My generation is lucky. They are the first to have access to the internet, and they have avoided being the first to be born with the internet available. The children who are born now, I think their attitude to the internet will be different to ours, and different to their parents. I say this because we are now witnessing a generation of children who will ‘grow up online’, so to speak. We have millions of children who already have a substantial online presence that they did not create, and in which they had no say. Their parents have uploaded pictures of them, posted videos, added status updates telling the world about their misadventures and bowel movements. Formerly, these embarrassments were the domain of stories from parents at parties, and the occasional polaroid of a baby in a bath or with cake all over their face. Now, it’s all out there for the world to see. Children have email addresses and facebook pages before they learn how to speak. It’s like everyone is growing up a child celebrity, but without the money to insulate themselves from the negative aspects of being in the public eye.
Why is this so bad? What’s the harm in a few baby pictures online? To that, let me posit the following scenario. A man trawls the internet looking for pictures of children, because he finds them exciting. Sure, your privacy settings are high, but are your friends’? That video they shared is now in the hands of Pervy McNasty. Even if it never goes further than that, that’s a chilling thought. But keep in mind it could go further than that. People know how to find you, to get your address, to figure out where your children go to school. It’ll probably be ok. But you never know.
There’s also the problem of privacy. There are things I don’t want people to know, both from my childhood and as an adult. These things, I have a right to keep to myself. If I start dating a girl, I don’t expect her to be able to find my baby pictures online immediately. That kind of thing can wait. Similarly, she doesn’t need to know all the gross things I got up to (and have no memory of) when I was a two-year-old. That’s information I keep to myself.
I’m not saying never share anything. After all, parents will always be annoyingly proud of their children (despite the lack of any real achievement thus far - call me when they win a Nobel prize, would ya?). But think about what you put online on behalf of a person who is going to have to live with that online presence, with photos and pictures and information about themselves which they did not choose to make public. Even if the information is mild and inoffensive, it’s still information about a person which they had no say in posting. And have no doubt, once it’s online, it’s public.
The only advantage that today’s children will have is that they will understand what it is like to have their whole lives smeared across the internet before they even knew what the internet was, and they will be more considerate than their parents about what they choose to post. At least, that’s the hope. We’ll have to wait and see.