Essay:
Parental Control
Teenagers are now discovering the digital footprint created for them by their parents. Tom Faber considers the dos and don’ts of “sharenting.”

Issue 39

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Arts & Culture

  • Words Tom Faber

Place your hand in front of a child’s eyes, and everything disappears. Take it away again—peekaboo!—and the world rushes back into existence like a wave filling a rock pool. This simple game has much to tell us about infant development. It underlines the omnipotence of the parent, who can dramatically shift their child’s horizons on a whim. It emphasizes, too, the slow dawning of self-awareness in children; they are six months old before they learn their bodies are separate from their mother, three years old before they recognize themselves in a mirror, and five by the time they understand they are fixed, perceivable selves—beings bounded by flesh and skin.

For centuries, this was the final stage of self-awareness, but today, for the first generation who are younger than Instagram, younger even than TikTok, there is a new final step: the first time the child Googles themselves, realizing they exist in a virtual public domain where their image is infinitely reproducible, sh...

1. In 2018, the UK Children's Commissioner report “Who Knows What About Me?” estimated that parents now post an average of 1,300 photos of a child before their 13th birthday. The report pointed to research suggesting that by 2030 two-thirds of identity theft committed against young people would be as a result of information shared by their parents.

2. In France, which has strict data protection laws, the police have issued warnings to parents to avoid sharing photos of their children on Facebook. In 2016, French legal expert Eric Delcroix told The Daily Telegraph that "In a few years, children could easily take their parents to court for publishing photos of them when they were younger." The law has yet to materialize.

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