Down the Hole: Parenting, Privacy and Internet Safety

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Jamie cu chi tunnels: Privacy and Internet Security — An Epic Education

As I was writing a recent post about my kids, something struck me — something that often strikes me when I write a personal account of my family that anyone with an internet connection has access to: Am I doing the right thing?

This is, at the very least, a two-part question:

Regarding Internet Safety: Am I somehow putting my son and daughter in harm’s way by revealing their names, likenesses and (general) locations?

Regarding Personal Privacy and Identity: How will my musings and doting reportage affect their future selves. And how will it affect my relationship with them? Am I harming my children’s future prospects by providing too much personal information about them?

J, Fi & Me scooter HCMC — Privacy and Internet Security — An Epic Education

When I write about our kids, I do it for a number of reasons: to document our life for friends, family, my readers and myself. Sure, I do it for the kids’s benefit, as well, but c’mon. I’m not fooling anyone — this is me on this page. I could simply make them a scrapbook, but instead I chose a unequivocally public route to store our memories.

It’s not all ego, though. I genuinely want to help people, and hope that eventually, something I offer on this site will make an impact on the lives of others (there’s that ego again). I want to show what we’ve accomplished, share our adventures with other families, and hopefully encourage a few of them to do something similar.

But all this comes at a cost. There are real and valid internet safety concerns when creating a permanent digital record of your children online. Once I hit “publish” on a post, any pictures, words and videos contained within are no longer mine. They become property of the internet. I could delete them from my blog, but I can never scrape their existence from cyberspace. They’re out there, permanently, with data readily available for perverts, marketers, future dates, potential employers and impending cyber-overlords alike to acquire.

Perhaps more importantly, I also ponder my children’s own sense of control over how they are portrayed to the world. How will they look back at my adoring prose recalling significant (and often personal) life moments, such as our meltdown in Chiang Mai, or their first attempts at making money? I’ve returned many times to this excellent post by blogger Whit Honea, which questions the consequences of writing about our children.

Are we too creating worlds of words that will one day cause more heartache than the joy we now feel? By putting our own children on a stage viewed by an endless audience, are we providing the fodder of therapy sessions and fostering acts of rebellion?

Jamie playing chess in Bukit Lawang: Privacy and Internet Safety — An Epic Education

I thought I’d made my peace with these realities, but I’m occasionally struck with doubt. I want share both our triumphs and our pitfalls so that we can look back at the good and the bad, and so some reader could (possibly) learn from our example. I want to inspire. I want to show the nitty-gritty of this lifestyle, and occasionally strip off some of the sugarcoating that travel writers add, just to show that I’m not a snake oil salesman. I want readers to know that long-term nomadic living can be tough on a family sometimes, but that it is still undeniably the best thing we’ve ever done. How will my kids internalize what I’ve written about our journey when they’re older and read it themselves? What if they read what I’ve written today?

Fi on Fiverr: Privacy and Internet Safety — An Epic Education

I ponder these questions now and then, but I always come back to the same conclusion: Relax. It’s ok. In the end, being a global citizen means being a resident of the internet, and the sooner our kids know how to navigate that world —  in all its horror and glory — the better. Unless something drastic happens in the world and we’re all living in yurts and hunting elk in the Taiga, the web will play a major role in their lives. And as the Wireless Generation trailer notes, there’s a really good chance that their livelihoods will depend on it.

HCMC bus family portrait: Privacy and Internet Security — An Epic Education

I truly believe that, so I’ve made the choice to throw them into the pool with me and teach them to swim there. I hope their future selves will understand.

How do you approach privacy and internet safety with your kids?

Comments

  1. Great blog and page, we are just starting out on our RTW trip with 2 little girls and I also worry about what I can and can not post and the problems of revealing our where abouts etc … thanks for sharing your thoughts our blog is only just up and running and you can also find us on instagram @onelife4living

    • Hey, Craig. Welcome! Yes, every family approaches this differently. I know families that don’t want their children’s names or images on the web under any circumstances. I also know people who kids have grown up on the web, and now even have their own Youtube channel. I can tell anyone what is right. If I could go back, I’d probably keep the names completely off, but there are valid arguments for every facet of this. A modern parenting conundrum if there ever was one.

  2. I went back and forth with this for years (thanks for the mention!), but I’ve found peace in the sharing. I talk to my kids about stories, let them pick/veto photos, and don’t ever use their name(s) should the topic be one that might embarrass them later—granted, it won’t take a detective to put it all together, but at least their names won’t be forever linked in posts about [insert embarrassing thing here]. One of the main factors in our decision to share is that many of my concerns are based in my own reality and the way that I perceive the world, something that is contrasted by the reality my children live in and the way the world is constantly changing. Everyone used to get 15 minutes of fame, now they get 15 seconds over and over again. I feel that I do my children a greater service by modeling positive behavior and being active in the process than trying to hide them from it. Other views may vary.

    • Thanks for joining the convo, Whit. And it *IS* a conversation, even though it can occasionally feel like a debate — in my head, at least. But my conscience invariably settles back into comfort and confidence with my decision to share our lives, but I have drawn lines when it comes to subjects that involve strife or personal stuff.

      Actually? Now that I think of it, I’m about to double-down on the kids-on-the-web thing, as I’ve signed the kids up for a junior travel-blogging mentorship with a virtual instructor (classes via Youtube & Skype). It’s partly to work on the their vocabulary and writing chops (English is a 2nd language to them), but the class also goes into photography, cultural literacy, privacy and proper web conduct, including attribution. Hey, they’re already in the river, so might as well hire them a professional swimming coach, right?

  3. I agree that risks can be overblown but personally I try hard to protect the identity of all people I write about on the internet. I am careful not to mention surnames, addresses, exact locations, even first names if too unique, especially if linked to negative comments. We must remember that what may seem nothing to us may have repercussions we don’t not understand (especially in other countries/cultures) e.g. We may be naming a staff member in a restaurant who gave us poor service, just as a fickle comment or review for others. That staff member may then get fired and cannot find work in that town due to your comment. This may effect his family and their children’s prospects, etc.
    What you write on the internet stays on the internet. Think carefully about what you publish about others, your children, your friends and strangers. That is what a considerate, global citizen does. Too many bloggers are too self involved to see the bigger picture – don’t you think?

    • You’re absolutely right: what you say online is forever out there, and could have repercussions in the future that are hard (or impossible) to fathom at this time. I don’t think that I’ve disparaged someone on this blog, nor would I care to. But I also believe in speaking my mind responsibly, and I can foresee a situation where I might criticize an experience or service I received. As for the kids and their online presence, we have allowed more than some people might like. They have accounts in several services, but their connections there are relatively restricted. Of course I am no fool in that they will stay protected from strangers there, but it is what it is. Fortunately, they haven’t expressed much interest is most social media, so they’ll arrive at it (if they choose) on their own terms.

      As for keeping your children’s faces obscured on the web, that’s not a bad idea. I tried it early on, then tried creating caricatures using certain apps, but eventually dropped it when I couldn’t find an elegant workflow to make quick. Only time will tell if that was the wrong decision.

      Thanks for your comments. And apologies for the very late reply. We’ve been on the move since the day you wrote, and I’ve been arranging the next year’s worth of work in the past 4 weeks. Whew. Hope that doesn’t hinder you for commenting further in the future.

  4. Hello Jason;
    What a great blog you have.
    This is a doozy of a thought. At present we have made a different decision from yours although I understand and realise we may change to your perspective as our kids become older. Faced with the decision we decided not to include full face images or personal details of our children in our blog. (Although like you the vast majority of our photo’s and travel stories were about them – this did make things tough at times).
    We feel at this time, that it is not up to us to represent them, their actions or their thoughts. Of course as they grow older they will want to do that for themselves. We do agree that ultimately they need full exposure after careful education to the internet. Censorship is not the ultimate answer. (you can see that they created a page each on our blog on which they put things they wanted).
    Still at this point in their lives (All three being 10 and under) we feel they are not yet ready. We think in the future they will appreciate this consideration. Each parent must make their own decision in this regard and each child is different.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  5. Great post!

    I can’t see myself ever posting anything bad about my kids, since I wouldn’t want anyone to write publicly about me either in those times when I’m less than my best self (we all know that no-one is perfect, but usually don’t feel comfortable broadcasting our major less-than-stellar moments to the world at large hehe) And honestly, if I were to ask my kids, I’m 100% sure that they wouldn’t want me to put that stuff online anyhow. 🙂

    I’m not terribly worried about putting their pictures online though – I think most fears about having a photo of yourself or your kids online are waaaay overblown, and that applies to kids too. If I were to post publicly that we are located in a particular city, is it really all that likely that some crazy stalker is going to hop on a plane to find us? Doubtful. Will a local pedophile read our blog and say “Hey, those kids look might tempting, I’m gonna find them muahahahaha” Possible, sure. But so unlikely as to make it not worth worrying about. 🙂

    My kids aren’t using the internet themselves yet, but when they start, we’ll be sure to teach them the common-sense precautions that we take for ourselves, and monitor them until we are confident that they won’t make any serious mis-steps.

    • Hi Sheralyn. I also feel that predator/stranger-danger fears are overblown. Not that they don’t exist — they certainly do, and the stories can be terrifying and heartbreaking — but like any aspect of life, precautions and awareness trump outright avoidance. To (over)extend the whole Internet-Information superhighway analogy. Roads and automobiles are a crucial part of life. They are also dangerous, and often deadly, but I won’t stop using them or keep my kids off them because of reports of auto accidents, even if caused by the occasional drunk or crazy person. Instead, I’d rather teach them to navigate this part of their lives carefully.

      Of course, this doesn’t speak to the identity issue of exposing their lives to the web, and this is a real (if not as immediate or urgent) concern.

  6. Ashley Beolens says:

    It’s a dilemma that pops into my head sometimes as well, but I kind of feel that the chances are they will be putting their own lives on the net throughout teenagerdom anyway, I can see the point of view of those who want to leave the decision to their children, but it almost makes them an outcast of modern society not to be included.

    But I guess in reality we are as good as experimenting on our kids by putting them all over the net, as none of us know exactly what the future will hold.

    Oh god, now I’ve given myself the moral dilemma again, should I really be selling them out like this?!?

    • I think I’ll bob back and forth on this one for a while, but I feel fairly confident that if I don’t focus too much on the personal side then we’ll all be ok…I think…

  7. I wonder about how I portray my children as well. I also think that it’s important to be mindful of their feelings as they get older and have more web access.
    I wrote about it here – you might like it. http://larrydbernstein.com/i-wont-write-that/

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