"I thought I was beginning my online life, but hundreds of my photos were already on the internet"

Kinderling News & Features

Social media isn't just tolerated these days. It's the norm.

It's normal to share any and every moment of your life, your partner's life, your child's life ... all in a forum that is accessible for the entire world to see (even with privacy settings).

For your child, this online documentation and life narration begins from birth.

How do they get to choose or dictate their online presence if they can't even remember it beginning? Isn't it hypocritical that a parent should be able to post a child's photo, while also telling them they're too young to share it themself? 

Meet Sonia

These were just some of the questions that flooded 14-year-old Sonia Bokhari's mind when she first joined social media after her mother had deemed her "old enough" for platforms like Twitter and Instagram.

Imagine the confused messages she was processing when, after 14 years of being told she was too young and too naive to have an online presence of her own, she got to jump on and stalk her mum and older sister's Twitter feeds, only to be met with a long, detailed listing of her photos. Her stories. Her life.

Sonia outlined her feelings in an article for Fast Company as part of their series, The Privacy Divide, and hearing this story from the viewpoint of a young teen certainly raises some interesting dilemmas.

The Privacy Divide

"I had just turned 13," Sonia writes. "I thought I was just beginning my public online life, when in fact there were hundreds of pictures and stories of me that would live on the internet forever, whether I wanted it to be or not, and I didn’t have control over it. I was furious; I felt betrayed and lied to."

Sonia - who seems remarkably switched on for her age - says she gave herself time to calm down and process before raising the issue with her mum and sister (a.k.a. the culprits).

"They were surprised when they heard how I felt, genuinely surprised," Sonia continues. "They didn’t know I would get so upset over it, because their intentions weren’t to embarrass me, but to keep a log and document what their little sister/youngest daughter was doing in her early childhood and young teenage years."

The age of caution

Ironically, it seems the younger generation are realising the implications of their personal data being online faster than parents are.

As Sonia shares, "My friends are active social media users, but I think they are more cautious than they were before. They don’t share their locations or post their full names online, and they keep their accounts private ... my generation has to be more mature and more responsible than our parents, or even teens and young adults in high school and college."

Best intentions

Ultimately, I feel Sonia's story is an important reminder to all parents to be mindful of what, where and how we share images and stories about our children.

Is it just in closed Facebook groups amongst trusted friends? Is it in emails with close family? Or if it is on social media, are our privacy settings high? Do we consider obscuring their faces? And are we considering what our child would think when they're looking back through our old posts when we finally "hand over the keys" to the social media age?

It's definitely an interesting era to be raising kids, and we're all just learning as we go. But when it comes to privacy, there are some things we can't take for granted, and while we can "take something down" we can never "unpost".

You can read Sonia's full Fast Company article here.