BACK when I was a kid, baby photos were shoved into shoeboxes, placed in dusty albums and put on shelves to be looked at only once every 10 years or, if you looked really cute and were wearing that lovely smocked dress that Nonna bought you that cost a bomb, framed and hung on the wall of the spare room.

Parents subjected only their close friends and family to boring photos of their children at slide nights, where at least you’d get some Coon and Jatz and a glass of warm Yalumba to get through the tedium.

Mums and dads may have been enthusiastic about these little photographic soirees, but they didn’t invite the media. And no one ever took out their Polaroid to snap their own photo of the projector screen, photocopy it 5000 times and poster it around town so everyone could see little Jenny sitting naked on the loo.

But now we live in a world where parents can and do document every second of their kids’ lives on the camera phones that are always in their pockets with the express purpose of sharing it with everyone they know, and many they don’t.

It’s now second nature for parents to post baby photos to social media, where they get liked and shared by friends, friends of friends, and distant relatives you didn’t even know you had, before they’re eventually found by viral news websites and turned into memes.

We accept this kind of over-sharing as the new normal, but what is it like for the kids in question?

Some parents in Austria found out this week when their 18-year-old daughter launched legal action against them for posting hundreds of “embarrassing and intimate” photos of her childhood on Facebook.

“They knew no shame and no limit, and didn’t care whether it was a picture of me sitting on the toilet or lying naked in my cot, every stage was photographed and then made public,” the girl was reported as saying.

Her parents refused to delete the photos, so now she’s suing them in what will no doubt act as a test case for embarrassed teens around the world.

In fact internet law and ethics experts are already saying cases like this are a certainty in France, with the country’s strict privacy laws meaning parents could be fined or even jailed for publishing photos of their children without their consent.

At first it sounds ridiculous, but honestly, if I were a kid growing up in this kind of environment I’d feel a bit violated too.

A 2015 study by the University of Michigan showed 74 per cent of parents know someone who “over-sharents”, that is: shares embarrassing information and photos of their children online.

As researcher Sarah J. Clark said: “By the time children are old enough to use social media themselves many already have a digital identity created for them by their parents. Parents may share information that their child finds embarrassing or too personal when they’re older but once it’s out there, it’s hard to undo. The child won’t have much control over where it ends up or who sees it.”

Imagine trying to navigate adolescence and early adulthood knowing that every dumb photo of you from the moment you were born is out there on the internet. The one where you fell over naked in the mud patch in the yard, and the one where you got your head stuck in a toilet seat, and the one where you smeared Vegemite all over your face.

If these legal cases give parents pause before posting photos of their kids online, then good. If not only to protect their children, but to protect us from being bored to death by them.


First published in The Advertiser on September 25, 2016. CLICK HERE to read the original article.