I signed onto Facebook recently and quickly realized it’s that time of year — when photos of smiling, backpack-wearing, sign-holding schoolkids off to class get posted faster than I can click the “Wow” emoji.
The first-day-of-school posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media outlets have officially taken over my news feeds. And as I, too, quickly snapped the obligatory photo of my 7-year-old daughter on the porch, I wondered about the risks of posting these photos online. I also wondered what someone with real photography skills — not just me, who grabbed my iPhone after clearing the breakfast table — would do to capture the moment.
Young people have turned away from sites including Facebook and Instagram in the past five years, so the photos no longer present as much of the bullying or embarrassment risks as they once did for children, said Caroline Knorr, senior parenting editor at Common Sense Media, a Washington-based nonprofit dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology.
“I think that we’re in a world now where it is very common and very accepted,” Knorr said. “This is something that parents do, and it goes out to their social circle and grandparents and all their friends can see.”
But there are still a few things to keep in mind when it comes to sharing your child’s adorable back-to-school snapshots with the world, Knorr added.
— Don’t tag your children in the photos: In order to give children as little of a digital footprint as possible, Knorr recommends not tagging them in photos, and keeping descriptions of the children vague. Refer to your child as your “DD” (Darling Daughter), or state her age instead of her name. In doing so, you keep personal information about your child away from strangers who may see the post, and thus keep them safer, Knorr said.
— Be selective about whom you share with: Instead of sharing with your entire Facebook friend collection, take advantage of the option to select audiences. Limiting who gets to see the photo will help the photo make it to the people you intend to show it to (say, Grandma) and keep it out of the news feeds of people you’ve forgotten you’re Facebook friends with (say, the woman who sat behind you in high school English class).
— Don’t post kids who aren’t yours: Even if the neighbor kids all posed for pictures on your front porch, it doesn’t give you permission to post them on your social media. Make a pact with fellow parents beforehand to either allow or not allow photos to be posted online. “Because people really have different values and different views about social media, that could really obstruct the personal relationship that you have,” Knorr said. “Not everybody thinks it’s OK.”
— Discuss social media posting with exes, blended families: Knorr said gripes between contentious ex-spouses over social media posts have become so common that she would love to see agreements on social media and children added to divorce parental agreements. But until they are, it’s best to be sensitive to the idea that your ex might not be comfortable with seeing his child on your porch with your new spouse. Have discussions beforehand so as not to create tension, Knorr said.
As for how to take the photos, here are a few tips from Chicago Tribune photographer Jason Wambsgans, who won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in feature photography.
— Go beyond the “Say Cheese Smile”: When photographing kids, parents tend to ask for the canned smile, but the best moments usually come just before or after the pose. “That candid moment right before or right after might reveal more of their personality than just a big, frozen grin,” Wambsgans said.
— Include incidental details: As years go by, the background of a photo becomes as nostalgic as the subjects. So take a full body shot to capture shoes, socks and other details. And don’t crop out the car on the driveway or new tree in the yard. Seeing them will take you back to the moment someday.
— Pick the right spot: Wambsgans looks for areas with open shade, where people being photographed don’t have any harsh shadows on the face. He also suggests choosing the same place for the first-day-of-school photo every year, to show the passage of time.
— Back up your photos: Finally, don’t rely on social media to be the keeper of your precious memory. Back up the photo somewhere where you know you will always be able to get it when you need it.