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Ben there done that

Parental oversharing hinders child’s right to privacy

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For myself and other youth, we hardly remember the world before Facebook. Our parents documented our lives with posts in the digital world before we even knew how to use a computer. 

A 2010 study by the Internet security company AntiVirus Guard revealed that 80% of babies and 90% of two-year-olds have an online presence due to their parents. In a way, many children are born twice, once in real life and again online. This can be fun as parents and grandparents announce the birth of their child and other milestones, but it also has some serious implications for the privacy of children.

The issue even has a name that isn’t even in the dictionary, yet: “sharenting.” The word was coined from over-sharing parents. The most common way sharenting can hurt a child is when potentially embarrassing photos are used to cyber-bully a child. A 2019 study by Dr. Justin Patchin with the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire found that 37% of children between the ages of 12-17 have been cyberbullied and 81% of those affected had experienced it more than once. 

Sharenting also increases a child’s risk of identity theft. A child’s identity can be stolen and then used unbeknownst to the child for years. The ramifications of this are wide-ranging in severity but never good. A bizarre extension of childhood identity theft is the phenomenon known as “cyberknapping.” 

Cyberknapping is when an online predator uses images of a child to pretend or present the image of having a child of their own. One issue of concern is that the photos are shared and seen by people who could potentially harm the child and expose them to real-life predators. 

It is important to recognize that parents don’t intend to harm their children when posting about them on social media. Social media can be a great connection tool for family members who live a long distance from each other. Facebook can be a defacto family archive. Furthermore, posting a photo of your child online doesn’t immediately mean that you are harming them. However, it is important to consider the long-term ramifications. It’s important to consider what precautions can be taken to mitigate future harm while still enjoying all the positive aspects of social media. 

The easiest thing to do is to adjust the privacy settings on your social media accounts. By default, everything you share online is open to anyone who wants to see it. On Facebook, you can set who sees a post. My recommendation is to set this to “friends only” for any photo of your child. This keeps the photos and posts limited to the people you know. On Instagram, a private account only allows people with your consent to follow your posts. This is a good idea for any account where you post photos of your kids. 

When you are about to post something about your child, ask yourself a few questions or at least consider them. Is this photo of my child a significant moment that my family or I will want to remember? Is what I am about to post potentially embarrassing or something that I wouldn’t want to be posted about myself? Would this post paint my child in a bad light if found by an admissions official or employer? Being mindful of these kinds of questions before posting about your kids will help facilitate making good decisions in this matter. 

Like I stated before, I don’t think any parent intends to harm their children with social media. Times are changing rapidly and our thinking hasn’t necessarily caught up. At the end of the day, there are no black and white rules for what to do but considering what you share about the children in your life is a good idea.

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