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Ari Herzog

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Would You Share Your Child Online?

Posted: 06/22/09 05:14 PM ET

Responding to an email that questioned whether parents invade their children's privacy by posting content across web channels, Chris Pirillo created a blog post entitled, "Should Parents Share a Kid's Life Online?"

The crux of his blog post is echoed in this video:

At the end, Chris summarizes:

Be honest with your child about what you post, and where. Listen to them when they are old enough to understand, and let them choose whether or not you post things.

I immediately thought of "Julie" (not her real name), the young child of Elizabeth and Jason, a Boston-area couple who I met a few years ago as a community theater actor. Since Julie's birth, her parents had posted pictures on Flickr and wrote blog posts on LiveJournal.

I emailed Elizabeth, referencing Chris' thoughts, and curious of her take.

Me: What do you think of Chris Pirillo's piece?

Elizabeth: That's a good post--cognizant of the issues involved, but without being paranoid or overly neurotic about it.

Me: Why did you decide to chronicle Julie's life on Flickr?

Elizabeth: Flickr is actually just a repository. The real project is her blog, where we have posted a single photo (and occasional video) of her every day of her life. I didn't really decide to do it every day; I just started doing it without a lot of expectations and this is what it became.

Me: Do you see it ever ending?

Elizabeth: Sure. I consider stopping from time to time and I think when she goes to school it will get harder and may end there as a daily thing. On the other hand, it's possible that she may get into the project and want to continue. Sometimes I think it would be cool if she does it all her life, but I don't have any particular plans in that direction.

Me: With her motor skills developing, has she seen herself online?

Elizabeth: Oh yes. She loves photos and videos of herself and often demands to see them.

Me: How do you think she'll react when she grows up?

Elizabeth: I have no idea. If she's bothered by it, I would be happy to discontinue the blog or make it entirely private. On the other hand, a lot of the trend pieces about the current generation of teenagers suggests that they have no real expectation of privacy, although they are sometimes a bit shocked by the consequences of that. I expect that navigating the future world will depend a great deal on how the net continues to develop and what particular individual our daughter turns out to be.

Me: Do you think other parents should photograph or videotape their kids from birth on up?

Elizabeth: Should? That's a very loaded word. I think it has some very interesting benefits and we haven't seen a downside yet. But people should handle their interaction with the world in ways that make them comfortable.

Me: Do you know other parents who do?

Elizabeth: Most parents that I know document their children in some fashion. My parents certainly did. I have heard of other daily-picture projects, although I don't track any of them, and there are gajillions of blogs and Flickr accounts and the like where people are posting photos and writing about their kids.

Me: Anything else you'd like to share?

Elizabeth: The point of the blog is both to chronicle Julie's childhood and to share it with friends and family who don't get to see her as often as they'd like. I think one of the things that makes it easy for us to do it on a daily basis is that we're both at home during the day, so our time with our daughter is not as limited as many parents' is.

In talking with other parents about how they document their children's lives, it seems easier to just put up a photo every day than to try to remember to do it occasionally, or to write entries about the kids' development. It is also more immediate--while we certainly decide what's interesting to shoot and choose what to post, there is a lot that is unmediated. We don't necessarily know what will be interesting--to Julie, to our future selves, to other people--about these photos and videos when seen years or decades from now.

At the moment, it's great to be able to compare shots from a year ago today, two years ago today, to see how much she's changed in a relatively short time, to compare how she measures against the same table, or how much more easily she navigates an obstacle now than she did six months ago. We do edit--I try not to put up photos of her completely naked, or that expose her genitals or show her excretory functions. I have those photos and I'll share them with her if and when she's ever curious, but those are aspects of my own life I prefer to keep private and I draw the same line for her.

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