WASHINGTON - President-elect Barack Obama's two daughters were whisked into their new schools yesterday past a line of waiting photographers.
If custom is any guide, the news media will keep their distance now that they have captured Malia, 10, in her puffy pink jacket and Sasha, 7, with her pigtails, pink camouflage backpack and turquoise Uglydoll.
But protecting the privacy of the presidential children is more difficult than ever. Even if White House photographers are no problem for the Obamas, there are still paparazzi to worry about, as illustrated by the "beefcake" photos of a shirtless president-elect taken during the Obama family vacation in Hawaii.
Then there's any seventh grader with a cell-phone camera and a Facebook page.
"It is an exaggerated example of what parents face routinely when their kids are online," said Carolyn Jabs, who writes a syndicated column called Growing Up Online. "For the Obama girls, that is a given that it will get out of hand."
Blogs already have critiqued what every member of the family wears. A bad-hair day, schoolyard gossip, or a manipulated photo can cause problems for any child, Jabs said. Imagine if the greater free world were watching. "Mean things about them online are going to be problematic," she said. "They're going to have to develop a thicker skin."
At Sidwell Friends School, children are not allowed cell phones while on campus, which should keep the girls shielded at least through the school day. Malia is in fifth grade at the middle-school campus in the District of Columbia, while Sasha is in second grade at the Bethesda, Md., elementary-school campus.
"We do hold students accountable for cyber behavior," associate head of school Ellis Turner said. "I think our students understand that we expect them to be responsible Internet users."
The school won't talk about special security precautions but has experience with the Secret Service from former students Chelsea Clinton and Al Gore 3d. Tuition is nearly $30,000 for its more than 1,000 K-12 students.
Amy Carter's trips to public school became "a pretty big circus," with photographers lying in wait, said Doug Wead, a former aide to President George H. W. Bush and author of All the President's Children.
Bill and Hillary Clinton took the advice of Jacqueline Kennedy to establish strict privacy for daughter Chelsea. In the Clinton era, aides sometimes would call publishers to keep stories about Chelsea under wraps, Wead said.
The national press has generally kept its distance: NBC's Today show crew left Sidwell Friends yesterday even before the girls arrived. Like other media outlets, NBC will allow the girls privacy except when they are appearing in public or there is a great public interest, as there was yesterday, the network said.
But such agreements mean little when any child, school employee or curious onlooker can act as his or her own publishing house. "It's a new age," Wead said. "Every word is worth money. . . . Every photograph is worth money."
Ann Stock, social secretary in the Clinton White House, said she could not imagine fellow students causing problems online. "Kids are very protective of each other," she said. "You're talking about a school environment, and I generally think that once they start school, they become family and friends with each other."
The Obama transition team, acknowledging public interest in the girls, posted photographs of the family getting ready for school on the photo-sharing site Flickr yesterday.
How Sasha and Malia handle the media attention will depend in part on their parents.
"The children will look to their parents for clues: 'Are we victims here or are we having fun?' " Wead said. "It looks to me that they are communicating 'We're having fun,' so that will make a really big difference for the girls."