When I fell pregnant with Leo, I felt a bit conflicted about how much I should share of him online. Being pregnant is all-consuming. It takes over every aspect of your life, and once your child is born, that intensifies.
It’s hard not to get lost in motherhood. It absolutely changes you and everything you do, it changes how you think and your interests shift. I suddenly became interested in breastfeeding issues, how to wean a baby, safe co-sleeping, how babies develop and how to nurture my own son to give him the best start to life.
It’s only natural and I’ve seen other women go through the same. It comes from a place of love for our child. As a blogger, I wanted to share all these things and experiences with others. I was always careful not to become too much of a ‘mum blogger’ by still writing about other subjects. But I felt passionate about some aspects of parenting that I just had to talk about.
I had in my head that I’d share a few photos of Leo when he was a baby and share less as he was older.
As, I am not a famous blogger and not likely to get stopped in the street and recognised, I felt pretty safe.
This has changed recently. It’s not that I don’t feel safe. It’s more that I’ve been educating myself on the exploitation of children online and how children are used for content without consent. First, let’s look at some of these terms and some of the reasons I’ve decided to share less of my child online.
The exploitation of children online
This is when children are used for content as a way to earn money for their parents. You see it a lot on Tiktok, Instagram and YouTube. Family vloggers on YouTube are the biggest problem here.
They share their child’s life online for views, sponsorships and money. The videos with the biggest views are always the most personal – birth vlogs, children taking baths, first period, and children’s health issues including disabilities. Or in the case of the Saconne-Jolys, their transgender child coming out and transitioning.
Many parents claim to be spreading awareness. I remember one TikTok video of an autistic child having a meltdown. This child was screaming, crying and thrashing around for about 5 minutes while the mother followed them around with a camera to ‘raise awareness of what this is like’. But why do we need to be aware of this? What does it solve? Why does your child need to be an example of this? Why can’t you put down the camera and attempt to comfort or your child, even verbally if they do not want to be touched?
Rather than leaving these tasks of awareness up to the various charities, doctors and the government, we have the urge to take things into our own hands to ‘share with the world what this is like’. But what does it really achieve?
Your child’s most vulnerable moments are online for everyone can see.
Many children have their lives, illnesses and disabilities documented online without their consent so the parents can get views, popularity and financial gain.
One argument to this may be ‘I asked my child if I can post this picture, and they said yes’.
Children cannot give informed consent until they are 16. This is because they do not fully understand the implications of them being online until they are older.
A child may say yes to having a video taken of them and posted online, but that doesn’t mean they understand that this video:
- has the potential to go viral
- be used as a meme for many years
- be downloaded thousands of times
- never can be erased from the internet
- used against them in the future
It takes away their privacy and of if they have some kind of trauma or medical issue, it takes their right away to be able to tell their own story when they are ready – or keep it private.
What I am comfortable with
Firstly, it’s okay to change your mind. I have posted things about my child which I am no longer happy with. Know better, do better.
Last year, I went through my Instagram and deleted a lot of photos and videos of Leo. Mostly ones where he is on his own, or really close up. This is my current Instagram feed:
I still have some photos of him on there, but much fewer than before. I am comfortable with what I have out there. You have to scroll down a bit to find a photo of his face. There are still some there, but they are rare and I may remove them in the future. I mostly post the back of his head or where his face is obscured.
I also post fewer stories of him, and of my life in general.
I can change my mind if I want to. I may decide in the future I’m comfortable sharing a bit more, or I may decide to go completely the other way and delete everything. It’s my job as a parent to decide the risks and do the right thing for my child and family.
Can your platform exist without your child?
To me, this is the biggest question to ask yourself if are wondering if you are exploiting your child.
If you stopped posting your child online, would you still get views, engagement and a paycheque?
If not, then I believe that account is one that exploits children.
If your platform and brand can live on without your child, then that is great. A few parenting sponsorships aren’t bad if they are not the only thing on your platform and they can be done without telling personal details of your child or even their face. For example, in this one, I showed Leo playing with the toys without showing full photos of his face, just side and above. Though I would probably show even less of than that going forward. Know better, do better.
I rarely get parenting-related collaborations and you absolutely can do them without sharing personal details and photos of your child.
Another thing I’d like to talk about is online predators. Josh from The Dad Challenge Podcst has done some deep drives into some family vloggers analytics which shows as the daughters of family vloggers turn into teenagers, more males start watching the videos. Also, the top content is always personal things such as bathtime, in swimsuits and so forth.
There are websites that link to and share videos that contain children in swimwear or a few clothes.
Watch a few seconds of this video where Jonathan Joly is questioned by Stacey Dooley about how he would feel if it became apparent that an online predator was masturbating over his children and he responds ‘is it a terrible thing?’ That should piss you off.
In fact, that whole video is great at highlighting how children are exploited online. It also shows a clip of their older child saying she doesn’t like being filmed.
I could go on and on about this subject. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The other day, I saw an Instagram Reel of a 13-year-old girl taking an outdoor shower in a bikini that was filmed in slow motion in a provocative way. Some family vloggers do use their children in this way to get all views. Others just don’t take the necessary steps to protect them. Either they don’t realise or they don’t care.
Parasocial relationships are one-sided relationships, where one person extends emotional energy, interest and time, and the other person, this person, is completely unaware of the other’s existence.
People form parasocial relationships with children online. They feel invested in their lives and feel like they have the right to know information. These children have no idea all these people are so invested in them and some people can get obsessive. This is where it gets a bit creepy and the obsession can turn into stalking.
Parasocial relationships are dangerous because a person who has formed one, can start to feel bitter and angry if they try to reach out and do not get a response, or the response they would like.
I have seen videos of fans meeting children of family vloggers and they go right up to these children and hug them. These children have no idea what is going on and look bewildered and overwhelmed.
Bullying and online hate
We all know what a troll is. The bigger a platform gets, the more trolls it attracts. There are thousands of Facebook groups, forums and Reddit threads that are dedicated to scrutinising and criticising every aspect of influencers’ lives. This means that a child in the spotlight could Google themselves when they are older and come across these threads.
We also have comments directly on the posts that are hateful and hurtful to children.
The bullying can spread into their real life. Multiple children of family vloggers and influencers have come forward anonymously on Reddit to tell their stories of how they hate being online, how they have been bullied at school, how they have no privacy and how it has damaged their relationship with their parents.
They are told that they have to be on camera so they can have ‘nice things’, every trip and celebration was always for content with the parents often acting differently when not behind a camera. These children live their life in fear of being filmed and cannot be honest with their parents about any problems they have, in case it ends up online.
Read this Reddit post:
Linking back to parasocial relationships and online predators, how scary is that last bullet point?
someone attempted to kidnap my sister and found it easy because they knew her full name, address, school and details about her. My sister didn’t know he was a stranger because he knew so much about her.
Or this one:
Now read this one of a middler-schooler is asking for advice on how to stop their mum from posting their life online. It sounds like this is not even an influencer, but just a normal Facebook account. This is the of post that makes me want to post less of my child online, as many of us share this type of content about our children on our regular social media accounts.
Just the other day, I saw someone I know post a photo of her teenager who was sitting on the sofa, unaware the photo had been taken and it said ‘it’s her birthday day, she won’t let me take a photo of her so I just snapped this one’. So why are you taking her photo and putting it online?
All of these things have led me to this point of wanting to share less of Leo online. Although I’m not an big influencer and my blog is not a big platform getting lots of views, I still want to respect his privacy. I do think there is a big difference between posting a family photo of us all on a trip vs telling very personal stories – for example going into detail about his potty training or something that is HIS experience.
So there will still be a few photos of him going forward, but much fewer. And any parenting content will be more general, or my experience and not his.
Where do you stand with sharing children online?
Edit: another reason to stop sharing your children online – baby role-play and digital kidnapping.