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Every Day is Picture Day

Smartphones, digital photos, digital pictures, digital images, selfies, Instagram, social media, privacy, Picture DayRemember picture day at school? I hated picture day. There was a permanence to it that was terrifying. I knew my parents would have that wallet-sized photo of me forever, so I felt like I had one shot to get it right. Smile right, wear the right clothes, and make sure your eyes were open, for heaven’s sake! I am not sure who thought those glasses were the right size for my face, but it was the eighties (yes, that is me!)

For today’s kids, every day is picture day.

Armed with smartphones, their friends are taking pictures of them constantly. At any time, someone can snap a picture of your child—asleep on the school bus on the way home from a class trip, possibly drooling a little. In the locker room changing, or a in whole host of other inopportune moments.

It’s not just their friends—it’s you, too! You love your kids, and you want to capture the precious moments of them growing up. Look at your smartphone—how many images of your little darlings are there? Unless you are Jodi Foster, there are not as many pictures of you as a kid. Remember how we all felt for Chelsea Clinton in the 90s? You are the major source for your child’s digital presence.

Do you wish there more pictures of you as a tween? Probably not. Think about your top ten most embarrassing moments as a tween and imagine if there were pictures to record each of your failings. Or hairstyles. Shared. With everybody.

Photos mean something different to our kids than they did to us. They live in a more visual culture. Cameras are everywhere, built into the devices we carry with us at all times. Digital photos cost nothing to take, nothing to store, and nothing to share. Having a photo to mark every experience more of an expectation for these kids, but the proliferation of images also lowers the impact of each photo in our kids’ minds. We fret over the their “permanent” record but don’t spend enough time thinking about the permanence and publicity in using our social media wall as a family album. Digital images feel ephemeral to our kids, rather than permanent, which can distort their decision-making process.

Smartphones, digital photos, digital pictures, digital images, selfies, Instagram, social media, privacy, Picture DaySo, I want you to try something radical. Right now. If you have a kid who is 9 or older, do not share another picture of her. That is, until you ask her permission.

Yes, ask permission. It sends a message, and will accomplish some important things:

  • It teaches your child that her image is her own. It makes her recognize that sharing is a choice and that some things are private. Because you showed her that consideration and modeled some respect for her privacy, she’ll be more likely to ask before she shares a picture of her friend.

  • It teaches good boundaries. It’s important for a child to know that she can say no. The very act of asking for permission creates a moment of stop-and-think. This pause is very helpful—we could all benefit from it.

  • It teaches empowerment. Asking permission affords power to your child. It’s now her choice, not yours. It’s a wonderful gift, and she’ll start to expect the same consideration from her friends. Your daughter will feel empowered to say, “don’t share that,” when someone takes a photo of her. She can insist, “show me that you are erasing that.”

  • It teaches self-control. Now that you’ve established the guidelines of respect, urge your child to ask herself for permission to take or share a “selfie.” Social media is part of journaling, recording feelings, and celebrating small moments. You don’t want to quash that, but you want her to think about the risks.

Taking this step creates a respectful relationship. Your child will have a better understanding of this complex social exchange because you’ve modeled it. It will help her understand why it’s important, too. Talk to your child directly about how it makes her feel, and urge her to think about how others would feel when she’s the one taking the photo of her friends.

By respecting your children’s wishes, you are teaching the basics of good social media manners. This will pay dividends beyond beyond photo sharing. It will form a good foundation for your child to make better decisions about the new participatory media landscape.

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Photo Credit: Second Photo is by Daniela Reinsch


  1. Leah says:

    Oh I’m so intrigued with this discussion! I’ve seen so much talk about this lately…whether or not people should post photos of their children on social media. I don’t know how I feel about it, I don’t think there is an absolute should or shouldn’t… but I really love your advice about simply asking first to help build that understanding. Great article!

    • Devorah says:

      Thanks Leah. I agree that each situation is about one’s own family and discretion, but asking first does build understanding. It makes kids feel in control in a way that they really appreciate.

  2. Desiree says:

    This is such a fantastic post! I am a photographer and I frequently take pictures of my 2 year old son. It is so true that many of us (including myself) haven’t thought about what it must be like to have our every move documented like we do with our kids now. This is a great reminder to give our kids (and other people) the respect they deserve before we snap that shutter.

  3. Devorah says:

    Thanks Desiree. Exactly, it is about respect. With your two year old their may be lots to take but they don’t all need to be (widely) shared. There is always the family album you can take out when he brings home a fiance!

  4. Andrew says:

    I think it’s importance to emphasize the permanence of sharing photos online. Not everyone is a Kim Kardashian, but photos and videos have a way of popping up in later years. It’s important for social media users to understand that everything you’re putting out there is contributing to your legacy. Respecting and understanding that can go a long, long way.

  5. Beth says:

    So important and I try to undershare my kids’ pictures and I never post pictures of other kids (neighbors at a party, etc). It’s hard, because of course they’re just so dang cute and I want to show the world. PS – I had those same glasses. And then I upgraded to even larger blue ones. Luckily, those pictures are buried in a box somewhere and not online.

    • Devorah says:

      It is hard to resist! I think taking is different than sharing. If they don’t object of course, I also wouldn’t photograph if I am getting a “no!” Birthday parties are a great example where you do want to photograph, but possibly not share on social media…especially as kids get older and feelings of exclusion can occur.

  6. Jamie says:

    This is the most intelligent thing I have read all day and really it should be a given. Just because you as a parent choose to use social media, it does not mean you should be posting pictures of your children online. I am proud to say that I have never once posted pictures of my daughter on the internet. Not one picture from her first moments on earth, not one birthday picture, nothing. It worries me that so many parents don’t seem to understand that by posting pictures online you are giving your child a digital footprint before they are even old enough to write their own name. Children do not belong on social media! Posting a million pictures of your child online doesn’t show that you love your child anymore than the next person does. It takes one click for someone to download a picture of your child from your own Facebook page, in my opinion its not worth it. Once something is on the internet you can never get it back, it no longer belongs you, it belongs to the internet and the internet is not always a safe place to be

    • Devorah says:

      Many parents share your aversion to sharing any kid pics on social media. Every family needs to make their own decision, and yours is surely one you will never have reason to regret! I do some sharing, but I am thoughtful about images AND stories or information that might not be appreciated by my kiddo in the future. If in doubt, don’t share it out! I love that you are doing what is right for your family, and I really appreciate your sharing of your thoughts here. Our kids are people and giving them as much respect as we ourselves appreciate is a lifelong gift.

  7. Tiffany L says:

    I don’t have my own kids, but I’m very close with my nieces and nephews, so we take a lot of pictures together. They always want to see the photo after it’s taken. Often, the older kids will ask if I can post a picture to Facebook. The oldest is 9, and is a very goofy phase right now, so she loves making silly faces and poses for the camera, which leads to a lot of …interesting… photos of her. I use the same rule of thumb with their pics as I do with my adult friends – Does it capture a special moment or an aspect of personality that is worth memorializing? Is the subject of the photo something that the rest of the world would even find interesting? Putting myself in my friends shoes (since their idea of “flattering” might be different than mine), would *I* want this picture posted? This approach eliminates a surprising number of photos. If I’m not sure, I’ll often ask my friends for permission before posting, or just send them the picture and let them post it if they want to.

    I wouldn’t have thought to teach the kids in my life this process, but it’s a great idea! I love the idea of starting by asking their permission and teaching them ownership of their own image. By seeing that someone else respects them that way, they’ll be encouraged to respect others in the same way. Thanks for sharing!

    • Devorah says:

      Tiffany, I really appreciate your comment. Your thoughtful consideration of each image is great modeling for your nieces and nephews. How lucky they are to have an aunt they can spend fun and silly times who they can trust to “think before she shares!”

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