There’s a picture of 4 year old me, in a high chair, thunder written all over my face, while my mother stands behind me cutting my hair.
To the right of me in the picture swings a pillowcase from a rope, stuffed with rags.
I remember that day with clarity – I was as furious as my face would imply.
I was furious because my mother was cutting my princess hair. I wanted to grow my hair as long as Rapunzel’s, because I felt trapped. I hated being where I was. I hated feeling bad and naughty and out of control and far away.
At the time we were living on a compound in Kuantan, Pahang, Malaysia. I was going to pre-school in the local community, and I didn’t speak Bahasa Malay. That meant a lot of standing under a picture of the Queen, for infractions I didn’t quite understand. It meant being called “white ghost” by other children and being excluded from play. It meant hearing my Amah call me “nakal” for not eating the lunch she’d prepared, with enough chilli to knock over a horse.
It meant adventures sometimes too – leaves from rubber trees big enough to use as umbrellas, weekend trips to Singapore, which was just over the sea, and watching with pride as Daddy’s little red car would overtake the big timber lorries, loaded with logs – only to get bogged 5 metres down the road, and having all the village men come and push us out. It meant mango trees to climb and hide in and eat from until my tummy was sore and juice dripped down my chin and hands.
I saw my hair, my princess hair, as the way out. If I could grow my hair long, like Rapunzel, I could throw it all the way to Nanny’s house in Australia, and pull myself across. At Nanny’s house I could eat the Weetbix I missed so much on her green chair, and play with Kassy -Nanny’s beautiful Golden Lab, gentle and kind, and not at all like the village dogs who belonged to no-one, roamed unchecked, and would snarl if you came too close.
So when I look at that photo, I see a little girl who felt trapped and stuck and powerless. Thankfully, that picture has only one copy, and it’s in an album I own. And if I don’t ever want to look at it ever again, I don’t have to.
It was taken in 1984. No-one had Facebook. No-one had reasonsmysoniscrying.com or knew what baby shaming was. And I’m thankful. My big feelings in that moment represented pain and genuine confusion about what was happening in my world.
The punching bag that hung there hung there because on coming home from pre-school I would rage at those in my safe place, and my parents made me a punching bag because I wasn’t allowed to let my anger hurt other people. I didn’t really have the words to talk about what was happening. Most of the time I liked to run away and hide in trees and make umbrellas out of leaves.
I can’t help but think of what my feelings would be if that picture was found on Facebook by me years later. I can imagine it coming up in shared memories, my mother thinking “Oh goodness! Look at the face on it! She hated having her hair cut” and sharing it with her friends, never knowing how that memory was framed in my mind.
I can’t help but think of the educators from my pre-school, and how different my experience and memories may have been if it weren’t for the barriers of language and understanding. Had the moments of my preschool years in Malaysia been documented by my educators, I wonder what lens they may have used, how they would have seen me, and what photos would have been attached.
As educators, we have access to some huge moments of triumph and tragedy in the lives of children, even if we don’t recognise them as such at the time. We have the opportunity to document the stories of children’s lives while they are in our care. We have access to moments of magic parents will never see, as they leave their children in our care to learn and grow and thrive.
We hold, in our hands, devices with enormous power, to capture moments and images. Let’s be judicious in how we share them. As educators, let us model in thought and deed mindfulness about the rights of the child as a digital citizen. Beyond making sure we have the permission of the parent to share images of the child, to take photos and to use them on our centres Facebook page, or in our learning stories, let’s think about HOW we use them, frame them and pose them.
You can find more ideas about thoughtful use of social media with young children starting with some of these resources:
Australian Institute of Family Studies – Images of children and young people online