Kids' photos: To post or not to post?

Parents here who upload images of their children on social media say they are open to removing the photos if their offspring object to them

It is every teenager's worst nightmare: friends come around and your parents are determined to embarrass you to death by bringing out the family photo albums.

In the past, it was possible to destroy the evidence, or at least silence the witnesses, but thanks to social media, kids are facing a whole new level of exposure with variables they cannot control. As people say, the Internet is written in ink.

Now, eager beaver parents provide real-time documentation of their children's lives by uploading images and videos on Facebook and Instagram.

The activities can be mundane - sleeping, eating or crying - or embarrassing enough to be future blackmail material - children throwing tantrums, dancing in silly costumes, or worse, in various states of undress.

Parents usually say they mean well as they are recording sweet moments for posterity, and perhaps most children agree it is a harmless activity.

I think parents should not post pictures of children in compromising situations, such as in the bath, toilet or half-dressed.


But what happens if the children have not given consent, or if they are too young to understand the ramifications of their photos going public?

The issue came under the spotlight when an 18-year-old in Austria filed a lawsuit against her parents to force them to remove more than 500 childhood pictures of her from Facebook.

She reportedly said these photos were embarrassing and a violation of her privacy. Some photos apparently showed her sitting on the toilet or lying naked in the cot.

In reply, her father allegedly said that he had taken the photographs and had the right to do with them as he pleased.

Parents interviewed by The Sunday Times take a softer stance. They all said that if their child asks them to remove photos or videos, they will comply.

Full-time mum Diana Ng, in her 40s, regularly uploads photos of her son Brandon, seven, to update friends and family. If Brandon does not like the photo, she will take it down. "I don't see the point in harming my relationship with my son over a photo," she says.

Mr Joverst Lee, 23, who owns a sticker business, has uploaded videos of his daughter Chanel, five, singing the Disney hit song Let It Go, while dressed as Elsa from the movie Frozen.

He has also uploaded a video of his son Jaylon, who is almost two, hiccuping while lying in bed.

"They look very cute in the videos. I want to celebrate these small moments in their lives," he says.

So far, his daughter has not vetoed any of the shared content.

What if they disagree in future? He says: "The photos belong to me, but all relationships involve give- and-take.

"I will have a proper conversation with my children and reach a compromise - say by removing the photos, but still keeping a copy on a hard drive. Or if I really want to keep the photos online, maybe I can adjust the privacy settings so fewer people can see them."

Some parents are more conservative about what they upload.

Mr Lim Hong Zhen, 31, for example, tries to limit the photos uploaded of his 21/2-year-old daughter Mikayla to birthday parties, family outings and significant events.

The director in a construction material supply company says: "For me, taking photos is about preserving memories. So while I might take many photos, I upload only a few.

"I also never post anything vaguely controversial or embarrassing because I want to be mindful of how she might feel in the future."

The possibility that her photo might end up in the wrong hands is also a concern, he adds. "With news reports of children being kidnapped, you can't be too careful."

According to Facebook's website, the social networking site requires everyone to be at least 13 years old before they can create an account. In some jurisdictions, this age limit may be higher.

Accounts registered on behalf of someone under 13 violate Facebook's terms and users can submit a form online to report these accounts. Facebook will then delete them.

In 2014, Facebook launched a Think Before You Share guide with the Media Literacy Council in Singapore, that provides the following tip: "If we aren't thoughtful about how we share, we run the risk of hurting ourselves or someone else. Also, remember that the things you share with your friends can end up being shared with others."

Family lawyer Rajan Chettiar, 50, says: "Minors, under the age of 21 in Singapore, may not have rights against their parents posting photographs of them on social media. "

But he adds: "I think parents should not post pictures of children in compromising situations, such as in the bath, toilet or half- dressed. Children too deserve basic human respect and it is the parents' primary duty to afford such respect to their children."

Echoing this sentiment is Dr Carol Balhetchet, clinical psychologist and senior director of youth services at the Singapore Children's Society.

She says: "Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, children have the right to privacy and parents need to respect this right."

"Teenagers, who are growing up and finding themselves, are very sensitive about how they are viewed by their peers. They will not want their peers to see photos or videos that embarrass them, even if their parents think the photos and videos are fine."

She cited the example of her 19-year-old son, whom she once photographed when he was three and having a bubble bath.

"I have a print-out photo and he looks so cute in it. When his friends visit our house, I want to show them this photo." But before she does, she always asks for her son's permission. If he says no, she does not show the photo.

"This type of dynamic is respectful to the child. Unfortunately, social media does not work this way."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 23, 2016, with the headline 'Kids' photos: To post or not to post?'. Print Edition | Subscribe