Is it safe to put your kid’s photos online?

by singlemomseeking on July 23, 2008

This blog originally grew out of my book, in which I’d already disclosed my real name, as well as my child’s. Even so, I was very cautious about going online.

Today, two years later, the community and support I’ve discovered here — with all of you — far outweighs any fears I might have.

Still, any parent needs to think about what’s safe for your kids — and you know best.

In a recent article in San Francisco Chronicle about “Mommy Bloggers,” Heather Armstrong — aka Dooce – says she “has seen photos of her daughter manipulated online.”

Did your throat just close up, too?

When I I attended at the BlogHer workshop on MommyBlogging: Public Parenting & Privacy this summer, the room was filled with fear. One mother told me later that the paranoia was too much for her.

The session began with a discussion about safety and our kids: sex predators, kidnapping, people stealing photos without permission, strangers finding out where you live, legal issues. If you’d like to read more detailed notes about the workshop, Rose’s Life did a great “live” write-up during the discussion.

It was very helpful to hear what Shino Tanaka — a former police officer and current community manager at BabyCenter.com — said about the realities of “stranger danger.” More than 80 percent of the children abducted every year are taken by people we know. Moreover, more than half of the cyberstalking cases are from people we know.

Crystal McKee — who uses real names and posts pictures on her blog Boobs, Injuries, and Dr. Pepper – writes about her 15 year-old son who was missing for 10 years. When she got her son back, she started telling his story.

“In real life, I’m very protective of my children,” Crystal said. “I’m more worried about the creepy guy who might live across the street.”

Many mommy bloggers raised their hands to say that it was their husband’s idea to keep the kids’ names and photos off the blog.

Some of you post real names and photos. Others use pseudonyms and watermarked photos (like the one of my baby, above).

I’d love to hear where you stand on this one.

Example of watermarked baby M from PHOTRADE, a company I discovered at BlogHer. (And no, they didn’t pay me to post this…)

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenn July 23, 2008 at 1:24 pm

As discussed before, I don’t mind posting the pictures, but names is not happening here. It’s still overwhelming at times, and there are moments when I almost post a picture, then re-think it–bare-chested babies, etc.

However, let’s not forget that a little picture manipulation can be a good thing; just ask that pic of me and Brad Pitt at my prom.

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Crazy Computer Dad July 23, 2008 at 6:57 pm

Because I defend networks that get attacked every day I stay pretty paranoid. When I am talking to ANYONE I am making conscious decisions about what information to divulge, how much personal info they really need, and I worry about asking personal questions from them because maybe they feel the same.

Metadata that resides in just about every file on your computer can be revealed and often used against you. Politicians now employ people to scour the files from opponents looking for things to burn them. Google is an amazing tool for mining information from sites and files in those sites. Employers and recruiters routinely scan social sites and blogs to find more personal information about the people they have hired or may potentially hire.

I find that most people do not equate the Internet to the physical world. They do things on the web that they would not do in a supermarket. Physical safety instructors often tell their student that they have to learn how not to become a target. Avoid behaviors and displays that attract unwarranted attention. The Internet is no different. Much of the information is hidden from plain site, but people that would exploit it know how to find it.

The flip side to this is that if I don’t put myself out there just a little I can’t connect to anyone. I can’t really get the help I am looking for, nor can I try to provide a little help for others.

Education about what threats are out there is key. Learn how information can be used against you can help you mitigate those threats. We cannot live in a web of fear, but ignorance is not bliss. A park ranger at Yosemite National Park once told me that if I see a bear act dominant towards it. I still don’t know how you do that, and we came across a few bears, but I know that predators feed off of fear. Part of our protection is looking after each other.

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Amy Nathan July 23, 2008 at 8:34 pm

When I kept up with my personal blog, I never posted photos of my kids. Nor did I ever use their real names. My last name is different from theirs, so even in my published writinig that uses their names, they are more or less anonymous since those have never included photos either.

I have offered the option of people to email me if they wanted to see photos of certain events I blogged about. And if I “knew” the person – I emailed them photos. Risky still to a point, but I am just cautious.

I would agree to have our photos in print – if I was ever so lucky to have someone ask!

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Susan July 23, 2008 at 9:00 pm

I made a conscious decision to keep my kids’ names and, for the most part, photos off my blog. First of all, my blog isn’t just about them or me being a mother, but the main reason was safety. It’s funny that when I meet people “offline” — or people I know fairly well — they refer to the kids as Drama Girl and T-Rex, which is kind of cool! (My kids think so, too.)

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5ksandcabernets July 23, 2008 at 9:15 pm

Great post! My son’s mother always wonders if I’m putting him in harms way by putting his pics and real name on the web. I usually blow her off, but maybe she’s got a point. I’ll try the water-marking thing (if I can figure out how to do it). But like you said, the support and benefits of blogging far outweigh the risks.
K

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The Exception July 23, 2008 at 9:37 pm

My thinking is in line with Crazy Computer Dad – and we might even work in similar fields. Knowing what is out there and taking the steps to mitigate or prevent something from happening is not living in fear.

I have posted pictures now and again only to remove them the next week. My daughter’s name does not appear anywhere on the internet in its proper form, and I limit my own exposure. Perhaps I have taken my training and profession a bit too seriously? I don’t know, but minimizing risk is important to me.

I love posting. I love my ideas floating out there and sometimes receiving comments. I love other people’s perspectives and thoughts so not reading or writing is not an option for me. But I want to maintain the line between reality and the internet; I want to have an elusion of privacy. That said, I have sent pictures via e-mail etc and enjoy the relationships I have developed through the internet.

It is a balancing act with each of us doing what we think is best and right for us and our families.

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Monique July 23, 2008 at 9:52 pm

I’m not big on using real names either. Now I have used the first name of my unborn child and often refer to his father as “Mr. Big” but other than that, I don’t think I’ll be posting pictures. My blog is private and I definitely have a subscription list, so I’ll share with them but that’s about it.

I think we do need to be careful about how much and info we disclose about our personal lives. Nowadays, you just don’t know.

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singleparentdad July 23, 2008 at 10:10 pm

Great post. I’ve considered the pros and cons of posting pictures myself. Each time the cons seem to outweigh the pros.

When I read other blogs I do look at pictures and it does help me put a face with the blogger. And that does make the blog seem more personal and helps me “identify” with the blogger a little better.

But I can’t get over my own fears about the vastness of the internet and who may come across my own blog to post pictures myself.

I do use our first names but no last names.

Another consideration that I’ve not seen mentioned is domain identifiers. Many of the blogs have their own domain names. I think it’s important to make sure that the registration is private so that someone can’t just do a whois search to track down the domain owner.

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singlemomseeking July 23, 2008 at 10:16 pm

I knew that all of you would have a lot to say, in your thoughtful ways. Thank you!

One difference for me is this: I became a newspaper reporter at age 20 (and later went back to get my journalism degree). So, at an early age, I got “used to” having my name out there, in print. Yes, it still makes me anxious at times — especially now that I’m a parent — but I’ve had practice with attaching my name to writing for the public.

I wonder if being a journalist-turned-blogger makes any difference?

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singlemomseeking July 23, 2008 at 10:17 pm

Single Parent Dad: Thank you for the reminder about registering your domain name with a P.O. Box — NOT your home address. If there’s a way to make this private, please let us know!

Many mommy bloggers brought this up: you might be unlisted in the phone book, but people can find your address if you’ve registered your domain name (your site) under your home address.

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singlemomseeking July 23, 2008 at 10:23 pm

Crazy Computer Dad: Thank you for the additional information, it’s very helpful.

Many mommy bloggers pointed this out (and I happen to agree): if someone really wants to find you, he/she will, whether you’re anonymous online or not. It’s the frightening side of technology, I suppose: information about us is more accessible than ever.

In short, bloggers at the workshop said: if you want to remain anonymous, do not blog. Or, keep your blog completely private, offline.

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QTMama July 23, 2008 at 10:55 pm

Ha. So what would be the point of blogging if it’s completely private, offline? It’d be like my journal at home in the drawer! But, some are more comfey with that, obviously.

It’s a scary thing … but again, you’re right. If someone REALLY wants to find you, someone will. Period.

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littlemansmom July 23, 2008 at 11:10 pm

To be honest, I don’t know why I post some photos but keep names out. I’m kinda with QT with the whole privacy thing. I’m proud of what I write am not afraid that what I write may be used against me. It’s an expression from my heart and the photos of my life are something that I want to share. I am selective as to what photos I share though… If I’ve got something to say publicly, I stand by it. I may look into the watermarking as well, but sadly I’m not overy computer-literate so it all depends on if I figure out how to use it! LOL…

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laurakim123 July 24, 2008 at 12:24 am

I am sure I commented on this!!!!! Oh well! I will do it again!

I have chatted on a moms forum for 5 years and we debate this daily! But I still post pics of my kids and use their names! And like you the friendships and support I get from the site far outweighs the negatives!

Like Crystal said I am more wary of the dodgy folk we come into contact with daily and they are there – blog or no blog!

I suppose it comes back to what you feel is best for you and your family!!!

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dadshouse July 24, 2008 at 12:41 am

I never use my kids’ names in my blog because I don’t want their friends to google them and end up in my blog.

I also don’t put up recent pictures of my kids. I have a few older shots up, and they are there with my kids’ consent. I just figure it’s not the world wide web’s business.

Even beyond kids, I’m very careful in my blog to not name names or identifying characteristics of people. As David Sedaris might say, my stories are “realish” – they are based in truth without being too revealing.

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Modern Single Momma July 24, 2008 at 3:06 am

I’ve always had and will always try to keep a core belief that people are generally “good.” Meaning, that they aren’t out to get us, to stalk us, or to doctor up our photos. However, the element of motherhood demands I be aware of the possible dangers and wierdos.
I don’t use my last name. Probably not too hard to discover it, though. I resisted for awhile using Lucca’s name, but it was too much work. Maybe if I was more clever I would hav chosen a code-name for him ;) But my nature is one that is just really open with people…my philosophy is if you trust in others, trustworthy people will surround you.
That being said, I try to be smart and not make myself an easy target for the untrustworthy!

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judy July 24, 2008 at 3:20 am

I have not yet entered the blogging world however I would not post photos or use my daughter’s name. I never put her name on her backpack,and she never wore those cute necklaces/barrettes etc with her name when youger.

Being in middle school though, if you google her, dogpile her or any other various search engine there she is big as life. If you child’s name is mentioned is a weekly school newspaper and that paper is available on line that is all is necesary for the link.

Learn safety, be aware, and don’t forget to love live in this world. Paranoia keeps you alone.

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pisceshanna July 24, 2008 at 4:11 am

I post pictures but I don’t use my daughter’s real name. My town is pretty small anyway, so its hard to keep yourself under wraps. I don’t have any stalkers yet, but I do worry about my Ex reading it. Plus with Kori’s present situation, I’m starting to freak out a little bit.

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Dr. Leah July 24, 2008 at 6:22 am

Is there an “ex factor” that figures into your decisions to post pictures and other personal information?

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singlemomseeking July 24, 2008 at 7:34 am

Dr. Leah: Great question about The Ex. That could play a huge part in deciding how much info to reveal on a blog.

One mother talked about being in the process of adopting a second baby… the agency found her blog and because she writes openly about parenting (the hard days, as well as the rewarding ones), they decided that she wasn’t a fit parent. I found it rather unbelievable.

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Kat July 24, 2008 at 9:58 am

I’ve used their real names since day 1, and posted pictures since day 1.
I had 1 crazy blog stalker who took their pics, mine, the pics of my sister, my dad, my nieces, and posted them on his site with all kinds of horrible things being written about them.

While at times when my sons were younger, I worried about doing that, one of the things I learned was to never post where we were going until we came back.
Going to the movies? Don’t post that until we got back and so on with everything.
In pictures, I made sure the numbers on our house or mailbox never showed.
As they got older, I discussed with them the very real possible dangers of being on line, and the things we all needed to do to stay safe.
I’d have to say that since the stalker incident, nothing else bad has happened. *knock on wood*

Just be vigilant, make your posting and picture rules and stick to them, and you’ll be ok. :)

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laurakim123 July 24, 2008 at 11:25 am

My ex was not a factor at all and never will be! Until our settlement is signed tho I am a little wary of what I put on about the “bad days” – pretty much for the same reason as the mom Rachel mentioned!

I doubt he could actually get as far as that but he could just drag our our settlement LONGER!

I actually also find it rather shocking that that mom was not “allowed” to adopt! Surely people are aware that parenting is NEVER all good and is probably the hardest most challenging thing you will ever do and rather have someone who is honest about that and not living in a world of fantasy about how wonderful it is all the time!

I like what Modern Single Momma said too – I think if we all assume people have alterior motives its going to make the world rather sad! And I really want dont want my kids growing up paranoid and living in “fear” because of fears and paranoias I have!

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Dr. Leah July 24, 2008 at 8:50 pm

The tale about the woman denied adopting because of her blogging was likely “half the story”.

Single moms (to be) still negotiating with an ex in a
contentious divorce are probably best advised to not blog until the ink is dry on the settlement. Judges are a conservative bunch, typically, and aren’t comfortable with Internet/blogging, especially posting pictures of kids without the permission of the other parent.

Of course, if you are in this situation, talk to your lawyer about this matter and take his/her advice, but do discuss the situation before you start blogging/posting.

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singlemomseeking July 24, 2008 at 10:05 pm

Yes, Leah, I’m sure there’s a lot more to that story. Thanks for pointing that out.

Thanks for adding that: if you’re dealing with anything legal, talk to a lawyer before you blog.

Kat: Your precautions were also mentioned at the conference. Be aware of where you photograph, so that you don’t include any house numbers, etc. And if you’re going out, blog about it AFTERWARDS. Thanks!!

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jenn3 July 25, 2008 at 10:14 am

I’m so glad I read this (and all the comments). I’m new to blogging (about three months I think) and I used my daughter’s real name from the beginning. Then I noticed that other moms don’t and started to stress a bit. I only use her first name and I don’t ever say the name of the city we live in. I’ve never posted my last name, either. I started out with no pictures, but after making friends with other bloggers, I wanted to share my baby with them. Now I post pictures, but I always make sure there are no house numbers, etc in them. I’ll have to check into the watermark thing. I guess I think, if someone wants to hurt us, it will more likely be a weirdo at the grocery store. The world is scary and we have to be cautious, but we can’t live in constant fear either. We have to have faith.

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Misha January 14, 2009 at 11:34 pm

I broke up with the father of my daughter about 10 weeks ago and he has a new girlfriend who posted a picture of my daughter in her underwear on her webpage. I am actually going to request a restraining order tomorrow. The kicker is she works for the department of social and health services.

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