On a recent journey through Instagram, I came across an image of a young child, in what could be called a compromising position. The person who had posted the image (the child's mother) had also posted a comment about her experiences on raising her daughter and how much she valued the Instagram community for what she was able to share and learn from other parents and caregivers. She likened the 'community' to an African village and mentioned how important it was for us to maintain the mantra “it takes a village”.
The post received a considerable amount of feedback - some emotionally charged responses - some positive and some negative. Although I didn't agree with the way in which some people chose to express their discontent with the post, I could understand their objections to the image and I did feel an unsettling feeling and experience the same feeling about similar images I see on social media.
As adults, we have the choice to post pictures and videos of ourselves, doing all sorts of madness, dressed in whatever we like (or nothing at all). Children don't have these choices, specifically with images like the one that prompted this rant.
I appreciate that Instagram and other social media channels allow people to connect with family and friends across the world, who they may not see very often or at all, and these platforms enable them to share a snippet of their loved one's life. But does it have to be the most intimate snippets for the whole world to see? Posts about key stages of child development are undoubtedly invaluable for many parents but the choice of images that accompany these posts must be carefully considered.
Due to sites such as Instagram the 'village' is a lot bigger than it was 20 or 30 years ago and it is considerably harder to monitor where these pictures are viewed and by whom. To be honest there are some people in the 'village' that I would say good morning to but wouldn't necessarily have round for tea. Whether we choose to accept it or not, some people with severe psychological conditions, including sexual perversions, are able to use similar social media sites to find images of children and use these sites to contact and groom young children. Publicly posting such images of young children leaves them unnecessarily vulnerable and powerless to decide how they choose to be seen in the world.
We have to remember that within an actual village, members are usually able to monitor the behaviours and actions of others and lend help and support to those who need it. Social media sites offer no such moderation and once we post an image we have no idea what happens to it.
It is the job of the 'village' to protect children and preserve the innocence of childhood until they reach the next stage of development. Our failure to do so, not only threatens the child, but also threatens our freedom to choose how we raise our children and subjects us to what we will call 'common sense legislations'. For example, in the UK it is now illegal to smoke in a car with an under 18 year old present. Many people reading this might think, “yes but why would you smoke in a car with a child whose lungs are not fully formed” - yet here we are. Failure to comply with this legislation could result in a fine of £50. You are also liable if you fail to stop another person smoking in your car with a minor present. It shouldn’t take acts of parliament to dictate how to keep our children safe.
The role of the 'village' is not only to raise the children but also to hold the adults to account when their behaviour falls short of what is expected. I am a very stubborn person and I know how difficult it can be to accept when someone critiques your behaviour but this is often essential. One of the ironic things about the Instagram post was the way in which the mother dismissed some of the comments where people criticised her behaviour. Admittedly some of the comments were overzealous but to ignore the people that challenge us restricts our own growth. As some elders in the village might tell her “ears that do not listen to advice, will accompany the head when it is chopped off”.
Originally posted in June 2016