If you’re like 80 percent of parents, you’ve been posting about your child on social media since before she could walk. It’s so common, there is even a term for it — sharenting. You vaguely know that there are risks in sharing too much about your kids, but then you look the adorable picture of your little guy’s face covered in peas and post it, thinking, “what could possibly happen?” The answer, most likely, is nothing. You’ll get a bunch of likes and a “so cute” comment and that will be that. While most experts agree that there are benefits to sharing your parenting highs and lows with your social network, including real knowledge and support from an online community and fostering a relationship with distant relatives and friends, there are also real risks.
The Big Scary RisksAlthough uncommon, it is important for parents to consider the scary risks associated with their online activity. Posting pictures and identifying details about your kids puts them at risk for identity theft. Identity theft protection services, such as Lifelock, cost money upfront, but can end up saving you the expense that comes with having your child's identity stolen. The first thing you posted when your baby was born was most likely his full name and date of birth, which is potentially dangerous information in the hands of an identity thief. Kids are easy targets because no one thinks to check their credit for irregularities. Similarly, shared pictures put your kids at risk for digital kidnapping, which is when someone else posts pictures of your child and pretends to be their parent. This is sometimes done by people role-playing (using the hashtag #babyrp or #adoptionrp), but also occasionally by scammers looking to solicit money. Finally, in the realm of scary things that can happen online, perhaps the scariest is having your kids’ pictures reposted on webpages frequented by pedophiles. Photos with partial nudity, including diaper, bath or potty training pictures are at particular risk.
The Little Common RisksWhile the possibility of one of the above occurrences is enough to make you want to shut down social media entirely and should absolutely be considered when posting, the truth is that identity theft, digital kidnapping and stolen pictures are not super common. A more likely consequence of sharenting is that it will upset your children. If you’ve shared every aspect of your child’s life since birth, they are forever saddled with that digital footprint. Once they are old enough to have a say, posting without their permission can create a sense of mistrust and resentment.
New Guidelines for PostingSo how do you strike the balance between sharing your life (which includes your kids) and protecting their digital identity?:
- Do not post your child’s full name online. If you’ve shared a birth announcement, consider taking it down.
- Never post a photo of your child in any state of undress.
- Carefully read the privacy policies and terms and conditions of any social media platform you are using. Understand that some platforms, like Facebook, reserve the right to use your photos. Set your accounts to the highest privacy settings if you are sharing pictures or stories about your children.
- If they are old enough, request permission from your child before you post something. Give them veto power. Likewise, ask your kids’ friends or their parents before posting any group photos.
- Do not ever share your child’s location. If you’re on vacation, wait to post a photo until you’re home. Don’t tag their school, local playground, sports complex, etc.