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On Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and other social media, babies gurgle, toddlers squirm, preschoolers smile, tweens pose and teens rave—all courtesy of beaming parents wanting to share the latest and greatest doings of their offspring. “I see a wide variety ranging from nothing to everything online,” says Kim Luckabaugh, a Fairfax, Va., mother of three children between the ages of 11 and 14. “Some parents post cute stories on Facebook but only use their child's first initial. Others posts pictures with limited captioning. Still others post pictures and accounts using their child's name.”
“I’d say many parents think anything is fair game,” adds Jen Wilkin, who blogs about parenting. “They seem to view their child’s story as their property. I think these parents are well-meaning, but that they perhaps haven’t thought through the implications of their posting choices.”
A recent study by Posterista, a print site in the United Kingdom, found that whopping 94 percent of U.K. parents post their children’s images online. Of those surveyed, 64 percent uploaded images of their kids to social media sites three times or more a week and 21 percent did it at least three times per month. Only a mere 6 percent of respondents never posted photographs of their children on their social media pages. The study also found that pictures of newborns are uploaded to Facebook 57.9 minutes on average after their arrival into this world.
Luckabaugh is one of those parents. “I will take pictures of my kids and post to my Facebook page. I keep the GPS tagging ability turned off on my smartphone so when I do upload those pictures, precise locations are not available. However, I do call my child by his or her full name.” Luckabaugh refrains from referencing her kids on Twitter or Instagram because she has less control over distribution on those social media outlets.
“I used to put pictures on Facebook but I don’t even do that anymore, choosing instead to send photos directly to family members and friends,” says Rebecca Cusey, a managing editor at Patheos.com and the mother of two teens and a grade schooler. “I also don't tell stories about them to large groups (like Facebook), use their names, ages, schools, schedules, or anything that might identify them online.”
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Wilkin, a mother of four teenagers, consults with her children before posting any information about them online. “I rarely post photos, and I make use of privacy settings. I don't post anything on my blog (anecdotes) without their permission. And even then, I make sure my motives for wanting to post the story are pure, and that my kids understand the implications of posting the story (someone might mention it to them or want to tease them),” she says. “I don’t post anything that singles them out for ridicule, i.e. something like ‘High school girls are full of drama.’”
Our Children, Their Future
Part of the concern with children’s images and stories being posted online is the potential for harm. Most parents seem to agree that the perceived risk in online postings of their children is less physical and more emotional.
“Honestly, I’m less concerned with the physical risks and more concerned with the emotional risk. I think if parents put themselves in their children's shoes and considered how those stories or photos might be perceived by their children as they get older, parents would post differently,” says Wilkin. “And I suspect the way parents would post if they viewed themselves as protectors rather than purveyors of their children's stories would go far toward limiting the physical risk, as they would be far more cautious in posting.”
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“I don't know that posting photos online is a huge risk for safety,” agrees Cusey. “I’m more concerned that the kids have privacy and don’t feel like they’re living their life on stage, even in the modern social media kind of way. I’d like them to trust that I’m not going to embarrass them or expose them, even in small ways. I want them to learn to build real relationships over social media ones, or at least make real relationships a priority. Most of all, I want them to tell their own story, not have me tell an idealized version of their story on social media.”
Another concern centers around the information gathering aspects of social media sites. A recent Slate.com article sparked a firestorm when Amy Webb wrote, “When we share even innocent images and information about our kids, we endanger their future anonymity and expose them to data monitoring by governments and private corporations we can’t control.”
“I hate that they are already being tracked and analyzed more than we could even imagine,” says Cusey. “I'd like them to be as anonymous as possible while still being free to partake of the modern world, but it’s not an easy line.”
Think Before Posting
Posting photographs and info about your children has its advantages. It’s definitely a fun, easy way to share your life with family and friends, especially those who live far away. But these parents urge others to exercise caution before clicking on the upload button. Here are some things to think about before you put your children online.
Examine your motives. Why are you putting that picture of your child online? Is it to put an idealized version of yourself out there to be judged? “If 50 people don’t like the cute Instagram of your toddler, does that mean she’s not cute? If people don’t like your son’s adorable lemonade stand on Facebook, does that mean he’s not adorable?” asks Cusey. “And that’s just the public version. What would people think if they saw the tantrums and battiness and bad behavior? I think we need to realize that everything about our lives is not necessarily someone else's business.”
Watch your usage. Those of us who use social media to connect with clients, fans or customers need to be especially careful of posting things about our children. “In the blogging world, it would be easy to put them out there to build a brand. We’re all building brands now, but when your career is writing, your brand is directly linked to your income,” says Cusey, who writes for several blogs and online websites. “It would actually be a version of pimping them out. I don’t want my children to be part of my brand—I want them to be my kids.”
Take safety precautions. At the very least, turn off the GPS tagging features on your smartphones. Don’t mention the location of the photograph. “Do not post the picture as the event is occurring, especially if you are revealing the location, such as a troop camp out at a specific campground,” says Luckabaugh.
Keep private things private. The intimate details of your children’s lives should not become fodder for social media to gobble up. “Do not share extremely private details about a bad behavioral issue with your son, pictures of your daughter in a bikini or medications your child may be taking,” says Luckabaugh. “I am often struck by some parents’ lack of judgment in this regard. Some things need to remain private and parents should always err on the side of caution.”
“I think people need to educate themselves about privacy in general,” adds Wilkin. “My focus is more on protecting the integrity of the parent-child relationship, viewing our children as people, rather than as fodder for our status updates.”
Follow your own rules. Each family needs to think about how they want to view and use social media. “I made rules for myself that have become habits. No matter how beautiful or funny the photo is, if it shows their face or identifies them in another way, I won’t use it. I also don’t post when it’s their birthday,” says Cusey.
Adjust your view. As parents, we too often think of our kids as, well, our children, but we also need to remember they are individuals. “We should ask ourselves if there is potential for harm to come to them, now or in the future, based upon what we share. Running things through that filter is something every parent should do,” says Luckabaugh.
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Protect your kids. Above all, parents should not forget that one of our primary goals as parents is to guard our children online as well as in person. “We should have their backs,” says Cusey. “We should protect them even from things that might not be that big a deal, but are slightly detrimental. We should consider the effect of putting everything out there to be judged.”
Social media and the Internet can be a wonderful tool for parents to share their children with family and friends, but there should be a note of caution when it comes to uploading images and information. “It’s not to say that we shouldn’t do social media, just that we should be skeptical of it and question it,” reminds Cusey. “Just because this revolution has happened and happened so quickly doesn’t mean we have to play by its rules.”
Sarah Hamaker is a certified Leadership Parenting Coach™ through the Rosemond Leadership Parenting Coach Institute. She’s also a freelance writer and editor, and is currently working on a book about sibling rivalry, scheduled for release from Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City in the fall of 2014. Sarah lives in Fairfax, Va., with her husband and four children. Visit her at www.parentcoachnova.com.
Publication date: October 18, 2013