If you’re a parent who uses social media, add the word “sharenting” to your vocabulary. Sharenting is what parents do when they share their parenting experiences online. If you do it, do it with caution. You may experience some unintended and frightening consequences when you share photos, videos, and details about your child’s life on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram or YouTube, or write about them on a blog.
The average parent will post almost 1,000 photos of their child on social media before the child reaches 5 years old, according to a survey conducted by The Parent Zone. Many will also post videos. These posts may include cute comments and details about your child, such as their name and where they live. Once your private photos, videos and comments are posted online, you may lose control over how they are used. That can pose some serious risks to your child.
Attorney Stacey Steinberg addresses some of these risks in a forthcoming Emory Law Journal article, “Sharenting: Children’s Privacy in the Age of Social Media.” Steinberg’s article includes the story of a mother who posted photos online of her young twins during toilet training. The mother was later shocked to find later that the photos had been downloaded by strangers and shared on a website frequented by pedophiles.
Commercial social media sites have privacy rules. Read them to know your rights. And if there are privacy settings, take advantage of those. But, keep in mind that even limiting your sharing to your friends and family doesn’t guarantee safety. If their social media account gets hacked, the hackers can get access to your posts. If you post about your kids on a blog, it’s likely there will be no privacy protections to keep others from using your content.
When you don’t know the risks of posting about your child’s life online, and you don’t know who will have access to the photos and information, you’re inviting unexpected trouble for you and your child.
Here are some of the most common risks parents create for their children when posting about them online:
Much has been said in the news about cyberbullying. Many parents tend to think of the risks of cyberbullying only in the context of social media use by their kids. But, think about what could happen if you post a photo or cute anecdote about your child that gets accessed by their peers. Other kids may re-post your post with derogatory remarks, or by altering a seemingly innocent photo to embarrass or shame your child.
2) Child Pornography
Most parents don’t think like pedophiles. So, we may not think twice about posting a photo or video of our young child in their diapers or bathtub, or our teen at the swimming pool or beach. But, on the dark side of the internet, those photos or videos can resurface, altered or combined with other content to appeal to sick minds. Unsuspecting parents have been appalled to find innocent photos of their child used to lure internet users to websites that deal in child pornography.
3) Distancing Kids from Parents
Catherine Steiner-Adair is a research associate at Harvard Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry, and author of the book The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age. Steiner-Adair warns about parents being so focused on getting a shareable photo or video that they fail to engage with their kids. Most kids want their parents to be mentally and emotionally present with them when they’re spending time together, rather than trying to get perfect positioning, lighting and camera angles. She says kids notice when they’re on camera, “It puts a barrier between you and them.”
4) Digital Kidnapping
When posting photos of my family online, I purposely avoid posting the exact location of our home. I don’t want to make it easy for stalkers to find us, or unnecessarily put my kids at risk of kidnapping. What I didn’t know is that hiding your location doesn’t protect your children from digital kidnapping. Digital kidnapping is when strangers steal photos or videos of a child from a social media post and post those images to their own social network claiming the child as their own. Consider the case of Danica Patterson of Dallas, Texas, reported by CBS News. Photos of her 4-year-old daughter were lifted by a man in New York who posted the photos on Facebook and claimed her daughter as his own. According to the report, at the time Facebook had no restrictions prohibiting this. Since then, rules have changed, but digital kidnapping still occurs.
If you learned something you didn’t know in this post, please share it. What other risks might a parent’s social media use pose for their child? Add to this list with a comment below.
A version of this post also appeared on LifeZette.com.