Will all the grandparents present please raise their hand if they have a digital picture of their grandchild?
My recollections of my grandparents revolve around the harshness of their early years, their faith that if you had family memories and mementos of life and those of your children and your grandchildren, life was good. The important lessons of life always found their way back; to protect your family, provide for your family and leave this world in better condition than when you arrived. Their interaction with their grandchildren was confined to in-person interaction, expensive long-distance phone calls and written correspondence.
Let's reflect on some key milestones with respect to the technological advances of the 20th century. Grandchildren born after 1950 never had a day without "computers"; while those born after 1980 never saw a man set foot on the moon, nor have they had a day without the existence of the personal computer or cellular mobile telephony; and those born after 1990 have never lived a day without the internet; with those born after 2000 having never had a day without social networks. All of which were and are evolutionary points of time on how memories were and are shared.
Is there a more important ingredient in our global societies and cultures than those provided by grandparents and their life's lessons to their grandchildren? I don't think so. Though I never met my father's parents -- they had passed a few years prior to my arrival on this planet -- that doesn't mean they weren't influential. Their life lessons were shared indirectly through the recollections of my father, the eldest of 11, and annotated photos. Similarly, my mother's father passed away during my early teens, while her mother reigned as the matriarch over her family of nine in truly noble style for 20+ years. She used to say she and Rose Kennedy had much in common; both were iron-backboned New Englanders with nine children, then she'd laugh and go back to washing the laundry. Her willingness to share family lore was always accentuated by the annotated photographs accompanied by the many tales, both true and tall, which put those photos in context.
In my family, memories were memorialized in journals, diaries, scrapbooks and photo albums, which were often pulled out and shared when visits occurred. Photos shared through the mail were often group family shots (and with size of my parents respective families panoramic photography was a requirement at family reunions) or the yearly school picture of the grandchildren, annotated of course: "Christopher, Grade 5." If you could afford it, a moving-picture camera might find its way into your family's hands, and a treasure trove of 8-millimeter reels containing our childhood antics would be collected. Visits were then accentuated by an hour of film and slides and perhaps that school photo handed to you on the way out the door.
This is how memories were shared with grandparents since the mid-19th through the 20th century. Now fast forward to 2010. Photos and videos are captured by the thousands. These photos and videos are then shared with grandparents through digital photo frames, compact disks, USB drives, email, online photo services and social networks. Annotation of photos has never been easier; no need to write on the back of the 3x5 glossy, we can caption the photo digitally. We can post it to a social network or online photo album with name, location and date all suitably memorialized through the placement of a tag or caption.
Nirvana; no longer do grandparents have to wait for the mail to arrive to see photos of the new infant grandchild, or Johnny in his first baseball uniform, or Sally in her ballet tutu, or Kathy's first horseback ride, etc. These memories are now captured, annotated and posted within seconds of occurring.
It is here where I urge caution amidst the euphoria of vicariously enjoying the experiences of your grandchildren.
You see, grandparents prior to 2000 could be reasonably assured the only pictures of their grandchildren, which would be seen by those whom they couldn't identify, were those that were taken by the school or at events covered by the local paper. Now, grandparents can and do receive daily photos and unfortunately, they are sharing the photos far and wide when they share these with their friends, both physical and virtual.
Take a moment and understand how these photos are being shared. When you take your grandchildren to the park, do you put a coat on them with their name and address printed on the back in six-inch type for all to read? Doubtful. But this is precisely what is happening thousands of times a day as photos of grandchildren are posted to the various social networks via online photo albums, or parent/grandparent blogs. When you post your grandchild's photo and annotate or tag the photo with their name and location, take one more step and ask yourself: "Whom am I allowing to have access to this photo and information?" If the answer is, "I don't know," then take a moment and learn how to set privacy and access controls, a bit of self-education is in order -- trust me, your grandchildren are worthy of the investment.
Am I advocating that the sharing of photos with friends and family should stop? Absolutely not. l am, however, advocating taking those few moments necessary to confine access to your grandchildren's photos, names and locations to those whom you both know and trust. While you are at it, you may also wish to configure the presentation of the photos in such a manner that they are unable to be shared in an onward manner by one of those whom you have permitted to see the photo. Be circumspect at the content of the caption and tags. These are truly small, albeit practical steps, which will serve to keep your grandchildren safe.
Enjoy your time with your grandchildren and please do your part in keeping them safe online. My grandparents would expect nothing less.
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