As parents, it feels like second nature to share regular updates of our kids on social media. After all, we’re with our kids all the time and feel proud watching them achieve developmental milestones. Sharing makes us feel connected to far away friends and family, and can be an easy way to store photos, track important dates and celebrate the joys of parenting. I’ve even felt like social media has provided me with a community of parents that can identify with the reality of raising young kids (few things make you feel better after being pooped on for the first time than knowing that it has happened to every other parent, too). While social media has its benefits, it is worth questioning whether we are sharing in a way that has negative impacts on our kids, both emotionally and with regards to their security.
On more than one occasion, I’ve seen friends share potty training progress, diaper blowouts, temper tantrums and other updates of their kids’ embarrassing moments. These types of posts feel harmless at the time, but how will your kid feel in 20 years when they go for a job interview and a future employer can pull up a photo of them on the toilet with nothing more than a google search of their name? Not to mention, kids are sensitive and might feel ashamed by us sharing their meltdowns and bad days with the world online. While I love scrolling #assholeparent accounts as much as the next person (let’s face it, some of the posts are hilarious!), it is worth calling into question whether these types of posts are having a negative impact on our kids. Would you want someone snapping a picture and posting it when you cry at the end of a long day? A 2016 study reported that children often feel frustrated with their parents oversharing about them without their consent.
We all see the importance of teaching kids online safety when they start to use social media independently but are we playing by the same rules? Someone in my community once shared a photo of her toddler son peeing off a mountain, which was later turned into a meme. In an instant, a cute photo that she shared innocently is being circulated around the internet beyond her control. It’s not always easy to remember, but as parents, we need to consider who we are sharing photos with and what sort of ramifications posting them online might have.
Beyond the emotional impacts, we need to be aware of whether what we are sharing jeopardizes our kids’ safety and security. Barclay’s estimates that by 2030, “sharenting” will account for two-thirds of identity fraud. Without realizing it, we as parents often disclose our kids’ full name, age, date of birth and location though geotagged birth announcements or birthday pictures. This information can easily be stored and used to apply for credit cards or false identification in their name when they turn 18.
It can feel like an impossible balance knowing how much is appropriate to share online when it comes to our kids. We live in a digital age and it is a reality that nearly all kids will have some sort of digital footprint beyond their control. Personally as a parent, I don’t want to buy into fear-mongering or feel like I can’t share exciting moments and milestones in my daughter’s life with friends on social media. It is nearly impossible (and perhaps not even beneficial) to keep our kids completely offline, but there are a number of measures you can take to protect your kids’ personal information. First of all, ensure you have rigid privacy settings on all social media accounts, and cull your friends list to people you know personally. There’s no need to keep someone you met once ten years ago on your friends list. Secondly, look at the photo objectively before posting and consider how much information it gives – if it’s a photo of your child in a branded sports jersey or a shot in front of their school, consider saving that photo for a private album with family only. Lastly, consider any emotional repercussions that sharing a particular photo could have and reconsider whether poop explosion pics or potty training progress updates should be kept offline.
In our family, we’ve set up privately shared iPhoto albums so we can keep grandparents updated daily and use Instagram and Facebook very selectively. Other friends of mine have set up secret Facebook groups dedicated to sharing baby photos and invite only close friends and family to follow along. It is still possible to create online connection and community while sharing photos, without jeopardizing the security and trust of our kids, we just need to be creative and exercise caution with regards to what we share.
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Parent Life Network or their partners.