Parents on Social Media

Guidelines for protecting your child in the digital age

You’ve welcomed your bundle of joy into the world. Ten fingers. Ten toes. Perfect. You whip out your phone and start recording every moment. You snap pictures getting the perfect angle. You post it on Facebook or Instagram or somewhere else. Now you just sit back and let the Likes roll in.

This is the first generation that has to deal with what to do with their child’s presence on social media. There are many parenting books that can help tell parents what to expect during pregnancy and also about Purple Crying. There is not much literature about setting boundaries around social media. While it may seem innocuous to share moments of your child’s life with friends and family there can be harmful consequences from doing so. This post is not to discourage parents from posting updates about their child on social media. But I want to share some of the negative effects and offer a guideline to help protect your child.

Repercussions from oversharing

A parent on average will post almost 1,000 photos of a child online before the child turns 5.

I’m pressured by family, friends, and coworkers to post more pictures of Salvy. Most of the time I just smile and shrug my shoulder. It’s not that I mind telling them of my decision to respect my son’s privacy. It’s that they don’t seem to understand why it is an issue for me. The best line I have come up with is “Isn’t it weird posting pictures of other people on your timeline?”

I don’t stop my family from posting pictures of Salvy. Most of them have asked before posting, which is appropriate. There were dozens of pictures of him to hit the Internet before my wife or I posted our announcement picture. As his parent, it is my obligation to protect him — both in his real and digital lives. If there was a post I deemed inappropriate then I would request them to remove it. That hasn’t yet been an issue.

But unfortunately, parents and family members lack proper awareness about these potential issues. According to a recent survey from the Parent Zone, on average parents will post almost 1,000 photos of their child before the age of 5. And it’s not just posting pictures, but countless other status updates about their child. That amount of oversharing can have several serious and harmful repercussions for a child.

(Lack of) Privacy

An estimated 17.6 million persons, or about 7 percent of U.S. residents, were victims of at least one incident of identity theft.

In the digital age, most people are aware that you give up certain standards of privacy whenever you post on social media. Most people understand that they are broadcasting to an audience. But even if you take strict measures, there is always a possibility that something you don’t wish to be shared gets out, or even worse, gets stolen.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 17.6 million people were victims of identity theft in 2014. Most people won’t lose sleep over the threat of identity theft. Yet, the outcome can be tragic if it happens to you. You may get lucky and just experience elevated stress and anxiety from having to update all your passwords. But imagine if the thieves got into your bank account or credit card? It could take decades to repair the damage.

My wife had her Facebook account hacked while traveling for work. The hacker sent a pretty standard phishing scheme. Something like “Sarah’s in trouble. Please send money.” She was able to recover her account before they could do any further damage, and no one sent the hacker money.

Just recently, I was on Instagram and saw a common username my wife uses with a profile picture of Kevin. The account had a couple of followers of people that she knows. She had not created this account, and the picture of Kevin wasn’t even posted by her on Instagram. We reported the account to have it taken down. I assume it was some scraper bot that had created an account. But it still takes you aback at the sophistication of today’s hackers.

The amount of information that you give willing creates cracks into your online protection. It provides hints or answers that can easily be decoded. Your first job as a parent is to protect your child from harm. By not posting information about your child online you make it harder to hack their privacy.

(Without) Consent

As an adult, you willing give your permission when you agree to use a specific service. You know that posting an embarrassing photo of your bar hopping in college may come back to haunt you. Your child doesn’t have that same privilege.

You may think it is cute to post a naked picture of your child, or publicly shame him/her. Yet, it can have embarrassing and dangerous consequences. By profiling your child on social media, you not only provide ammunition for potential bullying but you also provide a roadmap that employers and even loan providers can use.

It came home to roost a year ago when my daughter, who is now 15, told me to take a photo of me kissing her off Facebook because she was embarrassed by it. My first reaction was, ‘I don’t have to do that, it’s my photo and it’s sweet.’ But then I realized that she had every right to ask me, so I took it down.

The first instance where a lack of consent comes into play is bullying. Children are more vulnerable to bullying on social media. There are too many avenues for a parent to safeguard against harassment. You could be enabling this behavior by posting pictures of your child. According to the Family Online Safety Institute, 76% of teenagers are concerned about their privacy, or being harmed by their online activity. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end at childhood. These moments can also come back to haunt your children as they get older and start to job search.

Remember that time when you were eight years old and accidentally set fire to the living room rug? You don’t want that embarrassing moment from your past to define you. The same goes for your child. Those moments can live on the Internet forever. And each year it will come up on their Timehop reminding them of that embarrassing moment. Unfortunately, family and friends may not be the only people to see this. The company that your child wanted to work for also uses social media when screening candidates. In fact, according to Career Builder, 60% of employers use social media to research job candidates — a 500% increase over the last decade. What if that moment cost them their dream job?

2016 Career Builder Recruitment Survey

Even if you were careful about what you chose to upload, there is still a chance for information to leak. And fortunately, it’s less nefarious than those woeful hackers. When my wife had Salvy, she posted a picture to her friends and family welcoming him to the world. After I returned to work, I caught up with my client. She mentioned seeing a picture of him and that he was cute. I was confused since I had not sent over anything. A coworker emailed the client the picture that my wife had posted without our knowledge or consent. It felt wrong.

No one knows what the future holds or how these social sites will evolve. While the safest bet is to not post anything about your child this is not always realistic. Be smart about what and where to post pictures of your child. Allow your child to review and give permission to upload any photos of them. This will give you more confidence in making a good decision.

Privacy settings, data mining, and EFIX

If you read through Facebook’s terms of agreement, you will find certain safeguards to protect your identity and personal information. But, you’ve likely never read the ToA, have you? According to a Fairer Finance survey, 73% of people admit to not reading all the conditions. And unless you have a Juris Doctorate, you likely don’t fall into the 17% of people that actually understand what they are agreeing to. It doesn’t stop there either.

Have you ever looked at the laundry list of permissions that Facebook requests to download its app? You’re handing over your phone and saying, “take a look at whatever you want.” They know who you are, who you talk to, where you went, what pictures you’ve taken or text messages sent. They even had to debunk rumors about them using the phone’s microphone to eavesdrop on you.

You don’t need to be like Walter White and have a burner. But you need to comprehend the lengths that these sites can peer into your life.

Data mining is the practice of storing and examining large sets of information to help gain a different perspective. In this case, it looks at all your identifiable information, and the content you create then aggregates the data and creates a profile.

Facebook’s data policy not only collects information about you while you use its site, but it also gathers data from other sites and services that you use, as well. Morgan G. Ames, Ph.D. has studied how families use media and communication technology. She is not a proponent of posting pictures online.

The pictures parents post may follow children from birth to death as their data profiles are sold and resold to marketers. They can reinforce prejudices and barriers as marketers decide what sort of person someone is, what kinds of content will be marketed to them, and even what kinds of loans they might be worthy of based on their past. And there are likely long-term implications of these data profiles that we don’t yet understand.

As a marketer, part of my job is to aggregate and analyze data and user behavior. I don’t work with databases or large sets of data, but I am still able to discover a massive amount of information about a user. I don’t believe there is any evil agenda in the work that I do. But I do accept that it could reinforce prejudices towards a group of people that I have compiled into a similar persona.

A more sinister, albeit far less likely, scenario of posting photos is the potential for kidnapping. Exchangeable image file format (EFIX) stores metadata whenever you take a picture with a digital camera or smartphone. This data can include several specs like: file name, date, time, shutter speed, flash, and geo-tagging.

Geo-targeting is incredibly accurate (within 12 feet). Not only can your picture show specific landmarks to make it easier to find you, but, by extracting the metadata, it can give specific latitude and longitude for your location. It is unlikely that someone will kidnap your child. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use necessary precautions to help prevent it.

Loss of identity for parent, no control to curate for child

It’s easy to get caught up in your child’s life. It’s your child! Every yawn and smile is likely the most precious thing you’ve ever seen in your life. Taking pictures of each of these moments is easy with the presence of your smartphone. Sharing these moments on social sites can be just as quick.

Our ancestors have been addicted to honor, craved virtue and wealth, been hooked on conquest, on adventure, and on God. But ours is the first civilization to find its deepest fulfillment in its descendants. Our opium is our children.

Parents have a tendency to think that their child is the greatest thing since sliced bread — I’m no exception, much to my dismay. Some of my friends and family only post updates about their children. They change their avatars to their children and have all but abandoned posting any updates about themselves. Living vicariously through our children’s lives can diminish their individuality. It can create a hyper-competitive nature that is molding them into “self-centered, not-so-little-jerks.”

Some parents go to even greater lengths and establish their child’s social media accounts before they can even walk. The child has their own Facebook and Instagram accounts. They have friends and followers. The parents post for them because the child can’t do it themselves. It seems to act as some de facto picture album.

Never mind the fact that this violates the age restriction of all social media sites’ terms of agreement and likely COPPA rules. This also takes away their right to cultivate their own online presence.

Back in the day, we could hide behind usernames and had a semblance of anonymity. Every stupid thing you sent on MSN messenger or through your GeoCities page is now gone and forgotten. The same isn’t true for your child’s online identity. It will continue to last well into their adulthood.

This issue goes back to consent. Those children don’t get to decide how they are portrayed. They don’t get to choose what information has been shared about them. They will always be more susceptible to risk because of it.

Teaching the value of vanity

Millennials get a bad rap for being self-absorbed, narcissistic, and having an inflated sense of their own importance. Being an older Millennial, myself, I don’t disagree even if it’s a generalized stereotype. According to Yalda T. Uhlis, a child psychologist, children today are often over-scheduled and over-photographed.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) has risen over the past 10 years — roughly 1/3 of older Millennials lives. The rise of NPD has been linked to social media. The need to update your feed, seeking out the perfect selfie, and hunting for Likes is not just a problem for parents. But this behavior will increase tenfold in their children, and will lead to one placing self-value from the attention of others. It also creates a lack of empathy for others.

Social media doesn’t create narcissists, nor is it an inherent trait. Children learn narcissism from their parents and peers. In a survey titled “Society’s New Addiction: Getting a ‘Like’ Over Having a Life” showed that 80% of adults attempt to get a perfect photo instead of living in the moment. You are teaching your children what values to prioritize if you are always living through the lens of your smartphone.

Social media guidelines for parents

To reiterate, I don’t want to discourage any parent from sharing photos or updates about their children to friends and family. You’re their parent; you know what is best for your child. But I hope this sheds some light into potential drawbacks for excessive posting that might not have crossed your mind.

So keep these 7 guidelines in mind before you post your next update.

  • Frequently check privacy settings
  • Limit the number of postings
  • Only send to select family and friends
  • Disable geotagging on your photos
  • Use pseudonym for your child
  • Respect your child’s wishes
  • Think before posting

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