Did you know that 30 percent of parents publish at least one photo or video a day of their child on social networks? This figure comes from a survey conducted in the United States by the multinational IT company McAfee.

According to the Age of Consent findings, many of these parents post either videos or images more than once a day. Even though they recognize the dangers of showing images of minors to the public (use by paedophiles, stalking, cyber-bullying), this does not always affect their behaviour. Some 58 percent of them do not even consider whether or not with the child would agree with the online publication of their image.

It almost seems that the “temptation to share” drives away all fear.

The anxiety to be seen

Social networks can be used as tools for sharing, or they can become “showcases” in which to perform, to satiate a little of that narcissistic thirst that sometimes arises in each of us. We don't just want to share our news with friends and family who love us, but we want others to see how beautiful, lucky, and fulfilled we are.

Family and Media has already identified this anxiety to be seen as one of the 7 Deadly Sins of Social Networks. Now we have to ask what happens if even minors are sucked into this vortex of narcissism. If it is true that we adults, free to govern ourselves, can post photos of ourselves on digital platforms without any particular restrictions, how should we behave in dealing with the desire to share the photos of our children?

Respect for the privacy of a child is their right, and the first people who must respect this are the parents.

The world of online media has transformed each of us into a small broadcasting station. Every day we publish more and more content concerning our private life and those of our loved ones. But are we really aware of this?

McAfee's research indicates that parents may not be fully aware of privacy issues or their practical implications, even less if it concerns their own children. Many freely admit to including personal information about their children in their online posts. For example, half of the parents interviewed admit to having or wanting to share a photo of their child behind their desk at school, despite the risk of exposing personal information.

However, it is comforting to see that the majority, 70 percent, share photos of children only on private social media accounts. This is certainly a good first step, but there is still a lot more parents must do to protect the identity of their children.

Here is where we need some rules. Above all: no one can publish the photo of someone else on a public platform without explicit prior consent.

The child’s right to privacy

It is well known that when dealing with minors, newspapers and other visual media must adhere to specific regulations that safeguard privacy.

Even in the realm of social media, children are recognized as having the right to privacy, but parents are responsible for this right, especially in the case of infants or very young children who are unable to give consent. It is doubtful, however, that most parents realise what a great responsibility awaits them in managing their children's sensitive data.

In this regard, we report a fairly worrisome fact: McAfee's research reveals that 22 percent of parents do not believe that their children should have a say in the management of their images. For many adults, the decision to publish a photo of the child belongs only to the father and mother. And only 19 percent worry about “generating anxiety or emotional distress” to the child in this way by exposing him, without his consent, in a public social profile.

This raises the suspicion that parents sometimes abuse their right to manage the child's privacy and that they do not always protect their interests.

All this leads us to extend an invitation. Let’s protect the images of our children; let’s try to be their guardians. Let’s care about their protection more than their performance, because children are not trophies.

A second invitation. Let us also respect what our children want. Even if they are minors, they have the right to “have their say” when it comes to their own face.

The danger of child pornography is real

Beyond the embarrassment that a parent can cause the child by continually sharing her photos, there are other dangers related to the circulation of photos on the web.

Social media have distorted the concept of public and private: they make us live together with the illusion that what we post remains only in our circle of acquaintances. The truth is that the Internet is a black hole: what goes in never comes out again, and no one knows where it ends up.

We do, however, know one of the places it may go. There is hidden network of exploitation and perversion, the world of child pornography. Without becoming alarmists, we must recognize that malicious people may not be so far away from us and our inner circle. It is a terrifying fact that must make us understand the weight of this responsibility.

The third and final invitation we want to share is this: dust off the old and healthy habit of compiling family photo albums to flip through, together, sitting on the sofa on wintery Sunday afternoons.

There are experiences, moments, memories, images that can be kept well enough offline.

Cecilia Galatolo is a regular contributor to Family and Media, where this article was first published.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is a New Zealand journalist with a special interest in family issues. She began her working life as a secondary school teacher but always fancied the life of the scribe. Too late, she...