Who’s Watching Your Kids?

What to know before you post

Since social media has exploded within the past decade, many parents enjoy posting about their children online. From Facebook to Instagram to YouTube, parents share adorable photos and videos which highlight the joyous and not so enjoyable moments in their child’s life. Countless blogs share stories about everything from potty training to dealing with bullies. On average, parents will post 1,500 photos of their child before they enter kindergarten, but it’s not only other parents who are paying attention.

Big media is watching

Last November, Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, published a report which examined how big tech companies collect data on children and the potential risks involved in “sharenting,” a term used to describe the overuse of social media by parents who share content that’s based on their children. Ms. Longfield’s report calculates that by the time a child turns eighteen, there will be 70,000 posts about them on the Internet.

Sharing a child’s full name and birth date may seem harmless, but big media is watching. It’s estimated that by 2030, parents sharing personal information about their children online will account for two-thirds of identity fraud for young people over eighteen. “We need to stop and think about what this means for children’s lives now, “Ms. Longfield writes. “This is only going to get bigger.”

The rise of data-surveying gadgets means that a host of private information is being collected and distributed in unprecedented ways. Families are the targets of specific ads because they are skillfully being watched every time they go online. Some children are even being “datafied” before birth as tech companies learn about pregnant women through their online purchases and posts, then bombard them for ads about maternity and baby products.

Impact on children

Most parents discuss parenting and share images online, partly because it gives them a sense of commonality. As anything posted can instantly become a screenshot, privacy concerns are becoming more obvious.

“By the time children are old enough to use social media themselves, many already have a digital identity created for them by their parents,” says Sarah Clark, Associate Research Scientist with the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Michigan. “Parents may share information that their child finds embarrassing or too personal when they’re older, but once it’s out there, it’s hard to undo. The child won’t have much control over where it ends up or who sees it.”

The first babies whose pictures were posted on Facebook when it began in 2004 are now teenagers who are more invested in having control of their digital identities. In 2016, The New York Times reported a survey of 249 parent-child pairs from forty states and found that children were twice as likely to ask their parents to not “over share” by posting information about them without permission.

“Collecting so much data about children raises important questions about their freedom and independence,” writes Ms. Longfield. “It does not convey how valuable and sensitive personal information is and how important it is to guard it.”

Mindful posting

Despite the fact that social media companies strive to put parents into categories and restrict their identities to whatever it is that they post online, technology does not truthfully define people. Exploring a relationship to technology and mindfully changing the way that parents use it can allow them to teach by example how to respect their children when they choose to post about them online.

“Parents need to be thoughtful about how much they share on social media,” says Ms. Clark. “They can enjoy the benefits of camaraderie but also protect their children’s privacy today and in the future.”

Pause Before You Post

  • Mindfully consider the effect sharing can have on your child’s future emotional, social, and psychological well being.
  • Know and abide by your social media sites’ privacy policies.
  • Parents who choose to share about their child’s behavioral struggles should consider doing so anonymously. Give your older children “veto power” over what you want to post online.

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