Monday 7 September 2015


Following expressions of interest in topical posts, I am introducing a new series to the blog - Family Matters. It is a place where I want to raise issues that relate to being a parent. The posts will vary from week to week, and may cover topics from health to education and development, among others. The style of the posts may change too - from opinion pieces to real-life stories and interviews. It is my hope that Family Matters becomes a conversation - or a forum - to discuss and learn - such as when you chat to another parent and tell them a little of your story, and they relate their experience, or that of a friend; and sometimes they also recommend a website or book, and together you walk away feeling that you've learnt something. It is not a didactic or dogmatic column. Rather it is a place to exchange ideas and viewpoints. So, please, it would be great to read your comments below.

While our parents might have lived through the sexual revolution, we are living through a technological one. There are times when I can't quite believe that I'm recalling conversations had with people in other parts of the world who I've never met before. As I work from home, I can spend many hours not talking or meeting anyone face-to-face, yet by the end of the day I will have had multiple conversations on various devices - from emails on my laptop to online chats on Instagram via my phone.

The funny thing is that while predictions of the future - especially in the form of movies and TV shows - had everyone wearing sci-fi clothing and living in clinical homes, the opposite has happened. The more technologically advanced we are, the more we seem to crave the handmade, the "authentic" and talk about living slowly and with meaning. Hence the success of publications such as Kinfolk and the boom in craft industries as well as the popularity of dressing like an artisan. The point being, that we really can't foresee how our technological world is going to play out.

There are new areas that we are dabbling in too, which are unchartered territory. There have been no long-term studies, for instance, on the effects of children having their lives shared on social media. Wherever you sit in the argument, we can't know with any certainty what the outcome of a public life will have on children.

This topic is something that I think about a lot. As with most decisions in life, it is shaded in many hues of grey. I wanted to share some of them below, and then reach out to you.

While I created a Facebook account with some hesitation, I embraced social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram with enthusiasm. When Facebook first launched, I never really understood the desire to connect with people who had faded into the distance of your life. Surely, if you wanted to keep in contact, you would? But Twitter was different. At the time I was working as a journalist and it interested me to keep up-to-date with the feeds and accounts of writers and people in the arts - to know of their news. It became an edited news feed. But as I moved away from news journalism to lifestyle publications, Instagram became the platform I used the most. Initially, it was for work. And I still have the account @nataliewalton, which shares updates on my portfolio, includes behind-the-scenes pictures from sourcing and photo shoots, and has photos of products and places that interest me from a work point-of-view as a writer and interior stylist.

But after I started a family, I felt that there was a big part of my life that I wasn't sharing. Sometimes I would include a photo of my son, however, those images never sat well. It felt like the wrong context and I was also conflicted over including images of his face, and putting him in front of the public eye. This wasn't his choice, after all.

In those early days, my concerns didn't relate to the popular catch-cry: pedaphilia (and generally they still don't - even though I have come across some strange and disturbing sites that "steal" a child's image for role-playing purposes). It was more about my son's right to privacy.

As I had more children, and spent a greater part of my life engaging in child-focussed activities, I felt an urge to share these projects. There were some days when I was frantically trying to find a kid-friendly baking recipe that we could all do together, or somewhere where we could explore that was still achievable between breakfast and nap time. And when online shopping became accessible and more affordable in Australia (after having had many years of limited choices), I was keen to learn about the new shops and brands.

The pull to setting up a child-focussed Instagram account was strong. But the concerns over privacy never waned. The solution, for me, was to have the children anonymous, to an extent. No sharing of their names, our location, or their date of births. And refraining from showing their faces online. This way, I felt, I could share our projects and experiences - and hopefully help or inspire others - and not have to compromise on privacy.

Sometimes I waiver from anonymous photos though. But I do try to refrain from full frontal shots of their face, and to not show their eyes. My guiding principle is, "Would someone be able to recognise them in the street?" The exception is the youngest, as a baby's face changes so much. But she is getting to an age where I want to be a little more careful.

The main reason for my concern is that it is not their choice to be exposed publicly. While I am their parent, this is their life - and having a public profile can have long-term effects. Some are listed below. Others I won't know until their life unfolds.

1. The joy of discovery One of the joys of life is getting to know someone for the first time. Learning about their life growing up - where they lived, their interests, their family. And from that person's perspective. When our children are teenagers, they will have a vault of images and information at their fingertips about other children at school, and people they meet. It seems to deprive them of one of life's wonderful journeys of discovery. Self-discovery too - because they will recall their lives from the copious amount of photos their generation has rather than their own stored memories. They will also be able to see their own digital footprint - and people's comments about their photos, as well as the number of likes in comparison to siblings, and other feeds, etc.

2. Inappropriate focus While there is a lot of good that comes from platforms such as Instagram, a lot of it is also quite self-involved. From selfies to surreptitious brags - and some friends have called it a competitive sport (or a popularity contest). Is this focus on the self the message we want to be sending to our children? 

3. Public profile There are some accounts, usually with large followings, that attract a gushing fan base. The children are becoming mini "celebrities". A reality-TV-style existence - sometimes just better dressed. And while I don't think these "followers" or "fans" would ever do anything to hurt or harm the children featured, there is a potential (and plausible) scenario at play that the children might be placed in situations that are uncomfortable or inappropriate for them - people gawking at them, having their photo taken, for example. All of the things that some high-profile people try to avoid with their own children.

4. Future prospects This is extreme, I know. But what happens if your child one day wants to run for President or Prime Minister or be a Chairperson or CEO or some other leader in their field. Will they want the world to see them having a tantrum, scribbling on a wall, running around naked or in their underwear, covered in food, or gorging on treats. There are people who make careers from muck-raking and spinning and will use any image or information as ammunition. Bullies take many forms, and it's not possible to know how your child, teenager or even adult child will hold up to any of this. Of course, it might amount to nothing. But what we take pride in, coo over, confess or open up for discussion in public spaces might unbalance a child later in life. 

5. Security issues Some years ago in Australia there was discussion of a national identity card. The public was in uproar about institutions having access to personal information. Yet today people happily share every little detail of their children's lives - from their date and place of birth to when the family is leaving their home to go on holiday. For now this raises questions over identity theft (or other financial theft - particularly related to security questions with financial institutions) and potentially home theft, as well as others that we might not know of yet.

At lot of people with public profiles, and who share their child's images freely, often state that they don't want to live a life in fear. They also say that it is their choice as a parent to make these decisions. Also, many argue that they are not sharing images that in any way compromise their child. And then there are those who share images, sometimes in a documentary style, other times in plain defiance with a "stop sexualising children" stance.

I have noticed that there are a few different types of accounts that have emerged in relation to posting photos of children on Instagram.

1. Chronicling parenthood Generally sharing day-to-day moments of being a parent, and providing updates on developments and milestones, such as birthdays and family holidays. 

2. Editorial-style feeds Feeds that only post editorial-style images, generally using their children as models to promote products.

3. Business owners Some parents with an online business use their children as models to promote their wares.

4. Monitored private accounts There are some accounts that started public but then switched to private so they could monitor and veto new followers. They still accept new followers but not everyone.

Then there are people like me, who are creating accounts and blogs that straddle the first two points - often with a view to monetising their feed. Certainly, as with many others, I put a lot of time and effort into creating content that I hope to be recompensed for some time in the future. And I'm conscious that in some ways I am using my children - disguised, or not - to do this. Of course, if I didn't have children, and we weren't engaging in our activities then I wouldn't feel compelled to share what I've learnt with others. 

There are days when I think I am taking this whole matter too seriously. ("But what's more important than considering the wellbeing and happiness of your children," says the other part of my brain.) And it's all a bit of fun. ("At whose expense? Why don't you post photos of yourself instead of them?" she argues.)

Simple living isn't always so simple. Not when technology is involved.

I would love to hear your stories, and where you stand on this issue. What do you feel comfortable sharing? Why did creating public profiles for your children? What do you think of the various types of sharing? What are your concerns? Do you give yourself parameters about what you share - and why? Have you come across any great resources on this topic?

images the indigo crew


  1. Hi Natalie,
    You are to be applauded for putting so much thought into this. I have never even considered that idea of self-discovery, but I find this all the time thanks to Facebook et al. I have posted pix of my little one on my public Instagram where his baby face is very recognisable and I have put photos of him on my little blog. I always felt that it didn't really matter as so few people read or follow me. However, after doing a Google image search and finding his photo on a random site - not sinister, just a spammy sort of webpage, but even so - I now try not to put his face online. I do mention him by name and tell some tales about him though. It's a tough one as these communities - especially IG - encourage us to share our lives and our children are such a large part of that. Anyway, it's something I am thinking about and I appreciate hearing your very sensible thoughts on it all. x

    1. Hi Bex,

      All of this - and a whole lot more! - has been swirling around in my mind for a long time. There is a lot more to it, but perhaps I need to write a thesis instead! However, I do think it's something we need to think about as parents. I'm passionate about maintaining the beauty and innocence of childhood for as long as possible and also considering what impact my decisions have on their later years.

      It is a hard topic because sharing images is certainly a way to get instant connections with people - you become more of a "real" person in an online world. And there's a lot that's fantastic about IG.

      I guess, we all just have to find our own way, and what feels right for us.

      Thanks for taking the time to write your thoughts on this.


  2. Thank you for this interesting and thought-provoking article. It is a subject I constantly see-saw and waver between; the worry of overexposing my children, but also to share our story, document our life-journal for us. Many of the arguments and fears you have put forward, it hadn't even occurred to me! I am probably guilty of a few of those, yet to address the first point specifically, I find photos trigger memories, relive a moment. Hence, I guess that is my argument for taking photos and putting them onto a place (e.g. IG) for the main and sole purpose for my own record. And yes, my account is public (something I have trouble finding a balance with unlike Facebook privacy settings). I am slowly learning to live with it as I find one of the single most benefits I have got from, the likes of IG, is being able to share stories and experiences with others. Those who have opened their world up to me and to countless other, through a selfless way, simply by sharing their love, whether it would be their children, shopping, or simply photography. They are enjoyed each and everywat. I guess we have moved a long way from being the cave-men or-women that we have. The world has gotten more sociable, whether with the help of social media or not, and we should somehow embrace the openess of our lives, even for a little bit.

    1. Hi Diana,
      I like the photo journal aspect of taking photos too. But I question - do I need to post them on IG to achieve this. What's the difference between just taking photos on your phone and creating the same stories? I guess you can't write captions on your own photos - not that I know of. Or it could be private?

      But, yes, sharing does provide access to a community of other sharing parents too. And there's so much to benefit from this. I have had lots of ideas on craft, meals, childrenswear (that's sustainable that I might not have found before), to places to explore...

      But do we need to share our children's identity to achieve this? This is the point that I struggle with the most.

      And while there are moments I just want to share images of my children because they make me happy or it's just a beautiful moment captured in some way, I wonder if this is for their benefit, or mine?

      But, yes, the world is changing, and we need to consider how to navigate our way through it.

      I'm trying to walk through with open eyes to all the benefits and the pitfalls, and make a considered decision.

      It's not always easy though!

      Thanks for taking the time to write your take on it. Appreciate it.