My dad had a picture of his children on his desk at work. It was a picture of three naked butts. It was myself and my two younger brothers. We were ages five, three and one. My brother even had a ring around his butt from the potty. My dad’s three little assholes as he said!
I did not know this picture was on his desk until I was much older. I went to work with him on a Saturday and saw it. I was horrified! I now think it is hilarious, but as a pre-teen, my sense of humour had not developed enough to find my naked butt funny, and my dad had not asked if he could put it on his desk.
As I scroll through Instagram and Facebook, even Twitter, I see many pictures of people’s children and I think back to my dad’s picture of his three little assholes. That picture was only seen by a handful of people, they could not screenshot it, and thankfully my face was not in it. However, if social media had been around at the time, would my naked butt be permanently out there for all to see?
In most of the pictures I see on social media children are fully clothed, however, sometimes they are not. Most of the pictures are only being seen by “friends” or “followers” but how many friends and followers do people have? Do they even know who they all are?
As a Sexual Health Educator consent has always been at the forefront of my mind, as I know it is for many others, but are people thinking about consent as they post pictures of their children online?
Are they asking their children, or other people’s children, if they can take their picture? Are they asking if they can post their picture? Are they asking what they can say about their picture?
Consent is not only needed for sexual activity, it is a daily practice which must be negotiated in our day to day lives. We must re-evaluate how we think about consent and apply it in more ways.
Many of the pictures I see are of very young children — children too young to give informed consent. And I know that many of the pictures I see of older children were not taken or posted with the child’s consent.
So the question is: should the pictures be on social media at all?
How will these children feel when they are older and look back at themselves posted dozens, hundreds, even thousands of times? How will you teach your child about consent when consent was not modelled by you?
We can all start by being more mindful of what, and who, we are posting. We can ask children for permission. We can model the behaviour of asking everyone for consent before we take their picture and before we post it.
Building a community of consent will take active engagement by all of its members, and it will be worth it.
Stacey Jacobs is a local sex educator and advocate.
Stacey Jacobs has been a Sex Educator for almost 2 decades. For 13 of those years she worked as a Sexual Health Educator at Planned Parenthood. She teaches in the Sexuality, Marriage and Family Studies Program at the University of Waterloo and when not educating, she enjoys reading, walking her dogs and eating good food. The life of a Sex Educator is usually not as interesting as people assume.