Recently, we had our prizegiving event to celebrate the achievements of 2022, and this is the kind of moment that parents obviously want to capture: your little one has done well, or they’re holding their own in their first big gashuku. They’re adorable in their gi, training in the front row, or your teen is helping a younger student, and your parent heart wants to burst with pride. And so, you snap photos and share them to the family Whatsapp group, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok. The likes and hearts roll in, and the memory is preserved.
So, the afternoon after the gashuku, a mom messaged me as follows:
And this is what got me thinking (and finally around to writing this long-ass blog post.) While we do have a new photography policy in the dojo (I.e. no photos at all unless specified) as part of our contract, we hadn’t specified whether this applied to events outside the dojo. We had the gashuku and subsequent prizegiving in a church hall that we rented. Now under South African law, two things are true at once:
You have the right to take photos of anyone or anything if it can be seen from a public area. This includes parks, city streets and sporting events or concerts. This also allows for any private property or buildings to be shot from within the public domain. Any person and member of the public is basically wavering their right to anonymity or privacy by appearing in these areas and is therefore fair subject matter for images.https://www.craigfouche.co.za/the-law-and-street-photography-in-south-africa/
So, technically, anyone appearing in a church hall, a dojo, in the park, street, or even their own garden, is fair game for a photographer. But:
“A photo of someone belongs to that person, just like any of their other personal information would belong to them. Generally, you would need their consent before you can distribute it, such as share or post online.”Candice le Sueur Fisher, a Cape Town-based privacy and ethics consultant
This excellent article (specific to SA law and ethics) points out that posting cute pics that may include other people’s children is unethical, especially when doing it for likes and clout.
“But, Zoë, it’s my child! I want to share their karate with the world!” you cry (or growl). “I’m sure it doesn’t matter that someone else is in the background.”
Hold up, there. I get it, I really do. I have two adorable sons of my own. I want all those I know to witness their cuteness, their cleverness, their obnoxiously adorable outfits and quirks. I get it. If they did karate, I would probably love to post every move they make.
But here’s the thing: it’s just not safe to do so. And so, here is a list of reasons why we’ve banned photography in our dojo, especially of group situations where multiple kids are clearly visible.
Reason 1: Creeps
According to Time Magazine, parents post nearly 1,000 pictures of their children online before their 5th birthday. You know who else is online?
Pedophiles used to have to lurk outside schools to see kids (they probably still do). Now, literally millions of kids’ pictures are posted every day, bottomless fodder for the people we fear most as parents. With the advent of AI technology, it is possible for people to generate child p**ngraphy using a few good images (or, even better) videos of children they’ve never met. And while you might have decent privacy settings, your well-meaning uncle/cousin/bestie might share your post, and then it gets shared again, and now strangers have a picture of your child on their phone and you have to assume the worst, because why else does a grown man download a picture of a stranger’s child? I refer you to the story of Wren Eleanor, a cute three year old whose TikToks were downloaded thousands of times by strangers, especially one with her in a crop top (45,000 times), or eating a hot dog (375,000 times).
And even if you turn off downloads, every phone comes with screen-recording, so they can record whatever gets posted anyway. Charming. There are apps that let people download Whatsapp statuses, so that’s not even safe. I’m pulling back on my own posting of my sons to my Whatsapp status for this reason.
The availability of photos and information makes it easier for predators to groom children as well. If you have the time, and the stomach, this documentary about a mom posing as an 11 year old and the attention she gets from creeps online will likely have you checking your child’s phone (and your photos) in no time:
Reason 2: Cybercrime
Sharenting is a cyber-criminals dream. It is especially easy for them when those who were born before social media and are ‘digitally deficient’ (think about your aunt who keeps using Facebook to google recipes) share everything about your family without being aware of their anemic privacy settings. Using social engineering and the wealth of information posted about a family, it’s enough to do what’s rather delightfully called ‘spear phishing’:
Digital expert Dr Colin Thakur, based at the Durban University of Technology, said spear phishing was a targeted attack in which criminals mined the internet for any information they could find on an individual, such as their birthdays, friends, hobbies and names of loved ones, which they used to strike up a relationship or pretend to know you.Sharenting ‒ a cybercrime bullseye
We even had an incident a few years ago when a dojo mom got an SMS saying that they had kidnapped her son and they demanded R10,000 cash: they knew his name and school from her Facebook posts, and it was enough to scare her. Luckily when she phoned the school, her son was safe, but it was enough for her to stop posting online. It is important to have a conversation with those family members who don’t know how to use social media properly about sharing anything about your kids. This is an ongoing battle we have with protecting our kids and keeping them off the internet as long as possible.
Reason 3: Consent and Right to privacy
As mentioned before, some parents will post literally every moment of their child’s lives online. But now we’re seeing those children grow up, and they’re facing the repercussions of their parents’ oversharing.
It is a problem being echoed around the world. Last year, Microsoft released the results of an internet safety study of 12,500 teens across 25 countries. Of the teens surveyed, 42 percent said they were distressed about how much their parents “sharented” online, with 11 percent of them believing it was a “big problem” in their lives.The Perils of Sharenting: The Parents Who Share Too Much
That cute pottytraining moment? That meltdown in the store? Or that kid who hates karate and has now become a meme? Why do adults think it’s okay to post someone’s worst moments, and then get upset when they’re told to take it down? I think about my most embarrassing days, and I am so grateful that they were long before camera phones existed. We should extend that same grace to kids growing up today, so that they can retain their dignity (even though you know everyone else would love that video.)
And that way, they won’t have cause to sue you later on. Bonus!
Reason 4: What your child thinks you value
I’ve mentioned this before in a previous blog post, but its also about the way we signal to our children what we value about them. If we only post about their gold medals, their gradings, their accolades, but not about how kind, how thoughtful, how gentle they are, kids get the message that only their accolades matter, not their personalities. Their karate becomes about gradings and belts, not progress and grit. They see their karate as a performance, and when they fail to perform, they quit karate altogether. A minor point, especially after the previous three, but one I still think worth mentioning.
Reason 5: Dojo Drama/Bullying
My December holidays were interrupted by drama of the digital kind – dojo teens were taking videos and photos of each other, and then making Tiktoks and sharing them without permission. On top of that, other kids in the dojo that weren’t even remotely involved were in the backgrounds of these videos. Even though I can’t control what people do outside of the dojo walls, it still affects the dojo itself, and therefore our livelihood.
One of the reasons we’ve banned photography in the dojo is because of these incidents where seemingly innocent videos are used to bully other classmates. What was once a cute friendship photo is now being used to make mean stickers (I didn’t know this was a thing, but now I do) and it becomes my problem because Sensei is also a referee of teen drama. To minimise this, we are constantly having discussions on etiquette regarding videos and photos. It boils down to these points:
- If you wouldn’t say it in front of your parents or sensei, don’t say it at all. Be kind, or be quiet.
- Screenshots are forever: the internet is a permanent repository.
- Save your drama for your llama!
- Block the bully and report it – don’t get into mud wrestling with pigs, because they like it and you get dirty.
I know Ché and I can’t actually stop parents from sharing everything. When I’m teaching, I’m focused on teaching: I might not see a parent surreptitiously recording the class. And while parents are fully within their rights to take a photo of their child, they might photograph someone else’s child, especially when they’re doing partnerwork. I can hope that they will put emoji stickers over the other child’s face, but I can’t guarantee it. It is tougher to add stickers in videos (but not impossible with apps like CapCut and Inshot.) All we can hope is that parents, teens and adults will exercise their common sense and think before posting. I know it’s not a great aesthetic when you have to put hideous emoji stickers over the faces not related to your child’s face, but in a world where our privacy is being eroded, it is the least we can do to protect ourselves and each other.
3 thoughts on “The Dojo, Photos, and Sharenting”
Lots of food for thought, Sensei. There are many highly respected Sensei who conduct excellent programs for children, many with emphasis on self-protection and bullying. Their images are scattered all over cyberspace. I have never seen anyone give the issues raised in your comments serious thought until now..
My hope is that we can work on more sensible online policies, as we are facing challenges that no instructor in the past could have ever predicted, especially given the ease with which our images can now be manipulated.
Another instructor I know pointed out to me that his dojo is small and everyone signs a consent form, but since we have some parents who already wanted their kids offline years ago, we can’t have one rule for some people and not for others. And while it may put a cramp in some parents’ styles, I would never want the dojo to be a source of images for predators. I know a nearby swimming school has an extremely strict photography policy because the kids are much more exposed in their costumes. While the karate suit is much more modest, it doesn’t entirely hide the fact that a child is wearing it.
Thank you for always taking the time to read and comment, Arnold! It means a great deal to this humble writer 🙂
Always a fan!!