The Day I Caught a Stranger Photographing My Child

The Day I Caught a Stranger Photographing My Child

At a college sporting event yesterday, as my toddler and I were walking back to our seats after halftime, I noticed a stranger photographing my child.

The older gentleman had his smartphone out, pointed directly at us with my daughter clearly in the camera’s crosshairs.

My Trepid Tech Mom Moment

All at once, the roaring game and crowd noise quieted in my head, and I felt the Trepid Tech Mom in me bubble up. Our walk slowed, and I made contact with the stranger’s eyes while my child, clueless to the situation, trotted along and continued to enjoy her small bag of popcorn. As I mouthed across the bustling stadium walkway, “what are you doing?” it became apparent he was with another woman of similar age. They both smiled and made gestures indicating it was my child’s noise-canceling headphones that intrigued them so much.

Suddenly, I felt my head start nodding, my mouth break a small smile, and my legs put one foot in front of the other to get back to our seats to watch the game. "Oh, they probably just want a picture of [my child’s] headphones,” I thought to myself. “Don’t make a big deal of it. They seem like ‘grandparents’ and probably mean no harm.”

It came time to clammer over our game-day neighbors, the patient spectators already in the stands that we always have to climb over because we’re perpetually late getting back to our seats, and suddenly I stopped. “No,” I told myself. “It’s my responsibility to keep my child safe, and this doesn’t feel right. I need to go back.”

After a short, brisk walk back to where the couple sat, I stood now close enough to talk and said, “Excuse me but were you interested in my child’s headphones?” The couple turned around, grinned and noted that yes, they had seen several children wearing them at the game and wanted to share the concept with their son so, at least I assume, he could get a pair for their grandchild. “Oh, okay. Please don’t do anything with that photo, like post it online,” I responded. They indicated they wouldn’t do such a thing and it was so that they could share with their son. “Would you like me to delete it?” the gentleman asked. “Yes,” I said immediately. “Sorry, I’m weird about this stuff — we just keep our kids offline as much as possible.” The two kindly nodded their heads and told me they completely understood. Then, the gentleman held his phone high for me to see the photograph that showed my toddler and I holding hands while walking was now being deleted.

While the deleted image was the outcome I wanted, it was unsettling to see my daughter’s picture on his phone screen. Still, walking away, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Lessons learned

Why am I sharing this story with you? Well, I learned a few lessons that I thought I’d pass along:

You don’t have to be okay with strangers taking your child’s photo.

If you notice someone is explicitly targeting you or your child, as parents and caregivers, you have the right to want to know more. As many experts will say, a photograph to one person may be an innocent picture of their adorable child, while sadly, there are others who may have sinister motives and see those images differently. Yesterday, I was apologetic with the couple about the situation, and my husband reminded me that I didn’t have to be. Next time, I won’t say, “sorry” because it’s not “weird” not to want a photograph of your child on someone else’s phone or in their download folder.

You do have to be smart about the situation.

Whether or not you approach someone depends a lot upon the circumstances. For example, in the situation described above, I was among thousands of fans and stadium personnel and was reasonably sure the couple I was engaging was harmless. In no way am I advocating that you approach someone else if the situation doesn’t feel “right.”

You should turn the situation into a teachable moment.

Throughout this Trepid Tech Mom moment, my child was with me, holding my hand, enjoying a treat from the snack bar. Once the interaction was over, we hustled back to our seats to enjoy the second half of the game, and I only spoke of the situation with my husband on the drive home to explain why we were a bit late to our seats after halftime. If something similar happens again, I will make an effort to turn it into a “teachable” moment and explain, in toddler terms, that it’s not okay for strangers to take our photos and if that happens to tell an adult.

What would you do?

Are people allowed to photograph others in a public space? Yes. Have my children’s photographs been taken before wherein I didn’t notice? Probably. Do I have the right as a parent and caregiver to keep my children safe? Absolutely. Which is why I retraced my steps and touched base with the couple.

Now, I ask you — how would you have handled the same situation? If you have been faced with this before, what was your experience and is there anything you learned from it?