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The Photo Of Your Child You Don't Want To Go Viral

Once you put a photo up on social media, you can't take it back.

23/11/2016 3:24 PM AEDT | Updated 23/11/2016 3:24 PM AEDT
Elyse Butler
Memes made from friends' baby pictures are easy to make and even easier to share.

Somewhere in a box tucked away in the back of a cupboard there is a photo of me as a young child. I am around five and I have adorable ponytails sticking out of my head at right angles, no clothes on, and I am screaming blue murder.

As a tween, I hated the photo because I was naked and angry and it embarrassed me. Looking at it made me feel sad and vulnerable, the little girl I once was screaming and naked. When I got older I hated it because I couldn't stop thinking, every time I saw it, about why my parents were taking a photo rather than consoling me or suggesting I calm down and put some clothes on?

I'm lucky it was the 1970s. The worst that happened was the photo, one of those wide bordered double prints (one big and one small), was used as a source of laughter for the family and I was relentlessly mocked as the naked screamer. Being the youngest of three I was used to that.

I hate to think what would happen if that same photo was taken in 2016. No doubt it would have been uploaded onto Facebook and the modern version of my mother would have written a witty update like: "This is what we call the witching hour #socute #veryloud #wishshewouldshutup."

Then her friends would see it, like it and comment on my adorable hairstyle and my feisty nature. Comments would build up and in no time my mother would be hosting a community of parents all come to opine on how hard it is to bring up kids now days, how tiring it can be and how it might just be time for a gin and tonic because it's past sunset in some part of the world.

And all because I cried in front of a camera. That moment frozen in time to demonstrate to everyone how difficult parenting can be.

But it's not that moment of "sharenting" that causes me concern, although I do have issue with how insensitive it is for parents to gain peer support via the humiliation of their kids.

It's not even the fact that consent is hardly ever sought when parents post photos of their children in compromising positions, it's what can happen to the photo later on.

And I'm not talking paedophile rings or similar -- although it would be naïve to suggest that doesn't happen. Earlier this year eSafety Commissioner, Alastair MacGibbon urged parents to take care with photos of children posted on social media. He explained websites used by child sex offenders have very non-sexualised photos of children in school uniforms or playing in the park. The images are sexualised by paedophiles writing their fantasies about those kids. We have no control over that.

But I'm talking about what happens when that kid, naked and screaming, grows up to be a teen and starts playing around on Facebook and discovers their friends' childhood pictures.

With the first flush of independence and joy on being granted a Facebook account, among the first people many teens "friend" on Facebook are the parents of their friends. They are feeling grown up, they are joining in on an adult world and they want as many friends as possible. Sure they may "unfriend" these adults as their own updates become more risqué but there is often an innocence that accompanies the first foray into social media.

When these teenagers trawl through Facebook feeds they don't see cute pictures of toddlers in nappies -- they see their friends in vulnerable situations. They see photos that make them laugh not because they're nasty, but because when you're a teen there is something so "long ago" and embarrassing about breastfeeding and nappies, tantrums and crying at the hairdresser.

It's a hot thing amongst teens -- memes made from their friends' baby pictures and they're easy to create. Easier even to share.

Once you put a photo up on social media, you can't take it back. Once you share that photo you have no control over who captions it or how they caption it. And it's not always the bogeyman doing the captioning. It's could very well be the kid playing Xbox in your lounge room while you read this.

Of course, the horse has bolted and nobody is going to stop parents or kids from sharing photos. But maybe as the responsible adults in the equation we can at least put some thought into that photo before we post it.

One day your screaming toddler will be a teen and however much you can justify how you shared that photo because you loved them, you don't get to explain that to the kids who are creating viral memes about them.

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