Many parents post stories, photos, and videos of their kids on social media because they're proud of their families and they want to stay connected with relatives and friends. Social media is also useful for getting advice and feeling less alone, as parenting can be challenging! As parents ourselves, we understand the desire to share what we experience in raising a child.
But how much sharing is too much, and can sharing on social media put children in danger? This article breaks down the five, not-so-obvious ways sharing information about your child on social media may potentially harm your child, as well as questions you should ask yourself before hitting “publish.”
Posting on Social Media Can Invade Your Child's Privacy
While young children might not give any thought to what their parents share about them on social media, that may not stay true as they grow older. According to Common Sense Media, at around 5 years old children start to develop a sense of themselves as individuals and how the rest of the world perceives them. Their privacy becomes more of a concern. They may start to feel embarrassed about the content their parents post about them on social media, especially when it comes to early childhood anecdotes, funny photos, and updates on developmental and behavioral challenges.
Sharing the wrong type of content on social media can also make children feel like they don't have ownership over their own bodies or own values. Children don't really have the opportunity to disagree with their parents posting bath-time and other sensitive photos on social media. They also have no say in whatever political or social messages their parents press on them. For example, how will some children feel about the 2016 presidential election signs they're carrying or slogan t-shirts they're wearing when they look back on those photos as adults? How will they feel about being used as political statements on their parents' Facebook pages?
Your Social Media Posts Might Be Used for Bullying
You should also be concerned about how others may react to the stuff you share about your child on social media. Whether your child cares about old photos and stories about them on social media, others may be able to use that information to make fun of, insult, and even bully your child as he or she grows older. What's to stop a peer from sharing a photo that your child finds embarrassing with his or her own networks? What if that share catches on? It doesn't take much for a photo to go from an inside family joke to gossip fodder for an entire high school.
The potential for bullying doesn't stop with the people you know. To get a feel for the ruthless personalities of anonymous people on the Internet, just take a peek at the comment feeds of kids videos on YouTube. What will your child think and feel if they see your social media audience doesn't react well to your update?
Social Media Messaging Could Impact Your Child's Future
It's difficult, if not impossible, to control information once it's posted online. You can't prevent anyone from taking a screenshot of your post and disseminating it beyond your reach. Your deleted posts, while apparently gone from your social media profile, may still live on in Internet archive websites and on the social media servers themselves. With that in mind, you should consider how your photos and stories may impact your child when he's much older, even an adult.
The reality is that the data shared by parents could be revealed by Google search algorithms for years to come. And we don’t know what our children’s goals might be when they get older.
Parents need to think about how potential employers may react to finding certain sensitive childhood moments on social media. They should also wonder how their posts may impact their child if he or she ever decides to run for public office or live a more public life.
Sharing Puts Your Child at Risk for Digital Kidnapping
Digital kidnapping is a type of identity theft. It occurs when someone takes photos of a child from social media and repurposes them with new names and identities, often claiming the child as their own. There have been numerous examples of this in recent years, including a 2015 incident in which a stranger took photo of an 18-month-old boy from a mommy blogger's Facebook page and posted it on her own Facebook profile, acting like he was her son.
Your child's photos can also be kidnapped for baby role-playing. If you're unfamiliar with baby role-playing, search for #BabyRP, #AdoptionRP, and #KidRP on social media sites. Baby roleplayers create accounts on social media sites to post stolen photos along with captions that give false details about the child in the photos. Sometimes the stranger impersonates the child by responding to comments as the child or from the child's point-of-view. These comments can be disturbing, though not all are malicious. Baby role-playing accounts appear to be created by people who appear to want to be a parent or a child. They are, however, another example of how you can easily lose control over your child's identity when you publish information about them online.
Your Social Media Posts Might Attract Dangerous People
Photos and videos of children shared by their parents on social media sometimes turn up on disturbing websites and forums, some of them dedicated to child pornography. In one instance a Nashville mother tried to track down the identity of a stranger who had shared a photo of her daughter. She followed the photo to a page belonging to a man in China. On that page she discovered her photo, along with a lot of other photos of little girls.
This isn't as uncommon as you might think. According to an Australian Children's eSafety Commissioner, one site offered at least 45 million images, half of which were photos of children taken from social media accounts. The photos were of everyday family activities, but were accompanied by inappropriate comments.
It's easy to forget that social media posts can also provide little indicators that can help people identify where a child lives, plays, and goes to school. Posts with information like location tags and landmarks give strangers as well as known aggressors the ability to locate a child and other family members. This is especially dangerous for families who are trying to manage custody disputes and escape domestic violence situations.
What to Do If You Share About Your Child on Social Media
It's understandable to want to share about your family on social media. If you do decide to share, try asking your children what they're comfortable with and take some precautions. Pay close attention to privacy settings on your social media pages. Choose your photos carefully and watermark the ones you post publicly. Ask friends and family to refrain from posting photos or videos of your child. And start involving your child in deciding what is appropriate to share with others. Those conversations can help ward off bad feelings in the future and are useful for preparing your child for living in a digital age.
Do you have your own guidelines for posting about your children on social media? We're interested to learn how your family handles this delicate situation. Please reach out to us on Twitter @jelliesapp to share your best practices.