There’s been a lot of talk lately about “sharenting,” or parents oversharing information about their children on the Internet. Some parents believe they should be able to share their parenting experience as they see fit. But many children, as they grow older and realize the plethora of information that their parents have posted about them, are asking their parents to stop, or at least to ask first.
Speaking as both a tech professional and a parent, I strongly believe that no one should be posting pictures, videos, or other information about a child without that child’s permission. It’s all about consent. To teach our children consent, we must demonstrate it. That is especially true about posting online. How can we expect children to understand that they shouldn’t post things about themselves online when we, as parents, are doing exactly that?
As parents, it’s our job to protect our children when they are too young to consent, and grant them the freedom to make their own choices once they are old enough to understand the implications.
Social media is not the way to share your child’s accomplishments. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, and the rest are designed to share data, not to protect it. There is no such thing as “privacy” on the Internet. By placing your child’s information there, even if marked as private, you run the risk of it being exposed. That includes private Facebook groups or supposedly private apps like Whatsapp. Nothing on the Internet is truly private. Setings can change. Accounts can be hijacked. Data can be stolen.
You could also be playing into the hands of predators. Pedophiles troll Facebook, YouTube, and other sites for just such information. You may think it’s cute to put your child’s ballet video online, for example, but these predators are going frame-by-frame, excising the moment when your child’s legs are in a split or underwear slightly exposed, and compiling this with data from other children to form their own pornography. They also use “deepfake” techniques to place your child’s face on pornographic material. Yes, this is a real thing that actually happens. It should go without saying that you should never, ever post pictures of your child in a state of undress.
You should also consider how online posts could affect your child’s future. Online posts, while seemingly innocuous, could be used as fodder for identity theft, cyberbullying, and more. Such posts could even affect your child’s future chances at college or employment.
How can you avoid oversharing? First, before posting anything about your child, take a moment to ask yourself if it’s really necessary to do so. Social media makes it all to easy to share that cute photo or adorable video. But you don’t need to share your kids’ entire lives with the Internet.
Check your social media settings and make sure that you are posting to “friends only” instead of “public.” Most social media sites let you change these permissions retroactively, so if you’ve previously posted to “public,” go back now and change it. (Here’s how to do so on Facebook, for example.) Don’t use your kids’ photos as your profile or cover photo. Profile and cover photos are always public and cannot be made private. You can set up groups for family and close friends and only post pictures to those individuals. But don’t assume that by doing so, your child’s photos will be safe. On the contrary, I recommend against posting information about your kids on social media entirely.
Beware automatic uploads to the cloud. You could be sharing without realizing it, so be sure to check your settings and turn off any automatic photo sharing on your devices, especially to social media. Also beware of anything with a camera and/or microphone, from baby monitors to home security systems to phones and tablets and even smart toys. There are whole swathes of the Internet dedicated to streaming stolen video from consumer cameras. Never put any device with a camera in your child’s room.
Malware can steal your data, including your child’s photos. Protect your computers and mobile devices using antivirus software from reliable developers. Remember, there are plenty of fake apps out there that pretend to share photos or protect your computer, while in reality doing the exact opposite.
So how can you share photos and videos of your kids with loved ones? Try a safer method such as sharing via text message (SMS) or a photo-sharing site like iCloud Photos or Google Photos. You can also use file-sharing sites like Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, or Apple’s iCloud. Just bear in mind that this is “safer,” not “safe.” If it’s online, it can be stolen. There’s nothing wrong with sending Grandma and Grandpa an old-fashioned CD or USB stick of photos. Less convenient? Possibly. Safer for your child? Definitely.
Also bear in mind that you have no idea whether or not the people with whom you’re sharing photos are themselves practicing good computer security techniques. If you send a photo to someone, and that person has malware on their phone or computer, the photo can just as easily be stolen. Talk with your family and friends about the importance of consent when it comes to your kids’ information, and encourage them to follow online safety precautions. You’ll find plenty of information for Windows and Mac users here on my Tech Tips blog, as well as information on using strong unique passwords and two-factor authentication to protect your accounts from hijacking.
As for your family computer, put it in a public location like your living room so that you can keep tabs on what your child is doing online. Use parental control software to block unwanted content, and encourage your kids to let you know if they see anything on the Internet that makes them uncomfortable. You’ll find more details in my Tech Tips article on Internet safety for parents and kids.
On the plus side, it’s possible to use online sharing to help your child. Colleges and employers often use the Internet for background research. Consider your child’s Internet presence like an online resume. By curating their online presence, and posting information about extracurriculars and volunteerism, you could help them achieve future goals. Just be sure to avoid identifying details that could be used by predators such as full name, physical location, age, school, and so forth.
My advice is that if your child is too young to consent, don’t post. If your child is older and able to understand the implications, then ask. And if your child says no, respect them enough to abide by their wishes. You’ll be doing more than protecting their online identities. You’ll be demonstrating that they can trust you, and your relationship will be stronger as a result.