A child’s digital footprint often begins before birth, whether they like it or not.
Excited parents-to-be share their joy via social media, be it through posts of ultrasound photos, gender reveals and milestone photos and videos. Without even realizing it, these parents are guilty of “sharenting,” loosely defined by Wikipedia as “oversharing content based on one’s children.”
Though sharenting may seem innocent enough, what parents post now may haunt their children years down the line.
“The disclosures parents make online are sure to follow their children into adulthood,” Dr. Stacey Steinberg, University of Florida law professor and digital parenting expert writes in Sharenting: Children’s Privacy in the Age of Social Media. “A conflict exists as children might one day resent the disclosures made years earlier by their parents.”
Steinberg asserts that sharenting can set kids up for humiliation, identity theft, even discrimination.
The Reality of Embarrassment and Humiliation
Parentology spoke with Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, aka the voice behind the blog Seattle Mama Doc and Seattle Children’s Hospital’s Chief of Digital Innovation, about the potential impact sharenting may have on children.
“Sharing photos of our children with loved ones and friends is a beautiful way to express the joy we feel about our children,” she told us. “But it’s time we think carefully about what we’re sharing and who it’s being shared with.”
Swanson points out, “If feelings of insecurity or sadness develop for your child when you share, it’s important to pay attention.”
Consider this example Steinberg shared: A mom blogger posted photos of her twin toddlers potty training. The photos were downloaded, shared on websites around the world and made into memes. While this seemed cute at first, the mom blogger came to regret her actions. With no way to delete the now viral photos, they’ll live in perpetuity on the internet.
A good rule of thumb when thinking about sharenting: What you think is cute right now could be horrifying for your child. Not sure? “Ask them,” Swanson says simply. “Do they want you to post that photo from Disney or not? Do they like how it represents them? If they’re uncomfortable having you share images or stories about them, respect their decision.”
When Social Media Posts Lead to Identity Theft
A recent report by the UK Children’s Commissioner forecasts that by 2030 sharenting will be the cause of two thirds of all identify fraud, costing victims millions to remedy. It’s easy to see how, considering these stats from the same report:
- On average, by the age of 13, parents have posted 1,300 photos and videos of their child to social media.
- On average, children post to social media 26 times per day – a total of nearly 70,000 posts by age 18.
While many consider Facebook harmless, they often overlook another fact stated in the report — Facebook users barely know one in five of their “Facebook friends.” This leaves the door open for veritable strangers to use your child’s information for the purpose of identity theft.
Swanson recommends, “Think carefully about who’s in the group with whom you’re sharing, and keep in mind every single image and text you share can appear anywhere online.”
What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Children
There are myriad steps that can be taken when sharing about your children online. “Use privacy settings and filters and take off geolocation,” Swanson advises.
For new parents who don’t want to create a public digital footprint for their baby, Steinberg suggests signing up for invitation-only photo sharing platforms, or shared drives such as iCloud or Dropbox.
Finally, go over social media accounts tuning in to photos or information that could either put your child at risk, or cause them future embarrassment.
Consider the process of protecting your children online as a teaching opportunity for both of you. “Their online footprint develops from the beginning of their life,” Swanson says. “Their growing share of responsibility around it should be cultivated and respected.”