When Do Paparazzi Parents Cross the Line?


My grandfather turned 90 last week and our entire family gathered from across the continent to celebrate. Cousins met for the first time, and instant familial bonds were forged. When my 4-year-old, Charlie, gave 16-month-old Eloise a big hug, I was right there at ground level to snap it, filter it, and toss it on Instagram.

“My sister and I make cute kids. Wait. That sounds wrong,” I smugly captioned it before adding a dozen hashtags. But suddenly, there was a nagging little voice in the back of my head: My sister doesn’t put pictures of her kid online. My brother-in-law is a little tight with the leash on that rule. I’d better double check.

I showed her the picture, she agreed it was cute, and then asked me to delete it. No problem. Her kid, her rules.

But while that kind of thing is easy to manage when you’re in a small family environment, how do you make sure those rules are respected when you’re not?

For some schools, the answer is to ban all photography.

This week, our school sent around the release form for photographs. They asked for parents to consent that pictures taken of our kids at events or in class could be used to promote the school (it’s a private school), and shared with other parents.

I’m fine with that. Our teachers take lots of pictures and small videos of the kids when they’re in class, and it was especially helpful at kindergarten and preschool parent/teacher time to see small clips of our sons succeeding in a natural classroom setting. At the end of the year, the teacher compiled the clips into a movie, and sent us the file on a thumb drive. You had to sign the release before you could get the file, and it was a wonderful year end gift.

Contrast that with the experience other parents are having, as reported in The Globe and Mail:

The child-care worker explained cheerily that staff members were forbidden from photographing or making videos of any of the children, and parents were expected to refrain from doing so at the annual holiday pageant and end-of-year open days. “We don’t actually ask you to hand in your smartphones at the door, like some places,” she said, smile firmly in place. “We trust that parents can resist the urge to take pictures all by themselves.”

Dial back and read that again. The schools are asking parents to not take pictures during year-end ceremonies. When your 5-year-old is reindeer number two in the holiday pageant, you’re not allowed to take a picture, or record a video for the grandparents.

On the surface, it sounds ridiculous. We’re all parents, we’re all there just going snap happy zooming in our own kids. Right? But if you change your perspective, suddenly it’s not so crazy.

Last weekend at a local pump track, I saw a dad with a sports sideline caliber camera, firing off photos of his kid on a bike. He took it seriously; this 3-year-old was wearing a GoPro for crying out loud.

At first I thought it was harmless, but with each repeated shutter fire, I shuddered. I knew he was just taking pictures of his kid, but it was a busy course. My son would ride in behind his kid, and now my son was captured with his click-click-click. I didn’t like it. It made me uncomfortable.

The Paparazzi Parent

It was that same feeling I got from the dad with the big zoom lens in the pool at the resort in Mexico. I know he was just getting his kid, but … we left the pool early that day. I made the same choice at the bike track. We left.

Click-click-click-click. I felt like I was at a red carpet and a Kardashian kid was riding a bike. It was creepy. It was a somewhat irrational creepy feeling, but I still had it.

And now, as I go back and look through the pictures of my son’s end of school assembly last year, I see many faces of his classmates. Pictures of people’s kids that I have captured and shared on my own social networks. Sure, I try to crop close to my son, but I have pictures of other people’s kids that I’m sharing around the web.

The Globe and Mail reports signs at child care centers are now reading: “We ask that you refrain wherever possible from taking photos of children who are not your own.” Well, it does kind of make sense, doesn’t it? It’s just common courtesy.

But do we really need to outright ban all photography?

Twenty years ago, when we struggled to fill a 36 exposure film roll in four months, we didn’t care who was taking pictures because we wouldn’t see them again. Now? Those cameras are live to the web, instantly uploaded, and tagged, and searchable, and shareable and …

I can see why my sister didn’t want me to share the Instagram of my niece. I can see why the school gets uptight. But in the same breath, I also feel that common sense has left us.

If all we really care about is a picture of our own kid, isn’t the collateral damage of another child in the frame (to which nothing is likely to happen) a reasonable cost?

If you had to pick between not being allowed to take any photos of your child, or letting them appear in the background of another parent’s shot, which would you choose?

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