The Problems and Danger of Posting Kids on Social Media
For many parents, oversharing, or “sharenting” begins with a sonogram and due date information posted online to announce to friends and family that they are expecting. Posting to social media is typically done with positive intent, as a way to share updates with family and friends online. The pandemic made this even more frequent, as people facing lockdowns used social media to share regular updates of their children. But as people post online, they may not realize the dangers of sharing photos of their children on social media sites.
From embarrassing pictures or videos coming back to haunt your kids through cyberbullying as they grow up, to child predators taking screenshots of photos or finding your child’s locations, there are many concerns and potential dangers to consider you post photos or videos of your kids on the internet. You should not be afraid and do not necessarily have to completely abstain from sharing, but it is crucial to be informed of the risks.
Related: 5 Ways Social Media Affects Kids’ Mental Health
Young children are unable to fully consent or understand what it means to have images of them posted online. And even if you believe you are sharing privately, creating short-term posts for a select audience on Instagram Stories or on Snapchat, people can screenshot and save them, and data breaches can expose your information around the internet, including on the Dark Web.
Best Practices for Online Safety for Kids
When you post online, your first consideration should be your child’s well-being. While you may not have malicious intent when sharing a funny moment with others, take a moment to think about how your child might feel seeing the image, text, or video as they are growing up before you click post.
Sharing private moments and vulnerabilities shows a lack of respect and can betray a child’s trust in you as well as their sense of security, which can lead to mental health issues. “There are creative ways to keep children’s image private online,” says Claire Rodahaver, photographer and online safety educator.
A former marketing professional, Rodahaver began questioning whether people were aware of how their photographs could be used online. Amid seeing more and more people, from teens to adults, sharing pictures of their children online for better branding and personality, she started to question the ethics and dangers of posting photographs of minors online, from embarrassing their child to potentially putting them in danger.
“When I started my photography business, a lot of ‘experts’ and ‘coaches’ always suggested oversharing about myself or sharing images of kids to get the most engagement. This always felt off to me,” Rodahaver says. “When it really set in was when I started researching how to legally, safely photograph families and children. I started learning more about the dangers of sharing certain images.”
Identity Fraud of Children Online
One concern with posting photographs and information about your kids online is identity fraud. Rodahaver says it is important to be mindful of whether your photographs contain Personal Identifying Information, which can give anyone access to online information about where your child lives or goes to school. As a photographer, she does not share the images she takes that contain children’s faces, despite pressure from her industry and community, as detection applications assist in identification.
Posting sonogram photos may seem innocent, but it's best to crop out any text on them, which is PII. Beyond this point, many parents willingly give away information about their children without giving it much thought, from full names to date or place of birth, or the school they attend. This information can get into the hands of identity thieves, or third-party applications to use your child’s image and likeness to their benefit.
Data breaches also lead to identity theft, as people can gain information about your child that can help them steal their identity. If you’ve already shared a lot of information about your kid, it’s not too late to stop adding to it or delete images (though there is no way to completely remove images from the internet once they are posted). But you may want to monitor their credit report or freeze their credit to prevent them from being impacted by digital fraud.
Dangers of Cyber Child Predators
Posting a picture of your child or sharing their information may seem not seem harmful, but it’s important to remember that once information is online, even if it’s you have strict privacy settings, it can be accessed by anyone. “Close friends” can share your posts with others you are not connected with. A public account willingly gives your child’s information to others. Private accounts, though they still seem more secure, can be hacked and accessed by others.
Geotagging from your home, your child’s school or another place they frequent is not recommended, as it can create a trail of where your kid goes. If you share your favorite places to visit as well as your child’s name, predators could show up where you go and act like they know you or your child, which could lead to potential abductions or attacks. In addition, pay attention to the background of photos. Potential dangers arise if a child predator can tell where your kid lives, based on things like street signs or businesses.
While the risk of child abduction from shared images is not extremely high, it is something to consider before sharing. Digital kidnapping, however, is more common. Images posted of kids online are often taken and used in advertisements, made into fake profiles, and even posted on dark web pedophile websites or social groups. While an image posted online is not a public domain, the internet is a massive content system and worldwide community with 5 billion users as of May 2022, so monitoring and keeping track of where a photograph ends up can be a complicated process.
Social media and video websites like Youtube and TikTok have provided a new career option for parents. Family vlogging brings in a lot of money and may seem like an easy way to have an income from home while enjoying your children’s company. But this work is done at the children's expense, and vloggers sometimes get caught up in curating, sometimes even exploiting their children for clicks and views. Regardless of the number of followers, sharing intimate moments online, such as a child’s birth, an embarrassing moment, a trauma, or injury puts them out there for the world to see.
While not all videos will go viral, when a post is made to a large following, the door opens for bullying towards a child and judgment toward parenting. Posting videos and certain photographs online, especially publicly, take away all family members’ sense of privacy and may add pressure to children’s lives to “perform” or act a certain way on camera. As there is currently no law that protects children posted online as part of family vlogs, it is up to parents to take good care and keep their kids safe from exploitation.
Celebrities Posting Children
People in Hollywood have also often been protective of their children. Celebrities have shielded their children from the public spotlight and paparazzi long before the existence of social media. Singer Pink decided to stop posting her children after becoming overwhelmed and disheartened by comments.
Actress Mindy Kaling completely refrains from posting her children online to show respect and keep them safe. She has frequently discussed her struggle between wanting to share their cuteness milestones, but not doing so for safety purposes. Kailng also wants to wait until they are old enough to be able to consent to it and fully understand what is going on. She has shared some pictures of her children with their faces hidden but does not include information and details about their lives.
"Sometimes it's just a safety thing. I don't want to be at the airport and have someone be like, 'Spencer, Katherine,' and have them look to the people as though they know them or they're friends. I think that could be really confusing as a kid," Kaling said in a 2021 interview with People. "So that's the reason I'm doing it, but it's hard because they're such a huge part of my life. And I'm like any parent where I'm proud of the things they do. I think they're so cute, and of course, I want other people to see it."
Psychological Effects of Social Media on Children
Whether it is the son of an everyday person or the daughter of a social media influencer, the moment a baby’s existence begins is also often the start of their digital footprint. From a young age, some children today may never know what it feels like to have privacy and respect.
Parents are often concerned about how their children use social media, but parents also need to look at the examples they set for them and how they are using it themselves. A child’s vulnerabilities posted will be there for the world of today and tomorrow to see. A study found that teens were uncomfortable with their parents sharing personal photos and information about them online, harboring concerns of it impacting their future relationships, leading to cyberbullying, or career prospects.
Social media sometimes feels like a competition, and parents can get caught up in bragging or making content about their children. But on the flip side, you can set better examples for your children on how to best utilize social media, by avoiding oversharing. Capturing is important, but sometimes taking photos and video means you are not living in the moment.
Stacey Steinberg, director of the University of Florida Center on Children and Families and the author of “Growing Up Shared,” has held TED talks and written articles on how to safely and respectfully post about your children on the internet. In a Washington Post article, she notes that curated posts may shape and even control a child’s memories or experiences, rather than letting them enjoy moments for themselves. Steinberg strongly encourages waiting until your child can give consent before posting about them online, and avoiding publicly bringing up business that they may be embarrassed about, such as a medical condition.
Learning these best practices for online safety, and in turn, teaching them to your child can help you both make good choices to stay safe in both the physical and digital world. You do not have to completely stop sharing moments with others. Choosing platforms to share with a small number of people, where you feel comfortable with privacy settings and the digital environment. Take photographs of your child without showing their face. There are many ways to capture and organize memories digitally without oversharing and putting your kid at risk.
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Stephanie is a mom living in the Chicago area with over 10 years’ experience in journalistic writing, editing, content management, photography, and graphic design.