Everyone is talking about the provocative Time Magazine cover showing a three year old breastfeeding, which may look especially startling because at first glance, the child looks much older than three. I winced, not because of attachment parenting or three year olds breastfeeding, but because the internet is forever, and now so is this photo. In a few years, his friends will see it, unkind classmates will see it, college girlfriends will see it, employers will see it…the list goes on. Twenty years go, the cover picture would have been in hard format, which means only people who visited his home or whom he chose to share the photo would have seen it. It may turn out that the boy is always proud of this stance taken by his mother and his participation in it, but the decision to make this a part of his life was made for him.
Kids go through a long phase – much longer than the teenage years – of extreme self consciousness and easily eroded self esteem. While an adult may shrug off an embarrassing photo or not even notice the perceived flaws in the picture, it can really hurt a developing child. We all know people – and we’ve all probably done this ourselves – where upon seeing a photo, asked that it be deleted immediately due to a half blinking eye, odd expression, or out of place hair. Photo editing software is popular for a reason beyond upping the fill light. We want to present ourselves the way we see ourselves, and that doesn’t always happen without editorial control. Parents used to have the threat that they’d save to show your teenage boyfriends or girlfriends the embarrassing photos of the time you wore a ridiculous outfit to rollerskate around the neighborhood or when older sisters applied makeup to their little brother, but now those photos are all available, anywhere, anytime, after only 0.23 seconds of work.
I don’t post pictures of other people’s children on the internet and I hate when others do it too. We now have so little control over our own images, largely out of disrespect from others. I should get to control the image of my children until they are old enough to weigh in themselves, and even then, I’ll still be watching because teenagers have been known to make myopic decisions with camera phones. Because I feel this way about my own children, I respect this right of other parents too. I won’t post pictures of your child to Facebook, my blog, or any other site, regardless of how cute, unless you tell me this is okay, and even then, I am unlikely to post anything recognizable. I recently posted an Instagram photo of my daughter at a school event that had friends in the background, hardly large enough to be seen, but possibly recognizable, yet before posting, I asked the other parents if it would be okay. Days after this event, another parent at the school dumped a significant number of pictures of the event on Facebook, as is his custom, said that if anyone wanted a specific picture removed, to contact him. I did, but the process should have worked in reverse. He should have asked permission before posting. We were on campus and a parent posting to Facebook isn’t covered by the school photo release. I will note that other parents have taken photos and put them on password protected sites, and I feel better about that, because there seems to be a reflection on discretion.
Time Magazine got the attention they wanted from this cover, and the mom did too with the attention brought to attachment parenting, but what about the boy? Is he merely a prop?
The internet doesn’t have an eraser. You can untag a photo on Facebook, but that doesn’t remove it. Before putting a photo of your child or another person’s child out there, think long term. Conservative editing now may save embarrassment and heartache later.