These days, it's natural to want to post all kinds of photos of your children from the second they are born. I mean, hey, you made that tiny little human, so of course you want to share your pride and joy with the rest of the world. In fact, to many, posting their kids on social media has become second nature. But where do you draw the line, and are there rules when it comes to posting our kids on the internet? What age should you stop sharing children's photos on social media?
For lots of parents, posting their children on social media is a way to record memories, keep family and close friends in the loop, and share proud parenting moments. It's often done regularly, and without second thought. I am one of those moms. I love posting happy moments of my child, because I know friends and family that live far away actually want to see what my son is up to. They look forward to my posts and enjoy watching him grow up from afar, and in my opinion, it's pretty cool that we're able to keep in touch with people this way thanks to technology. While I don't consider myself an over-the-top child "poster," there are definitely things that all moms need to consider when it comes to posting their kids on the web. To weigh in on this hot topic, I checked in with Dr. Leilani Carver, Assistant Professor in the Masters in Strategic Communication and Leadership Online Program at Maryville University; parenting coach and author of the book Parent On Purpose, Amy Carney; and media psychology expert and author of the book Raising Humans in a Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology, Diana Graber, to see what they had to say about parents posting their sweet kids on social media.
In today's digital world, most people post things without giving it a second thought, but remember when you were a kid and your mom brought out the photo album to show someone pictures of you when you were little? Sometimes you'd be embarrassed. Well, imagine that type of embarrassment, but on a global scale. These days, parents can post pictures of their kids or post things about their kids that might cause embarrassment or social consequences down the line. Carney refers to the term "sharenting," and says it's a huge problem because "parents aren’t thinking long term about the images and stories they are posting and sharing." She wants to remind parents that what goes online stays online. "My 16-year-old daughter is mortified that when you google her name, or mine, a photo comes up of her on our RV sabbatical around the United States that she does not like. In the moment, she was fine with me posting it, but now she wants it removed from cyberspace and unfortunately it’s too late."
While so many parents want to post pictures, comments, and stories about their cute kids, Graber agrees that "parents should be mindful of posting photos of their children at any age. The reason for this is every time a parent posts anything about their children online, it becomes part of that child’s 'digital reputation.' It never goes away, can been seen by anyone and everyone, forever."
Dr. Carver explains that when parents post of photo of their child on the internet, they need to "realize that they are creating a digital identity (often called a digital footprint) for their child that will follow them into adolescence and adulthood." Think about it: these days children grow up without having a say about what images of them are shared to a large audience, even strangers, something you never had to deal with growing up. The worst case scenario was your mom pulling out the old family album when you brought home a romantic interest.
If you're feeling bad, don't worry. You're not alone. It's only natural to share pics of your kids every chance you get, but Carney says parents should "always ask permission" and explains that "even [if] your child says yes today they most likely will be embarrassed or upset about that photo later." Dr. Carver agrees and says, "It may seem innocent to share every photo of your child, but there are unintended consequences that may negatively affect your child." She explains that parents need to keep in mind that while we want the best for our kids in every aspect of life, we have to keep in mind that we also want our kids to "have autonomy over their digital identity as well." Graber makes a good point by adding, "a child’s online reputation is often the first impression they make to the world, including new friends, even future employers or colleges they may attend. Many children feel their reputation is theirs to make."
If you really need to share something, you could always opt for private messaging through text message between close friends and family instead of uploading to the internet as your go-to. Dr. Carver wants parents to be aware that there is a very dark side to the internet that some folks might not be aware of. "Your child’s adorable photo could be used for advertising, identify theft, digital kidnapping (where someone else posts a photo of your child and presents your child as their own), or even in child pornography," says Dr. Carver. She assures parents that this is less common, but it does exist because "nothing is truly private on the internet."
If you're ready to make some changes to your social media posting etiquette, Dr. Carver gives moms some helpful guidelines and tips for posting their innocent little humans on the web. Be sure not to "post a message or image that embarrasses your child (e.g., a naked bathtub photo) and/or criticizes your child (e.g., your child throwing a temper tantrum). Do not post images of other people’s children without their permission and the permission of their parents. Do not tag your child in photos or use their real names. This allows your child to at least have some level of anonymity in regards to their digital footprint." If you're worried someone may be posting on behalf of your child, Dr. Carver says that you can "set up a Google alert with your child's name."
For more internet safety, Graber adds that parents should never "divulge location, name, or birthdate, or other sensitive personal information." While this may seem obvious for some, it's best to avoid tagging geo locations or taking pictures of your child in front of your home or school. But, if you've already posted some questionable things about your kiddo, then it's best to go ahead and delete it now or at least take down any geo tags, just in case. Dr. Carver says the key thing to remember as moms is that "my baby will not always be my baby, and her privacy matters too." So don't let an arbitrary age hang in your brain — be thoughtful with your posting, make sure you're keeping your child in mind, and always, always remember to be safe.