TIME Parenting

Art or Porn: When Does Posting Nude Photos of a Toddler Cross the Line?

Wyatt Neumann's daughter
Wyatt Neumann's daughter Wyatt Neumann

Maybe there's something slightly tragic to be said about the Internet having conditioned us all to look at things through smut-colored glasses

If you follow any parents on Instagram or Facebook, you’ve seen something like the snapshot Wyatt Neumann posted last year. His 2-year-old daughter, Stella, completely naked, jumps on an unmade motel bed, joy blooming across her face.

You may have even posted a photo just like it of your own kid. Chances are, though, you didn’t get comments like the ones Neumann did: “This guy is a class A d–k.” Or this one: “PEDOS CAN EASILY FIND THESE PICTURES AND JACK OFF TO THEM.”

Or maybe you shared a snapshot of your little one, frolicking outside, lifting her dress — in that unselfconscious way every toddler does. Neumann, a professional photographer, posted these and more on Instagram. Many of the ensuing comments were profanity-laced. One said: “I want to puke. The nude photos are gross and disturbing.”

These photos, and more like them, are the centerpieces of Neumann’s latest solo show at the Safari gallery in Soho, New York, which runs through the end of the week. Titled “I Feel Sorry For Your Children,” the exhibit documents a 12-day road trip he took with Stella last year, from Zion National Park to New York City. He accompanies each photo with his original Instagram caption — usually with the hashtag #dadlife — and a comment from a complete stranger. It is an extreme iteration of the more judgmental and moralistic strains we encounter in modern parenting.

And yet, the photos raise an interesting question about how much we share about our kids on social media. Neumann happens to be an award-winning fine art photographer with commercial clients like Reebok and Visa. But you wouldn’t necessarily have that context if you were to stumble upon his photos online somewhere for the first time. Pictures like the one of his daughter sitting between his legs in a bathtub might trigger a twinge of discomfort for the candidness and intimacy they capture. It’s a beautiful image, but does it belong in a public venue frequented by perverts and prudes alike? Here’s where I land: However uncomfortable a given photo may make me feel, I would be even less comfortable telling someone they can’t post it.

The roadtrip photos — Stella in her carseat; Stella using a portable training potty at a roadside pitstop; Stella eating barbeque — were first posted to his Instagram account. His friend Claire Bidwell Smith, author of the best-selling memoir “The Rules of Inheritance,” told her own Instagram followers to check them out. From there the images made their way to the online message board Get Off My Internets.

And then came the hate: Parenting trolls descended with a vengeance, flagging so many of his pictures that his account was suspended mid-roadtrip — 6,000 photos gone — but not before flooding his posts and inbox with hate speech and insults.

It was clearly too much for some to stomach. I wonder if these people — protected by the anonymity the Internet provides — would have been less quick to assault the parent’s character if it was Stella’s mother who posted the photos. And maybe there is something slightly tragic to be said about the Internet having conditioned us all to look at things through smut-colored glasses. “The Internet is for porn,” goes the famous line from the Tony-winning musical Avenue Q–and most of the time I’m the last person to complain about it. But there are multiple references to pedophiles in the Instagram comments to his photos. In the worst instances, commenters have accused Neumann of trading in kiddie porn.

“What they wanted me to do was stop posting photos,” he told me at his exhibit which opened last month. “They wanted to take away my ability to do that. The more this conservative, puritanical, fundamentalist ideology starts to permeate our culture [the more] it’s compressing our ability to express ourselves. Rather than retreat, I pushed forward and turned it into a beautiful art show.”

Anyone with a child has hundreds of these kinds of snapshots on a smartphone. I do. We all have our own rules about how much we’ll share of our kids’ lives online. I certainly don’t post any photos of mine undressed or, for that matter, doing anything I think they’d find compromising in the future. But they’re older than Stella. When they were younger I might have shared a bathtub shot or two, or one of them copping a potty-training squat. Harmless stuff. But even then, it would have most likely been on Facebook where at least I am given the illusion that I can control who has access to the pictures.

These days, whenever I take a photo of my kids, ages 6 and 9, they invariably say “Don’t put that on Facebook!” or “Let me choose the filter before you put it on Instagram.” I let them call the shots, most of the time.

Neumann, whose own father died before he could get to know him, errs on the side of openness. He’s creating an archive for his kids and who am I to judge him for sharing it? “I was raised on a hippie commune,” he says. “I grew up naked. My life with my father is something I lived through in photos. I got to know him through the artifacts he left.”

It’s painfully obvious that Neumann not only loves his children, but is also a present, involved and nurturing father. Author Bidwell Smith thought she had made that point when she shared her friend’s pictures.

“People box parenthood into such a small realm of what we’re supposed to be with our children,” she told me. “Wyatt blows that up. His work is brilliant and gorgeous–the way he captures childhood in this fleeting way. Kids are free and magical and not inhibited by the cultural boundaries we all are. It made me sad that that distinction wasn’t made in their minds.”

The photos he shares of Stella are striking in their intimacy and universality. His wife, Jena Cordova, told me that she would feel lucky to have one such picture from her own childhood; Stella and her older brother Takota have thousands. (I am granted an interview with Stella, but she is feeling shy and buries her face into her Dad’s neck. Also, there is a smartphone nearby streaming cartoons.)

Like the comic who says what everyone is thinking but too scared to utter out loud, Neumann makes photographs of his kids as timeless as they are personal: his daughter looking tired, his daughter ecstatic, sultry, bored, human.

“It’s very confusing to me,” says Cordova. “Even when I didn’t have children, my mind wouldn’t have gone there. It makes me sad for a lot of people that it would even cross their minds.”

In that respect Neumann’s photos are something of a Rorschach test: You see in them what you want to see. I see a doting dad who happens to be a photographer with a killer eye — and, yes, a desire to share. Haters, as they say on the Internet and playgrounds everywhere, are gonna hate.

TIME Opinion

You’ve Come a Long Way Daddy

Girl playing outside in the summer
Brian Braiker

A new book asks whether fathers matter. And this dad wonders why we're still asking that question.

Do fathers matter? On the face of it the question is a preposterous one. You might as well be asking “Are friends important?” or “Who needs trees, anyway?”

But Do Fathers Matter? happens to be the title of a new book by author and award-winning science journalist Paul Raeburn. And while the title seems to indulge in a bit of trolling, it turns out the book does a nice job of filling in a few gaps no one completely realized were gaping.

Science has historically focused only on the mother’s role in child-rearing. Raising children, after all, is women’s work, right? It’s a cliche that has taken root in modern society but biologically, this is simply not the case.

Raeburn points us to the titi monkey as an example: “Titi monkey fathers provide food for their offspring and follow mothers around all day, so that whenever the babies are not nursing the fathers can carry them on their backs,” Raeburn writes. “The father carries his infant 90 percent of the time.”

The baby monkeys, in return, are very attached to their fathers. Human fathers, while maybe not quite as dedicated, remain the most committed mammalian fathers of any species on Earth, Raeburn goes on to tell us (tantalizingly leaving open the prospect of some kind of reptilian Superdad.)

Look no further than the latest ad by Cheerios, which comes with its own hashtag: #HowToDad. In it a father of four gives his only mildly-grating manifesto for manly parenting — which lives in the Venn diagram sweet spot between being “awesome” and “responsible.” We’ve come a long way from Mr. Mom.

But science hasn’t been keeping up. The result is a body of knowledge that fails to take into account half of the child-rearing populace. I personally can’t fault science for spending an inordinate amount of time looking at ladies, but it’s not very scientific at the end of the day: A 2005 survey of 514 studies on adolescent and child psychology, for example, revealed that almost half of the research ignored fathers. Only 11 percent made fathers the exclusive focus, Raeburn tells us.

To be fair, there’s been some progress: Before 1970 less than a fifth of scientific studies about parental bonding took dad’s role into account. And minor though it is, Raeburn mines the progress well. One takeaway is that we dads have an impact on our babies before they’re even born.

A bit of context. Here is what progressive fatherhood looked like in 1986: “We were well prepared for natural childbirth, which means that no drugs can be given to the female during delivery. The father, however, can have all he wants,” joked Bill Cosby in his book “Fatherhood.” If only that were true.

“Research is showing that a father’s environment, his behavior and even his appearance can have a substantial effect on fetal health,” Raeburn writes. “And on the health of his grandchildren.”

Good lord. Even my appearance? Let me now use this public forum to apologize now to my grandkids for last year’s mustache and afro combination that I rocked for a solid six months.

Fortunately for my kids I also do the dishes on the regular. A recent study published in the journal Psychological Science, found that fathers who perform household chores are more likely to bring up daughters who aspire to careers in business, legal and other professions. I am dying for a corollary study to conclude that mothers who shout at the TV during football games and spend a lot of time in the tool shed raise boys that are more likely to go into ballet instruction.

But the research, conducted at the University of British Columbia in Canada, does dovetail with other findings that suggest girls who grow up in the presence of warm, supportive fathers tend to begin puberty later and are less inclined to engage in high-risk sexual behavior than daughters of absentee dads.

This “absentee” word hits home for me. I have been separated from the mother of my kids for nearly five years, a significant chunk of their lives. As a single father with joint custody I see my girls every day, including days when they don’t stay at mine, and am incredibly grateful for it. But I worry all the time about the impact of the breakup on my kids. So I am hyper vigilant.

I take heart in much of Raeburn’s book, not just because I like to cook and find doing dishes therapeutic. He points to one study that found that, while both parents play with children the same amount of time, Dad is — for lack of a better word — the fun parent. Father’s play is “more physical and idiosyncratic,” and babies tend to like it.

“Physical and idiosyncratic” is a diplomatic way, at best, to describe the dance parties I instigate at the breakfast table. Babies (and 6-year-olds) may like it, but the day is coming when my daughters become teenagers and “idiosyncratic” becomes “idiotic.” Oh how I will delight in embarrassing them, though.

It turns out Dad’s play is important when it comes to learning too, providing a critical boost to language development. Premature infants from disadvantaged families had higher IQs if fathers played with them and helped care for them, Raeburn writes. Studies have found that fathers are more likely to stretch their young children’s vocabularies. I can certainly boast that I’ve introduced a few four letter words into my girls’ verbal arsenal.

I’ve interviewed my daughters in this space before, so I thought it might be interesting to see what they had to say about the very question posed in Raeburn’s title: Do fathers matter?

Unfortunately, today got away from us. We woke up early and cuddled while we watched “Little Shop of Horrors” together — not entirely age-appropriate, but hey!, I’m idiosyncratic. Then it was time for breakfast (Waffles! Bacon! Plums! No screens!), then showers. I took them to get a birthday present before a friend’s party. After that it was playground time and swings and a water balloon fight and more swings followed by tears over a lost earring and much consoling and hugs and, finally, dinner.

I guess in the middle of all that I forgot to ask them if their father mattered.

TIME Family

A Brief History of Father’s Day (and Why I’m Against It)

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Girl Giving Dad Father's Day Card Fuse—Getty Images/Fuse

I’m just going to come out and say that Father’s Day makes me a little uncomfortable. Ambivalent. Always did as a kid: “Sweet! A new opportunity to disappoint as a son!” And it still sits uneasy now that I’m a dad. What’s the big deal? I had kids. So too, statistically speaking, do most grownups at some point.

I never know what I’m supposed to do. Spend more time with my girls? I’d love to, thanks. After all, time is in short supply as we grind unswervingly back into the eternal dust from which we came. Hey, thanks for the tie.

Or, as with some dudes I know, should I use it as an opportunity to spend the day away from my kids? As if to commemorate the day by doing the exact opposite of what it’s all about. Like singing “God Save the Queen” on the Fourth of July.

Certainly the concept of fatherhood is a powerful — albeit loaded — one. The very word conjures every mythological titan from George Washington to Heathcliff Huxtable; from Darth Vader to God. We all, in one form or another, have daddy issues.

Given the conflicting range of emotions Daddy Dearest can sometimes evoke, it’s little wonder that spending on Father’s Day gifts is significantly lower than on Mom’s Day swag. The National Retail Foundation reports that just 64% of consumers plan to spring for a card for Dad. Compare that to 81% who said that they’d gotten one for Mom.

That’s not to say that brands aren’t actively trying to get you to part with your cash this Father’s Day (something that the Collective Dad, in His fiduciary wisdom, would no doubt frown upon). This week Dove launched a feel-good campaign celebrating all the things real dads do. This is ostensibly to remind us that dads are more than just the two-dimensional buffoons we see on TV and in the movies. It tugged at the heart strings, just a bit.

It is also part of a Unilever mission to sell soap products. Unilever, which owns Dove, also owns Axe body spray, which has taken a different marketing route with hypersexualized and arguably misogynistic marketing. Are we to believe Axe Bros grow up into Dove Daddies? What’s the deodorant for the midlife crisis set?

Fact is, Father’s Day was derided as a Hallmark holiday from almost before there was a Hallmark. One of the earlier groups to lobby actively for its creation was the National Council for the Promotion of Father’s Day — which was organized in 1938 by the Associated Men’s Wear Retailers in New York City. The holiday was finally signed into law in 1972 by Richard Nixon, who it turns out was a pretty good dad.

Bah, humbug, I know. Look. I love being a dad. It is the best thing I’ve done in my life to date and it will probably be the best thing I ever do. But most of us are simply genetically hard wired for this stuff. So how about some more progressive paternity leave laws, instead?

I decided to ask my favorite interview subjects what they thought: my daughters. I asked my 9-year-old what the difference is between moms and dads.

“A mother is sweet, soft and gentle,” she said. “A father is rough, funny and kind. And brave.” (For the record, she’s wrong: I am not brave. I am, however, soft.)

She also wanted to know why kids don’t have their own day. I told her that they do. It’s called summer.

I asked her younger sister, who just so happens to be turning six on Father’s Day this year, what the holiday means to her.

“It’s a special day,” she said, “because it’s my birthday.”

That, as much as anything, is what might turn me into a believer.

TIME Education

My Daughter Isn’t Going to Help School Testing Companies Refine Their Product

It’s free labor for the testing contractors

Last week I got an email from a parent at my daughter’s school that warned of an upcoming “field test” my kid and her classmates would be asked to take.

“Our third graders are scheduled for field testing in June,” she wrote. “Field testing is when Pearson ‘tries out’ new test questions by having a large group of students take a practice test.“

This was the first I had heard of field testing—as it was, judging from the replies, for many of the other parents on the group email. We were told that these were experimental tests that Pearson—a global, state-contracted test-maker—was administering to try out questions for future use. Since this came from a concerned fellow parent, we were also told we could opt out of the tests with no repercussions to our kids.

Testing is, obviously, a hot button issue. Earlier this month Louis C.K., the hottest comedian-dad in the country, repeatedly slammed standardized testing—specifically the Common Core—in a viral Twitter rant and subsequent appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman.

But field testing, it turns out, isn’t even officially part of the Common Core. These are extra tests. Tests that don’t count, tests that our kids are being asked to take in order to fine tune future tests. It’s free labor for the testing contractors, as several parents I talked to characterized it.

“This is time away from teaching and learning,” Janine Sopp told me. Sopp is part of a vocal group of parents called Change the Stakes, helping to spread information about the test and opt-out procedures. “It’s not a good use of her time. It’s not an accurate reflection of her knowledge. It’s certainly not a way to rate her teacher. It’s a huge waste of money and resources.”

I floated the idea of field testing to my daughter, who was incredibly stressed during her testing earlier this year. “Seriously? Another test?” she said. “I’d be really frustrated. Really mad.”

What’s astonishing here, though, is the lack of transparency. I emailed a spokesperson for Pearson, a massive education corporation, for clarification. “These field tests are actually New York State Education Department (NYSED) field tests, not Pearson field tests,” she replied via email. “All of the assessment questions (called items) being field tested are the sole property of New York State and are used by NYSED in New York. Pearson does not own the questions.”

And yet, a memo from the NYSED from March of this year said “The stand-alone New York State 2014 Grades 3–8 ELA and Mathematics Field Tests will be delivered to schools by Pearson the week before field testing.”

All of this is to say that parents are not being given a clear picture of what our kids are being used for. It’s incredibly frustrating. I approached a teacher at my daughter’s school. On the condition of anonymity, the teacher told me, succinctly: “It’s so dumb. It’s for Pearson to make money. Opt out.”

Opting out is a real option here, albeit not an option I had been told is available to us by any administrator at my daughter’s school. “There is no mandate for kids to take them, so the state, in its own surreptitious way by not telling parents, does not give them the notice they should,” Fred Smith, a retired administrative analyst with New York State’s board of education, tells me. Many of Smith’s 33 years in education were spent in test research and development. Field testing, he says, does not yield useful data.

“When you’re testing kids in June on tests that they know have no consequences to them, they’re obviously not motivated to perform well,” he told me. “Let’s face it, they’ve been battered up all year with tests and the data this approach generates are not going to be useful when they create future tests.”

Even my five-year-old has picked up on her older sister’s test stress. “Luckily I won’t have to do it for a long time,” she said.

So I called the school to opt her out of the test. Here’s the rub: She’s not even being given the darn test in question. It’s only being given to fifth-graders at her school. She’s in third. There’s so little information available—so much fear and loathing around testing—that, in the case of my kid’s class, we all got worked up over something we don’t even have to worry about for two more years.

At the very least we know we have the option to opt out when the time comes. Which we will.

TIME Parenting

Stop Worrying About Your Kids’ Screen Time

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USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Father and son (8-9) sitting at table Jamie Grill—Getty Images/Tetra images RF

A father interviews his daughters about his own media habits

If there’s one thing enlightened modern parents are good at worrying about, it’s how much time our kids spend in front of screens: television, sure, but laptops too, and tablets and phones. As a former senior editor at Parenting magazine and Newsweek, I’ve done my share of hand-wringing over whether to forswear all screens until my daughters turned 2, as the American Academy of Pediatrics advises. Ha, as if.

Anyway, my girls are about to turn 6 and 9 now. And what I never worried enough about, it turns out, was how much my own media habits were affecting them. I’ve certainly had my concerns about how dependent I’ve become on my beloved iPhone, but surely the only person my compulsive thumb tapping was hurting was me, right?

Not so fast. In March Dr. Jenny Radesky, a fellow in developmental-behavioral pediatrics at Boston Medical Center, published a study in the journal Pediatrics with the high-calorie title “Patterns of Mobile Device Use by Caregivers and Children During Meals in Fast Food Restaurants.” Her takeaway: parents spend a lot of damn time in the company of their kids while on some level ignoring them.

Radesky and her team of researchers conducted an unscientific study in which they observed 55 family groups dining at fast food restaurants. Forty of the 55 included a parent who became engrossed in a mobile device during the meal. One of her researchers even saw a mother kick her child’s foot under the table when she tried to break mom’s attention away from her phone. Another little boy was swatted away for trying to lift his mom’s face away from the screen.

Those were extreme examples, but the overall vibe is worrisome. Our mobile devices, she points out in her study’s conclusion, can “distract parents from face-to-face interactions with their children, which are crucial for cognitive, language, and emotional development.”

But we’re all workaholics, right? We need to check that email and reply to this text ASAP, don’t we? “It’s a challenge,” Radesky tells me when I get her on the phone. “I’m a full-time working mom, trying to be an academic. It’s a tension so many parents describe to me.”

Radesky has instituted a ritual phone-free chunk of time in her own home. She leaves work early, at around 5, to spend time with her kids, ages 8 months and 4, before they go to bed. “I put the devices away and I don’t even look at them unless it’s something urgent,” she says. “My bosses understand we have an unplugged zone. Then between 7 and 8, I pick everything back up to check email — and ignore my husband.”

Our kids are no dummies. They see us engrossed in our toys and it can make them feel sad or annoyed and neglected. It can make them act out. Psychologist Catherin Steiner-Adair knows this all too well. For her book “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age,” she interviewed 1,000 children between the ages of 4 and 18 about their parents’ use of these devices.

“What was really striking to me was the frequency with which kids said it’s so annoying. ‘Daddy says he’s going to play with me and he’s always on his computer’,” she tells me. “Children describe more poignantly at a younger age about parents’ absorption with cell phones when they’re, quote, ‘just checking’.”

And of course, children model their behavior on their parents. So we can hardly be surprised that the first thing our little digital natives reach for when they’re bored comes equipped with a screen.

With this in mind I decided to interview my own kids about my textual proclivities. Using a template modeled loosely on Steiner-Adair’s, I recorded our conversation on my phone — an irony that was not lost on them. Excerpts:

When we were growing up, we didn’t have cell phones.

We had phones attached to the wall. There were no phones in cars, no phones in restaurants, no screens at tables. What’s it like being a kid growing up with phones everywhere?

C, age 5: It feels boring. I think it’s kind of sad that you’re checking your phone all the time. And we really don’t get to play with you that much on weekends.

What about when I say, “oh I’m just checking?”

C: You check for a long time.

What does it make you feel when you’re trying to talk to me and I check my phone?

F, age 8: It makes me feel annoyed

C: It makes me feel bad because when you say, ‘go on, I’m listening,’ I think you’re not listening.

Do you feel like I check my phone too much?

Both: Yes

I’m glad you told me that though it makes me sad.

So what can I do differently?

F: Check your emails and texts when we’re asleep.

What do you think of the rule about no phones at the dinner table or at restaurants for you guys?

F: It feels unfair. I know you don’t really want us to have phones at dinner table.

Why do you think that is?

F: Because it’s rude and you want to have a conversation with us. But it ends up with you checking your phone. I get really mad.

Will you remind me when I’m checking my phone too much and tell me if it makes you sad or mad?

C: Yeah. Can we hear the recording now?

The recording that I’m making on my phone right now?

F: As we speak!

Brian Braiker, a former editor at Parenting, is the executive editor of Digiday. He lives in Brooklyn with his two daughters and his banjo.

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