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Don’t Post Pictures of My Kids on Facebook

Carolyn Hax was asked this week a question by set of expectant parents who wish to keep their child’s picture off the Internet.  They asked if they were crazy for wanting to ask people not to post their child’s picture on Facebook, and Carolyn answered that while they’re not crazy, they’re completely unrealistic.  She asks:

How likely is it that someone bad will zero in on your child’s image from among the random millions of images on Facebook alone, fix upon it and do harm? And, by comparison, how likely is it that you’ll harm your family relationships by trying to assert so much control over relatives — specifically over their relationship with your child?

She doesn’t tell the questioner not to pursue this path of asking people not to post their child’s picture online, but essentially boils it down to “choose the battles that withstand an effort-benefit analysis” and she gives many reasons why asking this of others doesn’t bring about big benefits for the big effort.

And I say bullshit.

Everyone has a right to set their boundaries.  Because that’s what we’re talking about here: boundaries.  And essentially, what Carolyn Hax is telling this questioner who obviously feels strongly about keeping their child’s image offline is that their boundaries are silly and annoying to others.  That just because other people are comfortable, they should be comfortable too.  She scoffs and tells them nothing will happen except that they’ll damage their relationship with their family members.  And frankly, if your family members are that offended by this request, I have to question what sort of relationship you have with your family members?  I mean, who puts a social media site and their pleasure on it before other human beings?  I don’t mean that they can’t post pictures of themselves, but what sort of human being says, “I care more about posting pictures of your child than I do about your feelings!”  Seriously, those are the people we should swallow our feelings to have a relationship with?

I don’t post pictures of my kids online not because I think they’ll end up on pedophilia sites.  I don’t post pictures online because I didn’t think it was my place to make this decision for another person.  So I erred on the side of caution until I could ask them how they felt about it.  And good thing I did because my daughter really really doesn’t like people looking at her and doesn’t want her picture posted.  I have to respect that.  It’s her boundary.  And it’s my job as her parent to help her convey her boundaries to others; not to dismiss them or knock them down.

Different people have different boundaries, and I don’t expect people to know mine or the twins until we tell them*.  When someone takes a picture, I ask them if they’re planning to post it online because we don’t post pictures of the twins online.  I’m sure people may not understand it, but they still respect it.  We’ve only encountered one person who gave us shit about it.  Which let me know quite clearly that person wasn’t worth being close to because they didn’t care about my boundaries.  Boundaries are what help us harmoniously interact with other human beings, so, yeah, they’re pretty important to me.

I do think that — in general — people who have a firm understanding of trespassing in the face-to-face world forget about the concept of boundaries when they get to the online world.  For instance, we all know to knock before entering a house, even if the person is expecting us and we know that their door is likely unlocked.  It’s polite; it shows a respect for the other person’s space.  And yet we don’t show that same courtesy when it comes to Facebook.  People post pictures of other people without asking.  Without giving that little knock on the door in the form of asking the person after you snap their picture, “hey, do you mind if I post this on Facebook?”  Just a common, polite question.  One you only need to ask once to determine how that person feels about posting their image.

And perhaps that is the advice Carolyn Hax should have given instead of calling it “an information embargo that’s bound to fail?”  It’s only bound to fail because we’re not teaching people to be as respectful online as they are in the face-to-face world.  That not all of us want to have someone tag us, or check in with Foursquare when they’re with us, or post about our outings on Facebook, or throw up our image on Instagram.  Some of us don’t want to participate with that side of social media not because we think something terrible will happen if our picture is online, but because we simply don’t enjoy it or it makes us uncomfortable.  There are some people who enjoy being out there — front and center — and there are those of us who are more comfortable skirting the walls of life.  And I’m a wall skirter when it comes to posting images online.

So… that’s my advice.  Be polite.  You know your feelings, and you probably can guess your kid’s feelings or your partner’s feelings.  But for everyone else; the guests at your party or the person you met at that conference or your friend who joined you for a slice of pizza: ask.

* Of course, there have been plenty of times when pictures have been posted accidentally.  Then we say something, and they’re removed and life goes on.  There have also probably been plenty of times that a picture has gone up that we don’t know about at all.  And in those cases, ignorance is bliss.  But if someone knows me and knows my feelings about it and disregards my feelings, I think that’s problematic.


1 Battynurse { 06.16.13 at 8:40 am }

Great point.

2 Alex Block { 06.16.13 at 9:35 am }

This debate raises all kinds of interesting ethical questions, I think. To what extent do we teach our children to privilege their own boundaries, needs, desires, etc., and to what extent do we teach them to privilege other people’s boundaries, needs, desires? One position would be that your own boundaries, needs, and desires always trump other people’s, except when pursuing those goals would cause active harm to others. An opposing position might emphasize other people’s needs much more significantly, even to the extent of sacrificing one’s own. It seems to me that both of these positions are damaging if carried to their extreme. The former leads to profound selfishness, the latter to being a doormat. Obviously, gender inflects these choices!

Adding the parenting relationship to the equation complicates everything. When we make parenting decisions primarily because those decisions make things easier for us (I just don’t want to “harm [my] family relationships by trying to assert so much control over relatives”), are we helping our children see that their needs sometimes have to bend to others’, including their parents’, or are we making them believe their own desires are worthless, which suggests that *they* are worthless?

It all seems very complicated. I imagine most good parents try to find their own happy medium between these two poles, seeking to raise kids who value themselves but not so much that they aren’t willing to make sacrifices for others. But exactly how you do that is challenging.

3 Frozen OJ { 06.16.13 at 9:40 am }

I don’t have any problem with people saying they don’t want me to post pictures of them/their kids online except when it comes to group shots. If we’re having a party, I’m snapping pictures, and you/your kid is in the background, I think I should be able to post them. Or if both our kids are in a play/dance recital/whatever I should be able to share those pictures even if your kid ends up in one. But for pictures where the focus is of the person not wanting them posted, I definitely agree you should respect their wishes. And for the ones the person just happens to be in the background of, if they don’t want to be tagged you shouldn’t tag them.

4 Siochana { 06.16.13 at 10:54 am }

I agree with Melissa that it is respectful to not post pictures of a child (at least not for all and sundry to see) until the child is old enough to understand what it means to post a picture and give consent or limited consent. On the other hand I know a lot of people might consider that an extreme position. 🙂 When we have kids I envision some limited posting to a select group of people (e.g. one or two photos to FB, maybe a password-protected site for family and friends) but definitely not an online free-for-all. Another important point is this: kids are growing up in an age of social media and “sharing,” and they need their parents to teach them about boundaries by example. Perhaps they will probably be more likely to set their own boundaries later on, and think carefully about their own photo-sharing, if parents have treated this as an important concern early on and asked for their thoughts and permission.

5 Pepper { 06.16.13 at 12:55 pm }

I have a similar policy and I have explained it politely several times. Most people respond positively and respect my wishes. I have had to “remind” one particular relative several times to stop it and have now started pointedly and loudly intervening when she tries to take my daughter’s pic in an effort to drive home my point. It is annoying but I completely agree that there is no reason to allow another person to violate my boundaries, whether they agree or not.

6 Cherish { 06.16.13 at 1:18 pm }

I have a good friend with a psycho ex-gf. He doesn’t want her knowing what his kids look like, so he’s asked that no one post any pictures of him and his kids together. He’s fine with pics of just the kids, group shots, etc. Just nothing that makes it obvious that these children belong to him. I think he has a legitimate right to request that and I honor that request when considering what photos to post on FB. Everyone deserves boundaries.

7 Gail { 06.16.13 at 2:59 pm }

I respect the wishes of people who don’t want themselves or their children online in photos, but it gets difficult when there are photos of a party and the people are in the background. I often wonder if I can still post the photo, but it’s gotten more and more difficult the more that I interact with these people. I love to take photos and am a scrapbooker. Most of the photos that I take never make it to an online site or a scrapbook, but a lot of them do. At the end of the day, if the subject of the photo is one of the people who doesn’t want to be online, I won’t post it, but if they are in the background and I don’t tag them or acknowledge that they are in the photo, then I go ahead and post it.
On the other hand, a family member requested that no photos of their children be placed online, yet when their child was just 2 days old, there were photos all over the place online. Then, the child developed a health issue and they again wanted to lock down the photos online, but they started posting again. While I understand that they are allowed to change their minds, it has been very confusing to do the on again, off again posting rules.

8 AP2B { 06.16.13 at 3:41 pm }

I agree – if someone has a personal boundary that is important to them then it’s fine to put your foot down and make sure it is known. Unfortunately I think some people mistake asserting your own personal boundary with affecting other people’s, but most of the time this simply is not the case. Telling someone not to post a pic of you or your kids is not affecting their “personal boundary” – posting pics isn’t a boundary.

My step-brother and his wife do not want their daughter’s picture on FB. They are not on FB and because she was adopted (open adoption), I’m sure they have their own reasons. I find this perfectly acceptable. If I take pictures at a family event, then I simply don’t post the pictures with my niece in them. I asked if I could put them in a privacy protected CVS photo account for family to print off, and they were fine with this request. So then I just send family the link to that. Easy-peasy.

While both my husband and I have private FB accounts and posted many of our wedding pictures there – my husband was extremely adamant about our photographer not posting them to any online site. We had it in our contract (and unfortunately I had to remind the photographer of this.) My husband is from India and he felt these very special moments should not be used by photographers for promotion or for general public viewing. Only friends and family. Likewise I am finding it problematic finding a newborn baby photographer that will respect this wish.

9 Jendeis { 06.16.13 at 4:00 pm }

Thank you I felt exactly the same way.

10 Queenie { 06.16.13 at 9:29 pm }

I don’t post my kids pics online. I’ve had to ask people to take them down before, and it can be awkward. The reality is that you really don’t know what other people are going through, or what their situation is. You don’t know if they have an abusive ex, or a former partner may try to kidnap their kids, or a stalker who is watching
friends pages for information they can use. And if you think
Facebook is secure, even if you use the most private settings, toy are living in a

11 Queenie { 06.16.13 at 9:36 pm }

Oops…dreamworld. Facebook is easily hacked. I say ask of this because I think you are oh so right, Mel. We are way too careless with each other online, without regard to what we may be exposing our friends to. The unfortunate thing is that like Hax, most people don’t consider posting online as risky behavior, until they end up with front write seats to a tragedy.

12 Queenie { 06.16.13 at 9:37 pm }

Smart phone is slowly killing me…front ROW seats.

13 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 06.16.13 at 9:45 pm }

“This debate raises all kinds of interesting ethical questions, I think. To what extent do we teach our children to privilege their own boundaries, needs, desires, etc., and to what extent do we teach them to privilege other people’s boundaries, needs, desires?”

Alexicographer, as always.

I was going to add that there is a large cultural component to this. Back home people would be horrified if a complete stranger started photographing their child without asking (or even making their actions explicitly known) but here asking people not to photograph your children is a bit like refusing to shake hands upon meeting. You could, but people will be seriously put off. It’s not just about the photo – it’s taken as a signal that you are completely unwilling to interact with them in any way (because taking pics like this is seen as so very normal and acceptable that only a shut-in would be against it). It happens with adults, too, but especially kids.

We’ve had to negotiate this one plenty of times because Master very much hates having his photo taken. It’s quite a delicate negotiation and we feel there has to be a willingness on both sides to work together – which is why a lot of people around here have pictures of Master with his hat covering his face. For some reason, this seems to be okay.

I’m still not sure why people want photos of strangers. I am in a lot of random holiday albums and I can’t imagine what I add to them. It’s not like any of these reflect me as a local.

A lot of why your method works is probably because you have more of a relationship with the people you’re talking about. It’s harder for people to ask for a takedown from a relative they see only once a year at the annual family thing and their only other interaction is a take-down request. Pre-emptively explaining that you don’t put the kids’ photos on facebook sounds like a good method there, but I can see it getting uncomfortable if the horse has already bolted. Of course, if you only see them once a year you might not value your relationship very highly anyway, but the trouble with these things is it doesn’t always stay between the two of you – sometimes the whole family has to get involved and old alliances come out of the woodwork and different people take different stances for reasons completely unrelated to the issue at hand… your family doesn’t do that? Huh. We just had to sell a house which had been in our extended family for generations because of an issue which started between two members over some completely unrelated thing.

Anyway. I don’t think you’re doing the wrong thing, but I think you are in a position where it has worked out very well within the culture of your friend and family circles. Other people are going to find it much more difficult, and there is a point at which you have to decide if it’s worth having the argument with, say, the whole nation in which you live (save for a relatively small subsection of expats who happen to share similar views), or if you would be better off teaching your kids that sometimes we bend our boundaries a little for the sake of others. I wish Ms Hax had been slightly more supportive of giving it a go, but I think she also makes a good point that you have to analyse the work/payoff according to your own circle.

14 a { 06.16.13 at 11:21 pm }

I don’t worry too much about the online security aspect – but then, I have to offset my husband, Mr. Paranoia. However, my very opinionated daughter tells me which pictures I am allowed to post. And I tell her which pictures I am willing to post.

I have had people tell me to take photos down, which I don’t mind at all. (OK, it happened once.) My sisters put up unflattering pictures of each other from long ago all the time, and ignore each others’ takedown requests. 🙂

15 St. Elsewhere { 06.17.13 at 1:26 am }

I have been thinking of this.

Can’t explain in detail, because I would be exquisitely lengthy about this, but I do not like the fact that I cannot undo the sharing of my girl’s pics.

I do not like people tagging me on FB, and have ensured via the settings that they cannot tag and make it visible till I permit it. Since kid’s pics are already floating, all I have done is to curb the number of legitimate access to them.

I fully agree with your take on what advice Hax should have given. Have you told her about your opinion?

16 Tiara { 06.17.13 at 7:49 am }

I would never imagine to post a picture of anyone else on my FB without asking them 1st, child or adult…but people also need to respect that even tho I choose to post photos of MY child on FB, this does not give them carte blanche to post photos of MY child…when I post photos, I consider how she’ll feel…I’m careful not to appear to make fun of her or post humiliating phots…I know that as she gets older she will likely disagree with some of my choices & we can deal with that then…but I resent when others don’t resept our boundaries.

Regarding those who mention group shots or those at parties…I am careful with those as well. I crop photos to include just us or blur faces in the background…it’s easy enough to do.

17 Audrey { 06.17.13 at 8:21 am }

Oh man, this is an issue I’ve had with my mother. now, I post pictures of my kids on my blog, but she doesn’t know about my blog. And I don’t advertise our last name there. On Facebook, Flickr, etc I keep my photos on lockdown so that only people I know see them. My mother, who has only been on FB for about a year now, likes to download my photos and upload them to HER FB account, sharing them with Friends of Friends and tons of people I do not know. I have asked her not to do this as politely as i can several times. It has gotten to the point where I have to hide them from her too now because she doesn’t listen to me. Then, the morning after I had this last baby, she sent me a nasty email that wasn’t entirely about this issue but included how I was “keeping her from enjoying her grandkids” or some bs like that. Oi.

18 Valery Valentina { 06.17.13 at 9:13 am }

I’m not on FB. And on here I have read nothing but reasons to keep it that way. (And I suppose for any possible good bits; I don’t know what I’m missing, so I don’t feel I’m missing anything)

19 Stimey { 06.17.13 at 12:06 pm }

I obviously don’t have problems posting photos of my children online. That said, I *never* post pictures of other children anywhere unless I have an okay from a parent. I don’t even post photos of other adults online unless I know it is okay with them. There are lots of reasons why people wouldn’t want their images posted. It seems presumptuous to assume that I would know them all.

20 Christine { 06.17.13 at 1:30 pm }

I have this problem with my dad. Long before the Internet he scanned every picture he could, and stored them on disks. I often wonder who might build a fake life from images of me.

21 Amy { 06.17.13 at 3:15 pm }

so much so that when we visited (this is my sister in law) and spent time with my nephew for the first time, I was not allowed to take a picture of all the cousins to take home to their grandparents.
I only need to be told once, politely, to not post a photo on facebook. And she went well beyond that. She crossed over polite and went right on over to inappropriate.
She went so far to take a picture of my boys and her son (without MY permission, thank you very much) and send it to me and ask me (and all the aunts and uncles she CCd) not to post it on the internet.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

22 Audrey W { 06.18.13 at 7:10 am }

I’m in charge of the social media postings for our company and I have to take the pictures, too. I always ask them if it’s OK if their photos will be posted on this and this and this site? Sometimes people are surprised that I asked because they say that they have never been asked for permission before. And I believe this is the right way to do it.

23 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 06.18.13 at 9:02 am }

Oh, and then this became topical today because I was going over the facebook page with Master (see, I do agree with much of what you said) and he’s decided he’s doesn’t like cute baby photos of him on facebook any more. Because he’s not cute, he says gruffly. It doesn’t fit the image he’s trying to project. Now I have to work out how to take the cute ones down…

24 It Is What It Is { 06.18.13 at 12:44 pm }

Respecting the wishes of others. Hmm, in a civilized society, even one with the modern conveniences of camera phones and instant publishing, should that really be so hard? Just because we can (post pictures of others against or without their expressed approval), doesn’t mean we should.

Heck, I don’t even tag friends I’m working out with or out to dinner with. I don’t even ask, I just don’t do it. Too many pitfalls (they’re supposed to be at work, or somewhere else, or not out at all…).

25 Jessica J. { 06.18.13 at 7:29 pm }

I really appreciate the point you’re making especially, “…what sort of human being says, ‘I care more about posting pictures of your child than I do about your feelings!’ ” Well said! Also, I love the facebook feature in which I am sent a notification asking me to approve being tagged by someone else. It has changed my facebook experience for the better. 🙂

26 Lil Miss { 08.18.13 at 1:17 pm }

There will always be someone who will disagree with the beliefs of others, especially if those beliefs aren’t their beliefs. At the end of the day it is the parents right to choose whether they are allowing photos of THEIR children to go online, even if they post photos themselves and don’t want others to, it is of THEIR children so therefore THEIR right, and THEY don’t need to justify their reasons when it comes to their own kids (whether its them not wanting certain people to know what their kids look like, for the fear of being seen by a paedophile, or just because). Anyone who goes against your wishes doesn’t care about your feelings/opinions/beliefs, and obviously doesn’t respect you if they can’t respect your wishes. I don’t have kids yet and although I can’t guarantee I wouldn’t post any myself, I know for certain I don’t want others to. Firstly, with FB for example, you post a photo of someone’s child to Facebook (not your child, not your place), people on your friends list will be able to see that photo, some of those friends are not friends with that child’s parents. Therefore you allow strangers to see photos of kids that aren’t yours to allow to be seen. Would you be happy for random strangers to see and comment on photos of your kids when they don’t even know your kids or you. I have photos of my godson from his christening in which his mum wanted me to post online, I refused as because he is not my son, it is not my place to post photos of him. So instead I went to her house with the photos, uploaded them onto her computer, and left it for her to post from her own account. But that’s just me.

At the same time, we live in a day and age where some people post every photo they take online, share every thought and announcement, things they’ve bought, places their going etc, all online. If people are having parties or gatherings, or parties for their own kids, and your kids are there chances are your kids will be in some of those photos. I can’t comment on photos that get posted where other peoples kids are one of the main subjects, but I think that it’s good manners that where other peoples kids are the main/only people in the photos then yes if the parents don’t want them online you should respect their wishes. As for where they are in the background I don’t think there’s anything wrong with posting them online, but I do think that it’s between the poster and the parents of that child to sort between themselves whether the photo is removed.

The comments about the wedding photographs, I agree that a wedding day is an intimate affair and should not be posted for strangers to see, however the photographer needs to be able to show what he/she is capable of and has a business to run. You can always approve what photos you would allow beforehand and can specify what type of photos you don’t want to be available for the public to see. You wouldn’t hire someone to do a job without being confident that they are up to meeting your standards, and more than likely with professional photographers you’re going to want to see what they can do before you pay them to photograph such events.

People will either be understanding of requests not to post photos of someone else’s child online and respect the parents wishes or they wont. But where the kids are in the background or one of many in a photo I think that’s something and depending on the photo, might just be a case of some kind of compromise between the poster and the child’s parents

27 ProtectiveMom { 08.09.15 at 11:00 pm }

If it isn’t your child, don’t post photos without parental permission. If the parents have gone out of their way to ask you not to, don’t keep asking them if “this time” is okay. It’s not. If the parents post, that is their choice. It is not, however, a green light for you to do so. If you choose to bypass the parents’ request, don’t be surprised when they unfriend you.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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