Does sharing info online about your children put them at risk?
By age two, 81 percent of children have a digital footprint, according to Internet security firm AVG. In fact, 23 percent of children have sonograms posted of them before they are even born. But just how much should you be sharing online about your children? And is it safe?
Dr. Gabrielle Roberts, a clinical psychologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, Ill., acknowledges that there is a wide variety of opinions—even among physicians—when it comes to leaving your child’s digital footprint. “I think less is best. By posting, we are voluntarily putting information out there that may have an adverse effect on our child in the future,” she says.
Dr. Roberts reminds us that we do not know how the internet will evolve and what may come of our posts and pictures. “Will a silly picture be permanently linked to future college or job applications?” she asks. “I am uncomfortable with the notion that I am choosing the parameters of my child’s future privacy. Maybe a picture linked to a college application is harmless, but my child still did not choose for it to be present and accessible.”
She stresses that by posting pictures and information about your child, you are taking away his or her right to choose what information is on the internet about them. “Of course, there are things that will be present over which we have no control; however, adding our own content feels like a violation of the future privacy he or she may wish to have,” she says.
And while you may think posting pictures of your infant or toddler is no big deal now, your child might care as they age. Dr. Roberts says that older children and teenagers are likely to have their own online presence (“as will their peers!”), and they may have strong opinions about what they want posted. “I recommend parents of older children communicate about what both the child and parent posts. It’s important for both sides to feel comfortable about what is shared online about the child and to have a say in boundaries around privacy,” she says.
Some parents utilize social media platforms as a place to discuss their child’s behavioral problems or personal struggles. Dr. Roberts warns against doing this. “I understand and respect the support people can derive from an online community where help is, literally, at your fingertips. At the same time, consider the impact on the child. There is a difference between posting general parenting questions, questions about typical childhood struggles or silly anecdotes, and posting intimate details about a child’s specific emotional problems or actions.”
Instead, she recommends reaching out to people in a more personal manner, such as in a smaller, private online group, speaking in person, over the phone, or via email.
If you do wish to share pictures of your children on social media, Dr. Roberts advises limiting the photos to moments that are happy, fairly benign, and not likely to cause any distress or embarrassment for the child in the present or future. “With older children and teenagers, I recommend keeping open lines of communication regarding what is posted and respecting if he or she wishes something not be posted.”
She also cautions that posting about your children may be dangerous to their safety. Remember the following tips to help keep your children safe:
- Avoid sharing photos of your child undressed in any form.
- Don’t check in at locations or share if your older child is somewhere on their own (For example: “X just ran to the store for me for the first time on his own!”)
- Check your privacy settings. Do you know exactly who can see what you share? Review the options to make sure you are as safe as possible.
Dr. Roberts suggests parents consider opting to create a private group for sharing photos. “Or, if you dare, go ‘old school’ and use email, which can offer more privacy than social media,” she says.
About the Author
Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is the public affairs coordinator at Advocate Children's Hospital. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.