***This article originally ran in USA Today***
I love talking about my stunning, brilliant, cherished-beyond-measure, 20-year-old daughter. Oh sure, there are moments I overdo it a little, and maybe even gush, embellish, or overshare. I’m an insanely proud mom. I can’t help it, that’s just who I am (insert shrug emoji). But it’s not who my daughter is. And that last part? That’s what really matters here.
In this day of living so much of our lives on social media, where do we draw the line in the sand(box) with regards to what we share about our kids – especially when they’re too young to have any say in the matter?
It’s a question at the center of a growing debate and many teens and young adults: the first generation to ‘grow up on the gram’ – are telling parents to stop.
The rise of ‘sharenting’
We all know those parents who spare no detail highlighting every milestone, from the first grainy-alien sonogram images, to potty-training and every cute or cursed moment in between.
The danger that comes from oversharing about our children makes for splashy headlines and sobering statistics:
- Of the 92% of children with an online presence, one-third are posted on social media (and include) the date of birth. Approximately half of the posts include the child’s first name.
- Barclays Bank predicts sharenting will account for two-thirds of identity fraud facing young people and will produce 7.4 million incidents per year of identity fraud by 2030.
- Innocent photos or videos of children originally posted on social media and family blogs account for up to half the material found on some pedophile image-sharing sites, according to Australia’s Children’s eSafety Commissioner.
- Embarrassing content shared during childhood or adolescence can lead to later bullying by both peers and strangers and can impede the natural development of the child.
But it’s important to look beyond the fear-factor what-if’s and see the more nuanced and pivotal part of modern parenting here, says children’s rights attorney, legal professor, author and mom of three Stacey Steinberg.
“Those are all scary things,” she said over Zoom, “but until we have more research and more evidence to support the risks, I like to focus more on childhood wellbeing and the rights of the child to control how the world sees them. Parents need to think deeply about their children’s online privacy and safety needs, because until our kids get older, we’re the ones responsible for protecting their digital footprints.”
I’ve turned to Steinberg’s book, “Growing Up Shared,” dozens of times trying to figure it all out and make lists of parenting do’s and don’ts for articles like this one. But it’s not as simple as “never post any photo of your child, never use their real name, or delete all social media.”
“Our role as memory keeper and memory revealer are constantly in flux. We don’t want to shame parents and we don’t want to lose sight of the power that can come from being brave and vulnerable and telling our stories online,” Steinberg confirmed. “We can see that when kids are little, parents have an interest in sharing and benefit from the support they receive online. But as kids get older, their right to privacy is equally as – if not more – important.”
Steinberg wants lawmakers to step in here and create more policy around protecting children online, giving people “a mechanism by law to request that their name not be tied to the information parents share. Kids should have the ‘right to be forgotten’ in the context that parents share about them prior to consent. It could be as simple as submitting a form so that Google breaks the link between an image or video and a person’s name,” she concludes.
As a mom of three children herself – ages 8, 10, and 15 – Steinberg now gives her kids “veto power to choose which pictures to share and what stories to tell.” She also says in general, she posts less often, for a smaller and more private audience, deletes content more than a year old, and takes advantage of Facebook privacy tools as much as possible, while recognizing that, “the internet never forgets.”
Mom, please stop
My daughter was in middle school when she asked me not to post anything about her without her permission. “It was like you were creating a narrative about me that I didn’t have control of,” she said.
She’s now a junior in college and asked me not to use her name in this article. She said this issue comes up often with her peers. “My roommates and I were just talking about it the other night and saying ‘God, why do parents post the worst photos?’ ” she laughed.
More seriously though, “there’s a loss of autonomy over your own image, how you’re portrayed, and your personality. That’s my story to tell, not yours,” she said thoughtfully.
“It’s also not like you ever posted about a bad or sad day. You portrayed me with a standard of perfection: ‘Look at how awesome she is,’ and it created an idea that all I did was win, succeed, and be amazing. That’s a lot of pressure.”
I asked several other, younger kids to weigh-in here too, and their sentiments echoed a recent study by home security and personal safety site, Security.org, that found 77% of parents share about their kids on social media and about 30% do it without asking permission first.
“Nearly 8 in 10 parents have friends or followers they’ve never met in real life,” Security.org senior editor and industry analyst Aliza Vigderman said over the phone. “It makes sense that parents want to share information about their children with loved ones online, but posting children’s real names, without their consent, and without locking down privacy can cause more harm than good,” she added.
“I care about what my parents, mostly my mom, posts about me on her social media, like Instagram. A lot of people I know are on my mom’s Instagram, and sometimes I don’t want them to see the things she posts, like a bad photo,” 12-year old Chloe Rouanet wrote in an email. “I want my parents to ask my permission before they post something. My mom usually does not follow my rules about it, saying that her account is private and that she only follows her friends. But somehow people in my class find photos and show them to me,” she adds.
Riley Duffy, 10, agrees. “I sang in a video for school and that was very embarrassing (when my mom posted it online). While I like to participate in plays and sing, I don’t like to see myself doing it or anyone to see me doing it.”
Here’s the latest list of what parents like me can do to “be as careful as possible” when sharing about our kids online.
Update privacy settings
Parents, if you haven’t already, take the time to go through social media privacy features. For Facebook, follow the “Privacy Checkup” prompts to lock down who can see what you share, manage what you’ve already shared, and control how people can find you. On Instagram, make your account private, so that only the people you’ve approved as followers can access your content.
Make a family and friend-wide rule
Be clear with family and friends that they are not allowed to share any photos of your children without your permission. This includes photos you share via text, email, and in private photo albums.
Scrub your photos
Remove any metadata from your photos that reveals location, or details about where they live, go to school, or anything else that puts their online and offline lives in jeopardy.
As I’ve written about before, the easiest way to do that is with a software tool called Image Scrubber. As the site states, “It will remove identifying metadata (EXIF data) from photographs, and also allow you to selectively blur parts of the image to cover faces and other identifiable information.”
The way it works is simple; open the app, upload a photo, click “Scrub Exif Data” at the bottom of the screen, then save the image. A tool to blur out parts of the photo automatically pops up next. Click or drag it across parts you want to make sure people can’t make out, save again, and you’re done.
You can also use YouTube, Adobe and other editing software and tools.
Removing location data in your phone settings is easy on an iPhone, but can be more complicated depending which Android device you use.
On iOS: Go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services and toggle off. When Location Services are off, apps can’t use your location in the foreground or background. This will limit the performance of various Apple and third-party apps.
On Android, it’s more complicated depending on your make and model. For instance, on a Samsung Galaxy, go to Gallery App > Swipe up on an image to reveal its details > tap “Edit,” and remove the location.
Consider pseudonyms for your children
Explain to your family, friends, and kids schools that you don’t want their real names posted with their photos online.
Delete photos more than a year old
Take a page from Stacey Steinberg and clear out old photos of your kids from social media. Yes, anyone can screengrab them at any time but this is better than leaving it to chance, the next hack, or worse.
The easiest way to do this on Facebook is through your Activity Log. Go to your profile, click the three-dot menu, and select Activity Log. This shows every action you, or another person has taken on your Timeline, including reactions, shares, comments, tags, and posts. You can then filter each entry by date or a specific person. Facebook has a good help page on all aspects of doing this, from deleting one completely to limiting access here.
Talk with your kids about this issue early and often
Kids like being part of the solution, and this is the perfect time to model thoughtful digital citizenship. Practice what you preach!
Give kids veto power
This truly is the hardest part. As parents, we’re often rewarded with likes and follows for sharing about kids. There are times I had to bite halfway through my lip to keep from having a full blown mommy-meltdown when my daughter said, “nope,” to me posting about her for say, National Daughter’s Day just last week. (Yes, it was a real thing and not a sinister plot to extract private data … though I like that we’re at least thinking about it all more critically now.)