Online privacy for children and why you’ve never seen photos of my sons here

It wasn’t some higher motive that has kept me from posting photos of my children online, at least at first. It was their mom, who was afraid of online predators. Overafraid, if you ask me. Sharing photos of my sons playing at the park or blowing out their birthday candles was never going to invite that kind of trouble. But she was pretty direct about it: don’t post anything that identifies our sons or there will be a fight.

It was not the hill I wanted to die on. In the decade since, I’ve never named my sons online, never posted a photo.

My older son is 19 now, an adult in society’s eyes. So after a portrait session with him this summer, I just asked him if I could post a couple of the shots on my blog. “Knock yourself out,” he said. So here, for the first time: my son, Damion.

Yashica-12, Kodak E100G, 2016

He was in a reflective mood on this overcast day. I thought Crown Hill Cemetery might provide some fitting backdrops.

Yashica-12, Kodak E100G, 2016

It feels great to finally show you my son! If you’re a parent, you understand: this young man is my heart.

It’s been frustrating for years to speak of Damion only indirectly and never to show his photograph. I’ve felt jealousy over the years as my friends and family shared photos of their kids on their blogs and on Facebook.

But sometimes they’d post awkward situations and unflattering poses that I thought must embarrass their kids. I wondered how those kids would feel about those photos when they were adults. It’s led me to change my views on how parents should manage their kids’ privacy online.

As an old-school parent I think children aren’t responsible enough to manage their rights on their own. It’s our job as parents to manage our kids’ rights for them, allowing them to make more and more decisions on their own as they mature.

I don’t think routine family photos that cast a kid in a reasonably positive light are any violation of the kid’s privacy. I don’t think sharing a kid’s name makes him or her any more susceptible to online predators. So if it were not for my ex’s strong words years ago, I would have been sharing my sons here and on Facebook all along.

But you can’t predict how your kid is going to feel about privacy as they grow up. By every stereotype, my millennial son should be Snapchatting and YouTubing every moment of his life. But he doesn’t. Damion grew to be a deeply private young man. You’ll be hard pressed to find him online. A year or two ago he canceled his seldom-used Facebook account because his mom and others kept tagging him in photos they shared there. (Yes, I know she was doing what she didn’t want me to do.) He wants to tightly limit how and when any information about him is shared. I was surprised that he gave me permission to share these photos.

Now I’m glad I haven’t been sharing about Damion all these years, that my externally driven moratorium ended up serving him well.

So before you write about your kids or post photos of them, consider how might they feel about it when they’re adults. You can’t predict how they’ll turn out and what they will care about. Just as I could never have guessed Damion would become so deeply private.


14 responses to “Online privacy for children and why you’ve never seen photos of my sons here”

  1. tina Avatar

    Jim, it’s great to finally meet Damion. I can see why you are proud of him. (Sorry for the pic of Darin in my gravatar.) -Tina

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Tina!

  2. J P Cavanaugh Avatar

    Damion is a fine looking young man who seems to know what he wants, which is a good thing.

    My own kids have been much more open to sharing things about themselves online and I have tried to follow their lead just as you have. I have, however, tried to not share those things that I don’t think they would share about themselves.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I think that’s a good policy, Jim. Your last sentence is the last five paragraphs of this post in a nutshell.

  3. Jason Shafer Avatar
    Jason Shafer

    Damion is wise beyond his years. Good for him on knowing what he does and does not want.

    Managing your child’s rights is a very good way of describing it. In the few times I’ve delved into family online, I’ve always tried to be evasive about age and name – even for adults. It even took a while to mention my child’s gender. Jim, you’ve done a very good job on keeping your cards close to your chest, and followed your son’s lead – both of which are to commended.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I wouldn’t have been so evasive about anything relating to my kids had it not been for my ex. But in retrospect, it was a good call.

  4. dmswriter Avatar

    I can see why you’re proud, Jim! I have a son, and as you said, he’s my heart, too. How mature that Damion has chosen to limit his online activity. I hope this is a trend that more young people adopt – choosing to share with the world only what they want out there, not what someone else decides should be posted.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I have one more son, still not quite an adult! So one day I’ll share more about him too.


    Very nice to finally see your son, Jim. He reminds me so much of you back in the day.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you for saying so Nancy!

  6. urbanhafner Avatar

    Yes! That is exactly my story as well. My wife was against it but I’ve now understood that it would be nice to give the kids a chance to decide themselves what part of their life should be public or not.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes, it’s like considering the rights they might want as an adult while they’re still young.

  7. hmunro Avatar

    What beautiful portraits you’ve made of Damion, Jim. In addition to inheriting his father’s good looks, it sounds like Damion has also inherited his father’s strong inner compass. As others have commented, it’s a testament to his maturity that he has developed such strong boundaries about his privacy — especially when there’s so much peer pressure to share everything, 24-7. I also thought it was gracious of you to admit that maybe your wife had a point, in hindsight, even if her photo ban seemed overprotective to you.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Why thank you Heather! On all fronts!

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