Laura Hitchcock is a writer and mother of four and manages a family blog called LittleStuff.
Laura, mother of four gives her experience of how she shares pictures of her children online and how this is changing as they get older.
Laura is a website owner and Mum of four living in Dorset. Her children, aged from 10 to 18, are educated at home, and use the Internet regularly for study and leisure.
As an avid social media user and online writer, Laura has shared photos of her children online since they were small. “I share images on Facebook, purely sharing day to day life with family and friends,” she says. “Then we share images on the blog when we’re reviewing products or experiences. It’s part of the job.”
The issue of “sharenting” is one that Laura does think about. “I always try and be respectful, and ensure there’s nothing embarrassing for the future grown-up to look back on,” she says.
Since her children have been old enough to understand, Laura has asked permission to take photographs, and showed them images before they’re published online. “I’d expect no less of anyone else with pictures of me, so why wouldn’t I extend them the same courtesy?”
On occasion, one of the children might object to something that was published in the past. Simple garden fun with toddlers in a paddling pool can be objectionable to a sensitive teen, says Laura. In this case, the wishes of the child come first, and the photo comes down, she adds.
Currently, Laura’s three oldest children have all asked that images of them aren’t shared online, unless it’s necessary for Laura’s job. In that case, images are vetted before being published, to ensure the children know what to expect.
It’s a change from their younger days when all the children were happy to have images of them shared online. “When they were young they quite enjoyed seeing themselves and reading comments from family. Naturally, though, private has become an issue as they’ve become teens and while they share on their own social media, they’re very private about being shared on mine,” says Laura.
Laura admits that she takes a relaxed view to what the children share on their own accounts. “I don’t allow any access until they’re ready to handle it, and I trust them,” she says. “My 10-year-old has no phone, and is only allowed to ‘friend’ people that I have approved, so I’m happy for her to have unmonitored conversations with those people.”
The basic ground rules apply to all members of the family, Laura explains. “It’s no body parts, no images to people we don’t know, nothing that makes you uncomfortable, and never any personal information,” she says. “Younger kids are monitored and checked regularly, with strong parental controls to limit what they have access to.”
And above all of this is the golden rule: “The non-negotiable family rule of being kind and respectful also applies online – never say anything you wouldn’t say to that person when in the same room as them. Being mean is not acceptable.”
Laura uses several commercial parental control apps, and gradually loosens the restrictions as children get further into their teens. At 15 years of age, her second son now has just a basic anti-virus, and blocking software that prevents access to adult, gambling and violent websites. Her 10-year-old daughter, however, is much more closely controlled and monitored.
Being home educated means the children have been using online resources since they were small, and both parents work online running businesses, which helps. “Keeping an open, comfortable relationship with them is key,” explains Laura. “They aren’t secretive and will let us know straight away if there’s an issue, even if they think they’re going to be in trouble over it.”
Laura and her four children answer questions on what images they share online.
Laura (parent): personal images of the family, places we’ve been, things we’ve done.
18yr old – constant sharing of daily minutiae with groups of friends, sharing the story of every day.
15yr old – very little, online chatting and video calls to friends more than image sharing, though I share more on holidays of the places we see.
14yr old – very little image sharing, no daily phone use most online activity is chat-based around gaming.
10yr old – silly pictures of me making faces, drawings I’ve done, things I’ve created in Roblox and taken screenshots of, or just messenger sharing to my friends on Skype.
Laura (parent): misuse of images, personal data access.
18yr old – I’m not stupid, I know what’s dangerous to share, I never allow personal stuff to get out there where I can’t take it back.
15yr old – I have zero interest in other people seeing into my life – I share what I want with a few people I trust. No one else has a right to anything, it’s invasive.
10yr old – people might make fun of what you share and make you feel bad, or use it to get other people to make fun of you. There are a lot of people pretending to be who they’re not, you can’t really trust what everyone says on the internet just because they seem nice, so showing personal stuff to strangers is a bit weird.
Laura (parent): keeping scattered friends and family in touch with our own family life. The ability to work from home; without social media I’d have to go out and get a ‘real’ job.
18yr old – staying in touch with people, keeping in group chats for common interests, information sharing (for study/college work etc), feeling included in lives that are far away (my girlfriend is
studying in Germany, and it’s really nice to feel involved in her day by sharing her live social feeds).
15yr old – feeling closer to the people I choose to share with. My girlfriend is in Finland, and sharing our day-to-day stuff helps us feel closer.
10yr old – If I can’t be in the room with my friends, the next best thing is chatting on Skype and sharing pictures of what’s happening here.
Laura (parent): Yes – as a parent I try and maintain total openness. I want my kids to feel they can come and chat with us at any time, about anything, without fear of judgement or recrimination. That way lies secrets, and therefore trouble.
18yr old – I don’t want my parents watching my personal feeds too closely. But there’s nothing on there I wouldn’t let them see, it’s just normal teen stuff that no one wants their parents hovering over. I share a lot with them when I’m out and about too – they require regular I’m-not-dead selfies whenever I’m travelling, which is cool, I’m happy with that.
15yr old – I don’t show my parents my private conversations, but I appreciate they don’t ask. I wouldn’t refuse if they did ask, but I like that they trust me, and try and live up to that. I think if I was more active with a wider group of people they’d be more concerned and want to monitor things more.
10yr old – Mummy & Daddy can see everything I do online, I don’t have secrets.
Laura (parent): Think before you hit post. Once an image is online, it’s there forever. That image might be funny now, but will it still be so in two years’ time when your child is older and her friends find it?
Here are more resources to help you keep your child safe online