or just the parents of the girl in the picture. I opted for all, but am awaiting a scolding.

  91. @Larry Harrison – BRAVO. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    I just had a new grandson enter my world, 3 weeks ago.

    I kept him this weekend, and I was so tempted to take a picture of him as I bathed him in the kitchen sink. Children, babies are so cute when they are being bathed. He’s getting to where he’s just liking the feel of the water, and his expressions were priceless.

    I did snap some, I just made sure they were only head shots.

    The only thing I’m paranoid of is being accused of being a child pornographer. I’ve read to many true case histories of this type of thing happening.

    I HATE the atmosphere that has been created in this country of ours.

    They don’t/didn’t need bombs…we’ve been taken over by “terror” of almost everything.

    The world IS a dangerous place, and bad things happen to good people, and sadly, yes, even to children. But worrying about it 24 hours a day, and trying to prevent everything from happening, you are only preventing your children from having the childhood they deserve…and they AREN’T going to thank you for it when they’ve grown up enough to realize what you’ve done.

    Let common sense rule…THINK, and get your news from reputable places, not HLN’s prime time shows.

  92. Interesting. Is this actually illegal? Not everyone has got the memo.

    A month ago we were at a summer fair. Later, I found a blog someone had written about the event and in his photo stream, were high resolution photos of my kids having fun! Along with tons of other photos of all sorts of people. I was thrilled to find the photos, downloaded them, and later got prints. My only concern was that I was violating HIS copyright, but really, who cares, right?

  93. Thank you. Thank you so much for posting this. I have been talking long and loud to convince my family and friends that posting pictures of my family on my blog is not necessarily more dangerous than just being visible on the streets — where anybody can photograph us!

    I understand the reason for the paranoia but let us by all means sit down and figure out exactly what we are scared of and why and how scary the fear really is when stated in black and white.

  94. It’s a sad truth that we have all turned into paranoia, with the growing crimes involving children parents just can’t help it being overprotective.
    We had to admit simply seeing some strangers even with a good gesture approaching our kids could be hiding some ill intentions.

  95. Folks, if I had something to post, a link, anything to prove to you what I already know, I would do it. I’ve done it many times, and I couldn’t believe the responses I got back. It was as if the people looking at the information were not only blind, but deaf and dumb as well. They were reading information from our own Department of Justice, who was charged YEARS ago, by Congress to TRACK sex offenders and their recidivism (rate of re-offense which leads to return to prison). I will give you the link to the USDOJ, which has a search function at the top. Put “Sex Offender Recidivism” in it and it will take you to what you want to see. http://www.justice.gov/ You are going to be absolutely SHOCKED at the numbers, but when this, HOPEFULLY, leads you to continue your search for not only more, but more VALID information, you are going to be furious at the media.

    I’ve given out this information more times than I can count, so this time I’m going to leave it to you to look and find out for yourself.

    But there is one thing that people need to remember, your news programs, from CNN down to your local news, depend on ADVERTISING to remain on air. Advertisers are not interested in paying their money to programs who have little to no followers/fans. Between them and politicians who quickly found out that to add any kind of NEW sex offender law was a VERY easy road into office, and incumbents know that better than anyone. They LOVE it that the media is working with them in pandering this fear, and just as Adolph Hitler was able to do what he wanted in Germany using the SAME tactics, (read Meinkampf) (sp), our constitution is practically non-existent now.

    Go back about 20 years. Parents STILL had children missing, non-custodial parents taking them, according to the NCEMC today, and I’m certain these statistics would hold true back in the 80’s, MOST are children who wander off and are later found, point is, parents couldn’t PAY the media to put their child’s face on the tv screen or even in the paper. Today, news programs have people out LOOKING for this type of story, and they jump for joy when it actually DOES involve a child that’s been found dead.

    If one looks long and hard enough they will find whatever it is they are looking for.

    They have fixed it so we can’t get enough, if they can put out a promo with “Sexual Predator blah blah blah, story at 6:00 p.m.” everyone wants to tune in to that program. You tell me that’s not incentive enough to pander this fear.

    All I’m saying is, use the internet to learn the truth. Your children WILL thank you for that.

    Most of us have cheered this career politicians on as we have quietly watched our freedoms taken from us. What did we care? It only affects those disgusting sex offenders. The next surprise you may be in for is how little it takes to get yourself labeled one.

    Just remember this, once they set a precedent, and they HAVE, they can practice that precedent on anyone and everyone. Now that they have been able to tell ANY American Citizen where they can live, they can tell us all. All they have to do is see us as some kind of threat to someone.

  96. @Jackie. OK, I looked it up per your tease. http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=1136 is the results of the study on recidivism. There’s a 5.3% recidivism rate, and that is a rate 4 times higher abuse rate than the general public who hasn’t been in jail for abuse. 4 times higher, but even that only comes to 5.3% which means 94.7% don’t recidivate (is that even a word).

    So what does this tell us. Perhaps it’s not the end of the world to let them out.

    On the other hand, it seems possible to me that 95% of the people in prison for sex crimes were 18-30 year olds arrested for statutory rape. Perhaps there is a 100% recidivism rate among the 5% that are actual pedophiles.

  97. @Scott. You are getting it, yes you are. Now do some research on PEDOPHILES. Actual, bonafide, medically diagnosed PEDOPHILES. You will see that your number of 5% is pretty dead on. Those are the ones we should be focusing on, those are the ones, who, even though I believe they are suffering from some form of mental illness, should NOT be released until and unless the medical profession can come up with something that reduces their risk of re-offense to close to 0%.

    Now, take the number of people on the National Sex Offender Registry, 95% (approximately) are names of people we really don’t need to be THAT concerned about. How in the world are you supposed to find the names of the 5, and I’ll be generous, -10% that we NEED to be?

    I can speak for my state, Ohio, WHICH is the only state that is compliant with the Adam Walsh Act, and I can tell you that our registry is a MESS. Our Supreme Court recently ruled that the reclassification process via the AWA is unconstitutional, and the AG’s office is now putting the 17,000+ level 1’s who’d been upped to level 3’s (no change in conviction or crime details), back down to level 1’s. Level 1’s being those considered to be the least risk of re-offense. 17,000 had been upped to the MOST risk by the AWA. Same people, same crime details, same information that the judge who sentenced them used to label their risk factor. Not to mention the fact that our registry DOESN’T tell you what their crimes consisted of.

    Let me give you an example as to why that is important. We have two women on our registry, both for the same crime. Both charged with Sexual Battery. Crime details:

    Both women were Corrections Officers, both fell in love with inmates, and BOTH had CONSENSUAL sex with those inmates. All 4 people adults, no proof anywhere that the inmates were coerced. The women were charged with Sexual Battery because they were in positions of authority over the inmate. Now, was what they did right? No, it wasn’t, and they should have been fired from their jobs, etc. But charged with such a serious crime? You look at the registry and you see Sexual Battery, would you have thought it was a non-violent crime? No, you would have thought the worst, we all do. How does this help you? It doesn’t. Unless you are planning on committing a crime and going to prison, and you would feel safe knowing they were no longer working there.

    What people are charged with, the terminology OFTEN sounds way worse than what they actually did.

    Fear, fear, fear. That’s what this is all about.

  98. Well… with the specific example of prison guards having sex with inmates I have to disagree with you there. That’s rape. The inmate is not able to give consent because of the power structure. That the guard “loves” the inmate doesn’t matter. All rapists love their victims.

    However, depending on the statistics for prison guard rapes, I might be convinced that AFTER release from prison they are no longer a danger to society. But I do not agree with where you went in considering it not a crime at all in the first place. Same goes for teachers, pastors and psychiatrists having sex with those they are responsible for, but in the prison situation it’s worst of all since the victim truly has no options. They are captive and have no rights.

  99. @Scott. The judge would disagree with you. He labeled both, BOTH women as extremely low risk of re-offense. He wouldn’t have done that if he’d seen it as rape. You also don’t know who initiated the sexual contact. HAD it been by the women, I would intend to agree with you on your position of rape, but in both cases (I know the lawyer who handled the cases), they did not initiate, but they should have stopped it and not gone along. They paid dearly for their feelings for those men, they are still paying, and will be paying for a very long time.

    I have news for you. Rape has NOTHING WHATSOEVER TO DO WITH LOVE. So no, all rapists do NOT love their victims. Rape has nothing to do with love, and it has little to nothing to do with sex. It’s about power, power and control.

  100. I live in NYC and frankly, there are many times when I get frustrated by how many times I’ve ended up in someones tourist photos. As a child I was not all that happy with it either, although I did love when my class would end up in the news (sledding, for example).

    I have been working at a private school here. The classes often go out to play in the public park. Often, mostly tourists would walk by and take pictures of the children. It was the policy to go to these people and ask them nicely to stop taking pictures. One reason was that a lot of parents are very paranoid for seemingly few reasons. I actually saw one mother go up to a man with a camera, slap her hand on his lens and shove him with her other hand. Too far? Oh yes.

    Being in the area that I was though, there were considerations to take in terms of pictures of kids, one of which was protecting celebrity children. Instead of having to watch to make sure that Child A and B weren’t being photographed, it was just easier to make a blanket rule, if nothing else for the ease of teachers who should be watching the kids more than scanning for photographers’ lens angles.

    I think that a lot of parents go Way too far, and personally I don’t see the allure of having pictures of kids I don’t know, but there are extenuating circumstances in a lot of cases, be they custody issues, famous parents, or something else.

    If you are approached nicely and asked to not take pictures of kids, please don’t take it out on whoever did the asking. There may very well be a good answer, but you may not ever receive it.

  101. @KateS. I’m surprised this thread was still alive as it were.

    I think the policy of the school you were talking about was a wrong policy. The tourists were doing what came naturally, and as this article makes clear, it was a natural thing that was beautiful–that is, their love of what they saw in the kids & wanting to photograph that. That is the very thing we’re hoping to preserve, to not kill, or to even bring back.

    As for the “blanket” rule, that’s one of the main things I think we’re fighting against–a blanket rule stifling the fun of live for 99.5% of persons to placate the other 0.5%, if it’s even that much. It’s so easy to give in to doing that, because it’s easier, but I would argue this is an occasion where easier isn’t better, and it’s a type of “selling out” as it were.

    I will say I sort-of agree with the last part–if in no other way than if a parent has a problem, they should ask NICELY.

  102. Our school has a policy that parents need to sign permission slips if they will allow their children’s pictures taken. Ever met a parent and child hiding from an abusive spouse? There are legitimate (and frankly no one else’s business) reasons people don’t want their children’s pictures taken and perhaps published.

  103. @Paula. That’s an understandable & unfortunate situation. I just argue that it doesn’t supersede Freedom of the Press & the expectation of privacy in the public realm such as parks, etc. Someone like that need only ask nicely & there request is apt to be honored.

  104. Lenore – seems like this problem is world wide. Just this morning there was an article in a Sydney newspaper quoting two of Australia’s leading photographers claiming that their ability to make their art is under threat from authorities fearing pedophilia and terrorism from anyone taking pictures in a public place, particularly the beach. They’re fighting back, though, with a protest scheduled for the end of the month, protest blog and great t-shirts saying “I’m a photographer not a criminal”. Fight on!


  105. I think if the kid doesn’t want to take the picture then they shouldn’t have to take the picture

  106. Hi! I love this blog, and I’m glad you’ve discussed this topic.

    I’m trying to get good shots of parks and playgrounds all around the Sacramento region for kidsbusybook.com. I want the site not to be a mere data dump of place listings, but a place where you can get a taste of the environment of a park when you read the page. So I take lots of photos. I have to be fairly courageous about it, because often children are there when I go. Sometimes I prefer that children are not there so I don’t feel weird around their parents. But some park features just seem dead without showing a child using them, like a sprayground/water splash area.

    I have now taken photos at over 100 parks, and for the first time today I incited furious rage in one mother. She yelled at me as I was heading to my car. “Did you just take a photo of my son?” I handed her my card and told her what I was doing. She was not satisfied that I was simply getting photos of the park for the website. She fumed that “you just can’t take pictures of people’s kids without their permission.” I was pretty should that in fact I could. But I told her that I respect her opinion. I offered to delete the photo. She threatened something lame, like now that she has my card she’s going to leave a review about my website. I wondered where she planned to do that, but I just wanted her to go away, so I said something like OK. She finally went back with her little clutch of hens at the picnic table, not even confirming that I deleted the photo (which I did.)

  107. Specific to the laws here in Ottawa, Canada, I phoned the Ottawa Police Force today and I was informed there is no law on the books that prevents anyone from taking “candid photographs” of children not belonging to you in a park.

    The problem today is that most parents are reacting to what the hear, read and see in the media, i.e.: that there are a zillion pedophiles behind the lens of a camera.

    This simply isn’t the case. But what most parents would appreciate is if the photographer would ask if it would be okay to photograph their kid. It’s more or less common courtesy. However, there is no requirement for the photographer to ask the parent and that said, you can still legally photograph children in a park even if they are not your own (provided that it is not in the context of a sexual situation, then it will become child pornography.)

    An argument can be easily made that as amateur photographers (or professional) that some of the best photographic situations of human nature can be found at amusement ride exhibitions and public parks.

    Any person who argues about their child being photograph should be reminded that:

    1. By law it is not illegal to photograph children in a public park;
    2. Remind him or her that it’s no different than taking photographs at amusement ride exhibitions;
    3. Do remind them their children are being photographed every day when they enter into a store (and who knows what happens to the recorded film?)

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