There's a new term sweeping the internet: "sharenting." It's the phenomenon of parents sharing details of their children's lives online. While that's certainly not new, and there's inherently nothing wrong in boasting about your child's accomplishments or sharing your child-rearing frustrations, parents need to be aware that posting identifying information or images of their kids can be potentially harmful.
Child social media privacy is a bit of a hot-button issue. Young children, particularly, aren't able to consent to have images of themselves posted in an online forum. While a parent might not think twice about sharing an embarrassing photo of their child on Facebook, doing so could impact them psychologically and emotionally later in life.
But the problem goes far beyond the potential humiliation. Images can easily be manipulated and shared by those with ulterior motives. One mother, who posted a photo of her young twins on her blog, learned that the potty training photo of her kids was later downloaded, altered, and then shared on a pedophile website. Once you post an image on the internet, it's accessible forever -- even if you delete the original source.
With situations like this, you and your family may never know where and how a photo is being used. But identifying information can also be used in identity theft cases. Despite the fact that the majority of identity theft results from activity offline -- nearly 90% of identity thefts utilize information obtained from print sources, rather than online ones -- the threat is still very real. If you post your child's full name and age, where they attend school, or other clues about their identity and whereabouts, you could be impacting your child's financial future, as well as their present safety.
The problem of "sharenting" is surprisingly widespread. According to a 2010 survey, around 92% of two-year-olds in the U.S. already have some sort of web presence. But experts highlight the importance of keeping your private life private. Law professor Stacey Steinberg, who has researched the subject extensively, wants to encourage parents to allow their child to "enter adulthood free to create their own digital footprint, or at least [be] able to feel comfortable with the digital footprint that's been left in their childhood wake."
Although sharing struggles and accomplishments online may help parents feel less isolated, researchers like Steinberg caution parents to be diligent about checking their posts' privacy levels. As a general rule, you should think very carefully before you post. Is this something that could potentially harm or embarrass your child? If not, consider filtering your audience to specific individuals you trust. Don't share posts that reveal the location of your children or depict them in a state of undress. You can also set up a Google alert that notifies you if your child's name appears in other posts on the internet.
While there's a lot of emphasis on monitoring your child's activities online, many parents need to look closely at their own postings, too. When in doubt, don't post -- or ask your older children for their permission before doing so. In this digital age, the constant need to share is palpable, but parents should try to resist the urge when it comes to their children.