With most children making their social media debut within their first 24 hours of life – new research suggests parents need to be thinking carefully about the digital footprint they're creating for their kids.
An abstract presented this week at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference in San Francisco, "What Parents Should Share: Child Privacy in the Age of Social Media and the Pediatrician's Role,"highlights the need for parents to be given "healthy rules of thumb" when it comes to making online disclosures about their children.
In other words, all that "sharenting" we've been doing for years – well it might be time to reconsider exactly what we're putting online.
"The amount of information placed in the digital universe about our children in just a few short years is staggering," said Dr. Bahareh Keith, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Florida College of Medicine, in a statement. "Parents often consider how to best protect children while the child is using the internet. However, parents—including myself, initially--don't always consider how their own use of social media may affect their children's well-being."
Dr Keith notes that there are many benefits when it comes to using social media – including helping mums and dads feel connected to others as they navigate parenting challenges, and sharing the joys of milestones and special moments with family and friends.
And yet, he cautions that parents need to be mindful of the fact that what we share on social media about our kids, may impact them both today and well into the future.
Co-author and Law professor Stacey Steinberg, weighed in on the legal implications of posting details about out children's lives online. She notes that information can be stolen or shared - and could potentially end up in the hands of paedophiles or identity thieves.
Steinberg suggests, however, that the most likely outcome is that a child might simply – and understandably –want some privacy and control when it comes to their online identity.
It's an issue more and more children and parents will face as the first kids of Facebook enter adulthood, apply for further study and seek employment.
"Untangling the parent's right to share his or her own story and the child's right to enter adulthood free to create his or her own digital footprint is a daunting task," Seinberg said.
So what should parents be considering when it comes to sharing information about their little ones and not-so-little ones online?
Keith and Steinberg offer the following advice:
- Parents should familiarise themselves with the privacy policies of the sites they're using.
- When sharing an issue such as a "behavioural struggle" they're experiencing with a child, parents should post anonymously.
- Children should have "veto power" over what parents share online including: images, quotes, accomplishments and challenges.
- Parents should never share pictures that show a child in a state of undress.
- Parents should never list their child's location in a post.
Steinberg recently told The Atlantic that by the age of four, children already have an awareness of their sense of self.
"At this young age, they are able to build friendships, have the ability to reason, and begin to compare themselves with others. Parents who post regularly can talk about the internet with their children and should ask young children if they want friends and family to know about the subject matter being shared."
She notes, however, that the issue is complicated.
"I feel so strongly in not silencing parents' voices," Steinberg told The Atlantic. "There are so many benefits to sharing information ... and very valid reasons to share. That's why this is so complex."
Her takeaway message, however, is clear: "Don't share something online that you wouldn't be okay sharing publicly."
In 2014, National Children's Commissioner Megan Mitchell warned Australian parents of the risk of sharing photos and information about their children online.
"People can potentially find out what school they go to, or track where they move about the community because you have locational settings on," she told Fairfax Media.
"We have to be careful when we put images out there in the ether because we really don't know what is happening to them, we don't know who is going to access them and we don't know what they're going to do with them."
Find more information on how to take a "safe selfie" here.
Do you share information about your children online?