What to do if your friends and family don’t respect your wish for privacy.

By Masada Siegel
Updated December 04, 2017
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Woman taking photo of two girls in field blowing bubbles
Credit: Frank van Delft/Getty Images

My little guy and I had just come home from a birthday party, when I glanced at my phone and saw super cute-photos of the two of us shared all over Facebook. I didn’t know what to say. The friend who posted the pictures is generally really thoughtful, but she knows my personal policy is that I don't post photos of my son on social media unless you can’t see his face. My reasons range from safety concerns to being considerate of my friends who have shared their infertility struggles with me—I know seeing photos of cute kids all over social media only exacerbates their pain.

I knew my girlfriend was most likely posting party photos of all the kids, to share the joy with all the parents, and she just forgot how I feel. I had a dilemma on my hands and wasn’t sure what to do. Should I say something and risk annoying her and having her think I’m self-absorbed, that I think everything revolves around me and my kid—even thought it was her child’s birthday party—or do I say nothing?

Navigating the world of social media etiquette is a work in progress, as the platforms change daily and rules are nonexistent. While I want to keep my child off social media, I also want to keep my friends, and not make a huge deal about every little post.

It’s a question I have been grappling with and when I recently wrote about why I don’t post photos of my little boy, I found I wasn’t alone in my thoughts. Many Real Simple readers had the same questions on how to delicately handle situations like this one. So I reached out to Scott Steinberg, author of Parenting High-Tech Kids, to get some answers. Here are his tips.

Woman taking photo of two girls in field blowing bubbles
Credit: Frank van Delft/Getty Images

Remember that your friends mean well.

Before you get too annoyed, it is important to remember that people usually only have the best intentions. They are just excited to share photos with family and friends, and not necessarily thinking they might be upsetting you by what they see as posting a joyous occasion.

Have an up-front discussion.

It’s best to address your position regarding privacy issues with family and friends before it becomes an uncomfortable situation. “The simplest and easiest way is to have a positive, frank, and upbeat conversation with folks, letting them know that you prefer to keep kids’ online profiles to a minimum for safety and privacy reasons, and that you’re more than happy to do the same for them if they’d like,” says Steinberg. Mention it over coffee or on the phone, and then gently remind your friend about it when you’re at a gathering together where you suspect a lot of photos will be snapped. “We live in a world where people are conditioned to put more of themselves out there faster than ever before in more places more frequently with less of a thought—pausing to think before you post is becoming less second nature.”

If they do it anyway…

Everyone has people in their lives who perhaps are not the best listeners or don’t even remember your request. So there are ways for you to take control, by untagging your child or yourself from a photo or post. I have my Facebook profile set so that when people tag me, I have to approve the photo before it hits my newsfeed.

Choose your battles.

You can drive yourself crazy if you try to police every single image of your child that your friends post on the Internet, so you might want to save the discussions and untaggings for photos that give away more information that you want to advertise about your child, such as where he goes to school or camp, rather than photos where your child simply blends in as one of 15 kids chowing down cupcakes, with no other identifying details. I’ve been trying to maintain a sense of humor and to keep the little things in perspective—and in my worldview, social media is not worth losing friends over.

So with my friend who posted those birthday party photos on Facebook, I decided to do nothing. That said, a few hours later my friend called me and said, “I just realized I posted photos of you both from the party, and I know how you feel. I am so sorry.” I was grateful for the call, and especially happy that I decided to keep my mouth shut.

Everyone has his or her own feelings about how much to share with the outside world on social media. Some people want everyone to know everything, while others prefer to remain private. Since social media is not going away anytime soon, it might be best for us all to learn how to diplomatically navigate the Internet world—a skill it will be wise to teach our children too, because soon enough they will be taking their own selfies and deciding how much to share.