By: Jacki Reinert, Psy.D., LMHC
Pediatric Neuropsychology Post-Doctoral Fellow
Prior to entering doctoral studies, my family and I had the opportunity to live overseas for two years. After spending most of my childhood in New England, complete with family vacations to upstate New York, my limited world view left me ill-prepared for the splendor and, at times, sadness of raising our two-year-old without the loving support of our extended families in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. To bridge this gap of time and space, I often looked to social media as a window into the lives of family and friends.
First came Facebook, where old high school colleagues, current English-speaking expatriate comrades, and family could follow our adventures. Then, with the new sensational “Instagram”, I found myself snapping away, first of myself, my son, and of course the Eiffel Tower, quickly followed by Francophiles, family, and new friends. My follower stats quickly climbed and I enjoyed sharing well-cultivated images of perfect macaroons, baguettes, and yes, images of my son, who, thanks to a sweet face, curly hair, and blue eyes, certainly garnished a lot of “likes”. Hashtags embedded into my photos drew strangers in search of #paris, #perpetualtourist. Social media was my connection to family but in my eagerness to share, I never thought about the potential negative outcomes one might experience through sharing photos of their child.
For those of you who do not dabble in Instagram, users have the option of following people and liking their photos. For those with public accounts, users can look at another user’s feed (pictures) without following the person. If someone “double taps” your picture, they “like” it and you are notified. At the time, I saw no harm in having a public account with a small group of followers (375 people) until someone liked a photo I had posted of my son, someone whose name I did not recognize. After clicking on the person’s name, I was horrified to find multiple images of my son in this young girl’s account.
In 2014, a community of teenagers began “baby role playing” which consisted of taking (or stealing) other people’s images of their children shared on social media sites. After capturing the image on their own phones, the teens then rename the child, create fictional information about the child, and engage in reciprocal conversations with other role players. In the comment sections below the images, users have the opportunity to have conversations with one another, pretending to be the child and/or the parent. While some of these users used the images in seemingly innocent ways, others shared photos of children naked or breastfeeding.
After the images of my son were stolen and used for #adoptionrp, I made my Instagram account private. I also stopped posting photos of my son’s face on all social media platforms. I deleted any pictures on Facebook and asked family members to do the same. Over the past four years, we have collectively abstained from sharing images of our son and now our daughter.
Research suggests that by the age of 2, most children in the United States have an internet presence (BusinessWire, 2010). For some children, like Mila and Emma Stauffer, who have over 3.7 million followers on their mother’s Instagram account, social media has led to profitable income.
For our family, it has led to many awkward requests of, “Can you please take down that photo?” and has fostered an interest in learning about social media, digital footprints, digital citizenship, and media literacy. In this series of blog posts, we will delve into the world of social media and address how parents and professionals can talk to kids about social media.
Read the rest of this series:
About the Author:
Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-658-9800.