Behold the cascade of baby photos, the flood of funny kid anecdotes and the steady stream of school milestones on Facebook.
It’s enough to make moms like Amarillo resident April Redmon a little wary.
“I just think that children need protection,” Redmon said. “There are so many predators out there these days that I would rather not have them even use an image of my child in a bad way.”
At a time when just about everyone and their mother — father, grandmother and aunt — is intent on publicizing the newest generation’s early years on social media sites, an increasing number of parents like Redmon are bucking the trend by consciously keeping their children’s photos, names and entire identities off the Internet.
Reasons for the baby blackout vary. Some parents have privacy concerns. Others worry about what companies might do with their child’s image and personal data. Some simply do it out of respect for their kids’ autonomy before they are old enough to make decisions for themselves.
For Redmon, who adopted her four children out of foster care, it’s primarily a safety issue.
The birth parents of at least three of her children are on social media sites, Redmon said, and the adoption process was quite contentious.
“There were death threats involved at the first trial,” she said.
“I don’t want them to have any interactions with the birth parents because it would be more hurtful, and I’m afraid (the birth parents) would try to find out more information (from social media) … and try to take them sometime.
“It may not be a realistic fear, but it’s there,” she said.
Redmon never posts photos of the children or their names, but their presence isn’t ignored on her Facebook page.
“I have to share the funny stuff they do, but I can do that by using aliases,” Redmon said. “My family and friends know what they look like anyway, but they’re too funny not to share.”
Other parents are even stricter.
“I have a no tolerance policy,” said Scott Steinberg, a St. Louis-based business and technology consultant who has more than 4,800 Facebook friends. Steinberg said he shares no photos, videos or any information about his child.
“If I don’t want somebody to know about my child, to take an active interest in them, to recognize them in a city street or as they are leaving the schoolyard, the easiest way to do that is to not have any identifying information out about them,” he said.
Facebook, for its part, encourages parents to use the site’s privacy setting if they want to limit who can see their baby photos and other posts. It’s possible, for example, to create a group of close friends and relatives to share kid updates with. But that’s not enough for some users.
A big reason parents are wary, even if they use social media sites themselves, is that the companies “have not been very transparent about the way they collect data about users,” said Caroline Knorr, parenting editor at the nonprofit Common Sense Media, which studies children’s use of technology. “Facebook’s terms of service and privacy (policies) — no one reads it, it’s too obscure.”
Some parents look back to their own childhoods, when they were able to make mistakes without evidence of those blunders living on — forever — online.
The parents hasten to make clear that they have no problems with other people who post their own baby photos.
“Many of our close friends put up photos of their kids, and we love seeing them,” said new parent Josh Furman. “This is just a decision that we made for our child, and people have been respectful.”
People have shared baby photos since the dawn of the camera, and stories about kids’ shenanigans long before that. Parents who decide to keep photos of their children and other data off social media said they still want to share those things, but they are bothered by the idea of online permanence.
Parents who enforce strict blackout rules are still very much in the minority. In a 2011 survey, 66 percent of Generation X parents (people born in the 1960s and ’70s) said they post photos of their children online, while more than half said they have shared news about a child’s accomplishment online. The poll was part of the Longitudinal Study of American Youth at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.
Aisha Sultan, a fellow at the institute when the poll was conducted, thinks the results might be different if the same questions were posed to respondents today.
“Back (then), there wasn’t a lot of conversation about this,” said Sultan, who is a nationally syndicated parenting advice columnist at St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “When parents first started joining Facebook in large numbers, it wasn’t the primary concern. We felt like we were in control of information we were sharing with friends and family.”
Facebook’s privacy blunders over the years, not to mention frequent updates to its confusing privacy policies, changed all that. Now, Sultan said, parents are much more aware of the little control they have over their personal data online.
Redmon said despite her online policy, she’s still a fan of Facebook.
“I love the social benefits of it,” she said. “But I would rather have them safe.”