So, something exciting happened today. I enrolled baby in school! Exciting/terrifying! More on that later.

As part of the enrolment process there is a section where you need to consent (or not) to your child’s image being used by the school. For our particular school it was a blanket consent, covering everything from the intranet, to social media and external media usage. I did not consent.

The woman at the office asked me why. I found myself questioning my decision, and feeling bad as it was explained to me that only a handful of children aren’t allowed to have their image shared, and it was implied that it means that handful of children are left out of situations where photos are taken.

The thing is I would love to see my kid’s smiling face beaming up at me from the school blog. I’d be more than happy to see her holding up a certificate in the school newsletter. But I do not consent to my child’s image being used on a public website; or for her to be on a public social media channel in an identifiable school uniform; or – really – anywhere the school chooses. So, I refused to sign a blanket consent form (while making note that I was happy to review on a case-by-case basis).

Now, you might thing I sound a bit paranoid. A bit over the top. And maybe I am. But before you judge I want to tell you why.

A school picture is an identifiable picture. A person can see a picture of your child in their uniform and know exactly where to find them and when.

OK, OK, I’m still sounding paranoid. After all, why would my child be the rare case of a child stalked by a predator online. Sure, but do you think anyone thinks they will be that person? Humankind is notoriously good at thinking things won’t happen to them. We have to. How would we survive otherwise?

Let me tell you another story I was told recently (note that this fictional story is adapted from a real-life story).

Matt is 13. Matt loves to play games online. He likes to chat with his gaming friends while he plays games online. But Matt is smart. He knows he should only play with people he knows. His user name is MentoneMatt06.

Jason says he is 13. Jason sees Matt playing online and asks to join in. Matt is hesitant. He knows he should only play online games with people he knows. He doesn’t know Jason. But Jason knows Matt.

Jason knows that Matt is from Mentone. He also knows Matt was born in 2006. How? Check out Matt’s user name. From that, Jason jumps online to research. It doesn’t take long for him to find Matt online. He sees that Matt barracks for Melbourne. He sees a picture of Matt in his footy kit for a local club. And he sees a pic of Matt with his mates in his school uniform.

When Matt says he doesn’t think he should play online with Jason, Jason tells him his cousin goes to the same school as Matt. And that he himself goes to a neighbouring school. And he starts talking about the upcoming footy season, and how much he loves Melbourne. Jason plays footy for a club in the same district as Matt.

Matt then feels he knows enough about Jason (after all, he knows some of the kids from his school) and decides to play games with Jason, and the two play online together for months.

After a few months, Jason tells Matt that his Dad won’t let him play the game online anymore, citing it inappropriate (what a bore!). He asks Matt for his phone number so the two can stay in touch. Matt gives Jason his phone number, and the two converse over WhatsApp for a couple of months.

One day, Jason messages Matt to tell him that his Dad got some awesome free headphones through his work at a local electronics shop. He has a spare pair. He tells Matt he can meet him at the park and give him the headphones if he likes.

Matt agrees.

Matt gets to the park and there’s no sign of Jason, but there is an older man, and he says he is Jason’s Dad, and he’s here to give Matt the headphones. The headphones are in his van.

Matt follows Jason’s Dad to the van …

I wasn’t told any more of the story, as the ending was too graphic, but you can see where it’s going.

Has Matt done anything wrong here? No. But this story scared the bejesus out of me. And it made me think that if there is anything I can do to protect my kid online I will. 

I am not going to stop my kid using technology. I think technology is great. But I am going to teach her how to use it safely. And that means removing identifiable elements of her in a public forum (that goes to user names, through to images – it’s why, dear reader, you will have never seen a picture of my kid’s face on this blog). One of them just happens to be a school uniform.

I hated doing this. I really did. And I wish the school gave me the option to choose scenarios where her image could be used. Childcare, for example, allow us to say yes to intranet images; but no to anything displayed to the public.

As a rule, I’m wary of signing any blanket consent form. And now you know why.

I’m not suggesting everyone should say no. Each to their own, and there’s no judgement here.

But I did want to share my story. Because I think it’s an important one.

I’m also kinda hoping the school considers changing their all-or-nothing consent approach going forward. (In fact, even the Department of Education implies that separate consent is needed for internal school use (intranet and newsletters) versus third party publishers (such as social media or school websites).)

Not even at the school yet, and already I’m a troublemaker Mumma!!