Putting your kids life online – a cautionary tale

I struggle with how much information about my kids I should reveal on my blog. It is one thing for me to make the conscious and informed choice to share me online, quite another for me to make that choice on behalf of my kids.

Part of what holds me back is a respect for their privacy. From the get go, I decided not to use their names on the blog, instead referring to my daughter as “The Girl” and my son as “The Boy”. There has been the occasional lapse where their first names have slipped, but for the most part, as the About Me says, names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Sometimes I feel that this is a restriction that limits how truly personal I can get with the stories I share on this blog. But for the most part, it is their life and I have to respect that their future selves may not feel the need to be quite as transparent as I.

And then I read Alec’s story and it snaps me into another reality. One that I sometimes forget about as I get more comfortable putting myself out there/here. Sometimes the online world is just an icky place filled with icky people.

Alec is a smart man. A university professor who studies educational technology and social networking. He lives his life online; open, transparent and social. But last week an incident occurred that shook him. Innocent photos of his 4 year old daughter were favorited by someone on Flickr. When Alec followed the links back to see who this person was, what he found was disturbing.

What I saw was three pages of favorited photos of preteen girls, most shots in bathing suits or with little clothing. Had I viewed any of these photos individually, isolated from the others, I am sure that this same feeling of disgust would not have come over me. But these photos, viewed together, favorited by some anonymous user, told a very different story. These photos of these girls were without a doubt being sexualized, and my four-year-old daughter was amongst these images.

Alec’s story has got me thinking hard about what responsibilities we, as parents, have in protecting our children’s identity online.

A knee jerk reaction would be to stop posting anything about my kids. But that feels too extreme. Like Alec, I feel the vast majority of people are good and decent. I dislike living my life in fear and feel that our kids are in far more danger from the people they know than complete strangers on the internet. And besides, if you’re a Dad going through stuff like I am, it’s nice to be able to connect and share in ways our fathers couldn’t.

On the other hand,  I am a Dad who wants to protect my kids. I don’t want to be a Pollyanna and ignore the realities that there are nasty people out there. So I am still juggling to find that happy balance between sharing and protecting.

While I was writing this post, I was doing some research on protecting your kids online and came across Blogging smart: How to protect yourself and your family online from Seattle Mom Blogs – a good set of guidelines for parent bloggers. But it was the last guideline that stuck with me:

Don’t be scared… be smart. When I started blogging, and then started thinking about safety, the horror stories nearly scared me off blogging altogether. That’s certainly not my intent here. Blogging has a lot to offer. Just be sure that you’re informed about the risks so that you can make good decisions that you feel comfortable with. And then, blog away!

What about you? How much personal information do you share about your kids online and what are your internal guidelines for what you post about them? I’d love to hear your thoughts. In the meantime, I need to head over to Facebook and check my privacy settings.

One response to “Putting your kids life online – a cautionary tale

  1. Pingback: Think twice about putting your kids’ photos on Flickr « Parenting in Vancouver