A brouhaha broke out on Instagram recently over a picture of a 3-year-old eating ice cream while taking a bath. The issue was not about eating ice cream in the bath tub — truthfully I think the concept is brilliant — but instead, everyone freaked out about the blogger publicly posting a full frontal nude photo of her child for the viewing pleasure of her 25,000-plus followers.
Some commenters thought the picture should be removed because the image could fall into the hands of a pedophile: “Please take this picture down! Do you really know who can look/copy/lift the image and do whatever sick and twisted thing with it?” (The popular mom blogger who posted the image has since removed it.)
Others defended the photo on the grounds of cuteness: “It’s just an innocent child in a bath tub. I have many pics like this!” Those defending the picture accused the naysayers of trying to sexualize a picture that was obviously innocent.
Plenty of other parents have crossed the line of naked-child overshare. Writer Blair Koenig, author of the STFU Parents blog, recently devoted a post called "Questionable Parenting: Nakedness Edition" to unfortunate examples of child crotch and baby booty shots shared on Facebook.
"Some parents think it’s awesome, hilarious, or just plain adorable to flash the world with their kid’s junk, but I tend to disagree," Koenig writes.
When does a child’s right to privacy trump a parent’s desire to share?
As I read through the comments, I was immediately thrown back to an incident from my own childhood. I was 11 years old, rummaging through my mom’s collection of family pictures. I’d study each picture marveling at how little I once was, looking at the clothes I wore, and recognizing toys that still littered my bedroom. It was fun way to pass a rainy afternoon, that is, until I stumbled across a few photos that caused me to flip my pre-adolescent lid.
My tween self didn’t like the idea that my parents had taken — and saved — naked baby pictures of me.
My immediate reaction was to hide every last one of the photos. As innocent as the pictures were, in my pre-pubescent mind, no one — not even my parents — had a right to possess pictures of me with no clothes on. My body was mine and at that point in my life, I wanted to keep my body private.
Extreme reaction? Maybe.
Did I have some body issues I needed to work through at that point in my life? Obviously — most tweens struggle while navigating the entry into puberty.
When I confronted my mom she gently explained the offending pictures were from the day I was born and they were special. My mom is a smart lady and sensed that my reaction was probably less about shame and more about control over my personhood. She told me I could keep the pictures, as long as I promised not to destroy them. It was a solution that reassured me. My body was mine and she respected my privacy.
When I saw the controversial photo on Instagram, I couldn’t help but imagine my horror if I’d discovered that my mom had shared those pictures with strangers. Of course, there was no Internet in the ‘70’s, but I guess she could have posted them on the bulletin board at our grocery store, along with copies for anyone to take. Clearly, that would have been frowned upon, but how is posting a private picture of your child via social media any different?
A child is an autonomous being whose personhood should be respected.
Dr. Robi Ludwig, psychotherapist, author and TODAY contributor, agrees. “There are two reasons for parents to carefully consider which pictures, if any, to share through social media. First, once an image has been uploaded, parents have no way to truly control who can see, download or share it. It’s permanent," she told TODAY Moms. "More importantly, parents need to think about how a child would feel now and in the future about an image of themselves being made public. Babies and toddlers grow up. That cute bath tub picture may not be so adorable when someone takes it out of context and uses it in an inappropriate manner.”
To take it a step further, it’s my responsibility as a parent to set a precedent regarding what should and shouldn’t be publicly shared. How can I tell my children not to take and distribute private pictures if I’ve already plastered their bare naked selves all over the Internet? I realize that I’m a “put it all out there” kind of person, but I’m also keenly aware that my children are unique individuals. It’s my job, as their mom, to not only respect my children’s privacy during their most vulnerable years, but to protect it as well.
I love posting pictures on my Facebook feed and blog. But this recent incident on Instagram has caused me to think long and hard before I post an image of my child. I’ve drawn a line in the sand. If I wouldn’t stand on a street corner and proudly distribute the picture to every stranger that walks by, than it isn’t appropriate for social media.
I have children to answer to and young lives to respect. It’s my job — first and foremost as their mother.