I joined Instagram in 2010, right after my first child was born. I posted a few photos here and there, but it wasn’t until 2012 that I became a regular user. We had just moved to a new neighbourhood here in London, and I didn’t know anyone. After a few lonely months, I figured out that I could connect with local mums by following them on Instagram. I could see which mums frequented my local parks and check out their profiles to see if we had much in common. I connected with mums all over the world, and we bonded over our similar interests or having kids of similar ages. All of a sudden, I went from feeling completely isolated to having an entire community of mums at my fingertips: it was truly life-changing.
Not only did my baby daughter and I make new friends through Instagram, but I was also able to more easily keep up with old friends by getting fun glimpses into their daily lives (as opposed to just getting to see their favourite memes and links on Facebook . . . ). As a whole, my Instagram community is an amazing group of parents with whom I share the joys and frustrations of parenthood. I turned to this community when we were struggling through three miscarriages and was met with support, comfort, and the much-needed feeling that I wasn’t alone. I turn to them to share good news and bad news, as I know that this community is full of other parents who can relate and offer advice. Through Instagram, we made friends in our neighbourhood, friends in other parts of England, and friends around the world. These people aren’t just abstract connections: they are actual friends, many of whom we see in person, who come over for dinner, who invite us to stay in their homes, who were on my speed dial when I went into labour . . . Just as online dating revolutionised the dating world, Instagram has revolutionised the world of friendships. As it is now quite normal to say you met your spouse or partner online, it is becoming increasingly normal to say the same about friendships.
A few years ago, my friend Courtney had her Instagram account shut down for showing a picture of her daughter that had her pants (underwear) showing. Her daughter was eighteen-months-old (still very much a baby!) at the time and had just potty-trained herself. Needless to say, my friend’s daughter was proud to be in pants like her older siblings, and my friend was proud of her daughter. The picture was an innocent capture of a proud moment. To make a long story short, her account was eventually restored (without the offending picture), but the surrounding conversation had me thinking.
I went through my own Instagram feed and deleted every picture of my daughter that possibly could be interpreted the wrong way: a sweet video of her reciting a nursery rhyme when she was two because she didn’t have a shirt on; a funny picture of her on her training potty in the park; a sweet picture of her playing in a bubble bath. I stopped posting anything that could possibly be misconstrued from that moment on. It was the first time I saw this community as anything but positive and though I became more careful, I wasn’t about to let a few bad apples spoil what for me has become such an important part of my life and my kids’ lives.
The simple truth is that I am not in general worried about posting pictures of my kids online. I’m “not worried” in the same way that I’m not worried about taking my kids out in public where people can see them in person. I wasn’t worried about my daughter appearing in an online video with me when she was a baby. I’m not worried that her image is used to advertise the school she previously attended, just as I wouldn’t be worried about her image appearing in magazines or on a box of cereal if she were a child model, or her face being on TV if she were an actress. I’m not convinced that her mere image being in the public domain is something to be concerned about.
Yes, I am aware that there are horrible people in the world who are looking to hurt and exploit our kids, but there are also terrorists looking to blow up the city my family and I live in, and there are people in America shooting strangers at random. These people don’t keep me inside or keep from visiting my family back home, and they won’t keep me from sharing in my Instagram community either.
Some people have expressed concern that the pictures we post of our kids will come back to haunt them later in life. If I were posting intimate or embarrassing pictures and details of my children’s lives, I could see how this would be a concern. However, the pictures I post are usually just of Charlotte curled up with a book, or Peter laughing on a swing, or both kids sitting on a park bench. They are just sweet moments or our sweet life that I love sharing. I hope that my kids will love having the opportunity to look back through my pictures and comments on Instagram when they are older to be reminded the beautiful life we have shared. I suppose someone could say that I’m taking their “choice” as to whether they are public or not away from my kids, but in 2016 I am not sure this is a choice: digital presence is normal today, and we don’t have a useful analogy to our childhoods. I would predict that Charlotte and Peter and their contemporaries will not, in the world they will inherit as adults, understand what all the fuss was about. Like it or not, we are dinosaurs assuming that there are lines between our in-person and digital lives.
I’ve tried changing my Instagram profile to private, but having an open profile is something that I really love about Instagram. I like that my followers can tag other people on a photo of a good-looking recipe or of a fun art project I’ve done with the kids, and that I can do the same. I love that I can connect with people in my community when we both tag ourselves at the same cafe. If I have a private photo to share, (like a particularly EPIC pic of my son I took whilst he was shirtless on the toilet with heart sunglasses on), I will just text it to my family and close friends without bothering with a second, private account. The thing is, it would be impossible for me to completely edit my kids out of the photos of my life, and it would feel very unnatural to do so if I could. So much of my life revolves around my kids, and I want to include them in the memories I’m documenting. A private personal account just doesn’t make sense to me because I can’t imagine there would be much to share that I don’t mind sharing with everyone.
In an attempt to scare myself into understanding the concern so many other parents have, I’ve read any article I come across that discusses images of children online. I’ve sought out conversations in person and on social media with parents who don’t post pictures of their kids online: everyone always tells me to go with my gut. I’ve given the issue a lot of thought and have occasionally stopped posting pictures of my kids whilst I think things through, but I always come back to it. I realised that I’ve only ever stopped posting pictures of them because I’ve read so many suggestions that this is what good, concerned parents do. It just took me a while to believe that I am also a good, concerned parent who happens to think posting pictures of my kids online is natural and normal. In the end, I’ve decided to go with my gut, and my gut says that sharing pictures of our life is a good, positive, and healthy thing for me and my family.
[All photos by the absolutely lovely Katrina Campbell. The kids and I had a fantastic time spending the morning with her wandering around Dulwich Village last month. I was so pleased with the images she caught of my kids as they really captured their little personalities.]