Imagine that your child grows up and someday assumes the role of a public figure. Maybe your daughter will run for public office or become a professional athlete or a much beloved teacher. Maybe your son will work for a Christian organization or receive a call to serve in full time ministry. And then imagine how your child's dream can be shattered if pictures emerge on the Web that compromise your child's reputation and question his or her character. Not likely, you say? Think again. With the prevalence of digital cameras and camera phones capable of taking unlimited pictures and video clips, all it takes is one momentary lapse in good judgment. Many a fallen beauty queen, American Idol contestant, politician and public figure can attest to damage done by fallout from little-known or forgotten pictures surfacing on the Web — pictures that were never intended for public viewing.
Below, you will find a set of rules that I require my children to abide by when it comes to pictures and video they may upload to the Web. Feel free to edit or adapt these to fit your preferences. I would begin to go over these rules as each of your children enters middle school, and continue to remind them of the rules as the years progress. Even if your child is not yet allowed to participate in social networking sites, it is not too early to begin to talk about the sites. Your kids may still end up appearing in pictures and video taken and posted by others. You may consider even posting the rules somewhere near your computer so they are not easily forgotten.
- Do not upload pictures or video of yourself or your friends in swimwear, pajamas or anything that exposes too much skin. A rule of thumb is this: Ask yourself what sort of reaction the picture/video in question would get from your pastor, grandmother or father? Also, do not allow others to take or upload pictures or video like the ones described above to the Internet. If someone takes your picture or shoots video of you in inappropriate attire and puts it online, politely explain to the person who took the photo or video that it will have to be removed from the Internet.
Note to parents: It helps if your child gets the speech down so he or she is able to confidently explain to their friends, "My parents will not allow me to be in pictures or video on the Web in my swimsuit, pajamas, etc.") Let me also note here that our sons should not be taking pictures of scantily-clad girls at the beach, lake party, or poolside, much less uploading them to the Web. There are plenty of girls who are willing to smile for the camera, but this does not make it acceptable to snap their pictures.
- Do not take or upload pictures or video of people without their permission. And always use good judgment. As the popularity of online photo albums and sites like YouTube increases, we will see more and more lawsuits brought by people who were either photographed or video-taped against their will or who simply did not want their images posted publicly to the Web. Never take pictures or video of strangers. If you have any doubt at all about whether your friends would approve of your posting pictures or video of them on the Web, ask them first.
- Do not engage in crude behavior. There are plenty of decent pictures and video clips to be shot, so make sure you never participate in such useless and ridiculous antics as urinating in public, taking pictures or video or having a picture or video taken while on the toilet, grabbing someone's private parts, staring down someone's pants or blouse, smashing your cleavage together, bending over for the camera, public displays of affection (making out, etc.), and other behaviors that would fall into this category.
Note to parents: All of the above, I mention in detail because I witnessed them firsthand in my research, and many of the individuals who displayed the above behaviors were church kids.
- Use the privacy setting when uploading your pictures or video to an album. Privacy settings are usually available, and this will limit the people who can view your photos and video to your immediate friend list.
- Do not allow inappropriate comments to be posted by others about your pictures. If you find them, delete the comments immediately. For example, my daughter had a picture in one of her albums and one of her friends came on and commented about how busty she looked in the shirt she was wearing. Not appropriate, especially given the fact that guys on her friend list had the ability to rifle through her photo albums. The picture had to go.
- Make sure your photos and video will meet the approval of Mom, Dad, and above all, God. Keep in mind that for your own protection, your parents will be spot-checking your photos, video clips, friend list and their photos and video, as well as your other online information from time to time. If we happen to find evidence that you are not following our rules, you will no longer be allowed to use the digital camera or post pictures to the Web. This level of accountability is not to control you, but to keep you and your reputation safe as you grow and mature in exercising good judgment on your own.
As the ability to take pictures and streaming video (even with cell phones) becomes standard, it is more important than ever to teach our children to behave responsibly when taking or posing for pictures and video. The more outlandishly a person behaves in front of the camera, the more likely the footage will surface in the form of a picture in someone else's online album or YouTube video clip. And the last time I checked, the online community numbered over 900 million "members." Talk about incentive to behave!