Saturday, August 10, 2013

Naked baby pictures on facebook: to post or not to post

My friend and I on were sitting crossed legged on her living room floor, putting away toys in wicker baskets.  The babies were finally sleeping and the big boys were off with their dads.  Our children are identical in age, and I look to this particular friend as something of a parenting role model.  She’s firm but kind in her discipline and intentional in all that she does.  Her meals always include a vegetable.  So, I felt twinge of excitement when she asked my opinion about a parenting matter.

“Kim, what do you think of this:  A friend of mine posted picture of her kids in the bath together on facebook. The girl, who’s about 1 year old, was standing naked, and you could see everything.”

Even though I kind of knew where she was going with this, I found myself blurting out: “I’ve totally done that before!!” at the exact same moment that she said “I think that’s just really inappropriate.”  So, it was more of: “I think…totally done… very inappropriate… that before,”  our contrasting opinions hanging awkwardly over the resulting silence.

My friend, being about the sweetest person I know, fell all over herself trying to undo the accidental insult, but it was clear we were of two minds on this.  And I wondered suddenly if I was wrong.  Possibly irresponsible even.

The picture I posted, which immediately sprang to mind, was of my son, not yet two, standing in a bucket bath.  We had just moved to rural Kenya and I was trying to be good about posting all that was new about our lives there.  This is Facebook at its best: keeping grandparent’s oohing and ahhing over adorableness thousands of miles away; keeping friends and family feeling connected even when you’re  worlds apart. 

The picture was of my son holding his toy truck in the bath, and the caption was “Caleb cleans his truck while I clean him.”  Maybe it was na├»ve or even a bit oblivious, but I couldn’t see past the red cheeks, the sweet way he clung to his toy, and the purity of his nakedness.  His private parts did not register on my registry.

The problem is that I want to live in that world in which naked babies are innocence personified. But I’m told that’s no longer where we live when we display our lives online. Those images reach throughout the world to seedy corners we’d never visit and they endure throughout time, making ephemeral embarrassments permanent. It’s our jobs to protect our children from these new and expanded risks.

But here’s my defense: There is such a glut of content, with Facebook’s billion (with a ‘b’) users posting everything from family reunions to what they had for dinner, that the odds of some creep actually finding my photo are slim to none.  There might just be an exaggerated sense of danger here. And even if some sicko finds this photo and looks at it with predacious eyes, my child is still technically protected, untouched. It’s a horrible thought, but no actual harm comes to my son.  I suppose the shot could be embarrassing to my son in 10 years’ time, and that argument holds the most sway for me. 

But taking a small and unscientific poll of my American friends it appears my cavalier attitude is in the minority, with most telling me they’d never post something like that on Facebook with its dubious privacy settings and ownership of content.  

Though other people have told me not unreasonably, “Kim, it all depends on your comfort level.”  Here’s my comfort level:  I don’t want to live my life reacting fearfully to miniscule risks.  I want to live it sharing the beauty I see with people I love.  And when I share an innocent photo on the one platform that friends and family can most easily access, I don’t want to immediately think about pedophiles and predators. I want to keep thinking about innocence personified. 

Still, I can almost see some of you shaking your heads at my Pollyannaish world view.  And in this case, because there’s nothing  gained by keeping the photo up and possibly future embarrassment for one of the greatest loves of my life, I’m taking the photo down.  But down with that sweet photo comes one of the remaining bits of my own innocence.

How fearful are you of the wrong people getting ahold of images of your children?  How much does this fear guide what you do?  


  1. I didn't offer an opinion when you asked before about this matter because my parenting of small children was in the "olden times" - before screens as small as the palm of your hand could broadcast worldwide - heck, when I still had to take my undeveloped film to the store and wait a week to see any images at all, naked or not.
    But, once again, you have brought to the table a thoughtful and thought-provoking perspective to what it is like to mother with gentleness and fierceness, with anxiety and fearlessness in a world overloaded with too many choices, too much evil, yes, but also too much joy not to revel in every single day with your sweet little ones.
    I send you, as always, much love.

    1. Heidi, how did you some up the conflict so damn perfectly!?!? " to mother with gentleness and fierceness, with anxiety and fearlessness in a world overloaded with too many choices, too much evil, yes, but also too much joy not to revel in every single day with your sweet little ones." Could NOT have said it better!

  2. I wouldn't say I'm afraid, nor would I say I'm driven by fear - but I know facebook is essentially public and also know there is a far higher percentage of creepers in the world than I care to daily consider.

    There are dozens of things in my day, every day, that are beautiful, a cause for joy, and a reminder the world is brimming with goodness. But many of them are too precious to share publicly - and they include naked pictures of my children, things my husband says to me, and realizations I have about life, others, or myself.

    While I applaud, and try to model, very transparent living and parenting , I also recognize that by sharing things about my children in a public forum, I am potentially impacting their own identity. While I can choose how I craft my own image on facebook, my children can't - I do it for them. The things I write about them, and the pictures I share, will be what some use as a platform for developing their thoughts on who my children are.

    It brings joy to me to know I'm protecting my children - just like I won't let my little girl wear skirts without shorts underneath until she learns to sit carefully, I won't put anything out in social media that leaves a door open for the wrong people to misuse the beauty I've been given.

    I say don't post. Email it to the people you know will see all the same things you do in those beautiful naked pictures. You aren't living in submission to the evil in the world - you're thriving in full acknowledgment of it's presence...and that's far more powerful than living as if it doesn't exist.

    1. sarah, you are definitely in the majority here! I think most moms lean towards the side of protecting their kids in these kinds of situations and - yes - there are so many other non-public outlets. Anyway, that's the argument that ultimately held sway for me and I've removed the picture. But I hated having to do it. I think especially since I'm an ocean away from so many people I love and since facebook is the easiest for for me to share pics of my kids, I'm just sad about it. Anyway, I guess it's partly that I want to have blinders on about all the creepy risky things out there when I am staring with love-struck eyes at pictures of my beautiful babies.

    2. Email is no more secure than privacy settings on Facebook. In fact, FB, with privacy settings on, is more secure than email, which is unencrypted. Unfortunately, this small piece of advice about emailing blew the rest of the poster's arguments out of the water for me, not that I was swayed by them in the first place. (Would you put extra underwear on your boys under the type of shorts that have mesh support, like swimsuits, to protect prying eyes from seeing too much? If your daughter is wearing underpants, why make her wear shorts under her skirts? Have you any idea how uncomfortable that must be? Three elastic waistbands, three layers of fabric? May as well clamp on the chastity belt while you're at it.)

      I removed the naked pics of my baby from FB, but only because FB has and uses photo-recognition software and temporarily bans users for posting content they deem inappropriate. I got caught up in a world of paranoia where the same software would be used to prosecute parents as trafficking in child porn, but that was obviously not something I had to worry about in the short term. I have yet to hear of any such case.

      What I hate about advice about whether or not to post naked baby pics is simply that it IS unsolicited parenting advice, and I pretty much want to flick anyone who offers such a thing in the nose, these days. Kim, YOU weren't asking for advice from this friend who offered her opinion. This wasn't your issue, yet you let it shape your behavior and it made you sad. That's not right. If you want to share your pics or voice your opinions on your own blog, FB page, or life, you have every right. Parenting isn't a contest and people who offer advice or scare you into doing things that go against your gut have no place in your head.

      Stand tall and post the pee-pees! ;)

  3. I put myself extremely "out there" on the internet, and my children are part of that. I'm sure I have posted bathtub pictures of them, and I regularly post swimming pool pictures and other things. I do this as a way to share my life with others. I live in Morocco and the majority of my family and friends don't, so this way I include them. I never post pictures that I wouldn't share with friends or co-workers in person. I wonder sometimes about how much I share, but I also feel that as long as I go into it knowing that there are the possibility of millions of eyes on what I post, I am making an educated decision.

    I wonder if living overseas has anything to do with changing the mindset here?

    Heidi Raki

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