Aussie parents still sharing photos of their kids online without consent

Most parents concerned about sharing images of their kids - but do it anyway
Most parents concerned about sharing images of their kids - but do it anyway Photo: Shutterstock

We're conscious of the risks of posting photos online but we're doing it anyway - and we're not asking our kids' permission. That's the key message from a new survey of Aussie parents, which found that when it comes to consent, we still think it's our right to "sharent" - even if it's embarrassing and potentially harmful for our children. 

The survey, conducted by cybersecurity company McAfee, found that 60 per cent of parents don't consult their child before sharing an image and 37 per cent believe they have the right to post that Harry Potter Book Week snap, without asking their little ones first.

And that's despite 68 per cent of parents still worrying about photos ending up "in the wrong hands".

Digitally savvy mums and dads are increasingly aware of the risks, with 50 per cent of parents listing paedophilia as a concern, 44 per cent listing stalking and 38 per cent reporting concerns about the risk of kidnapping. 

But while we might be willing to share photos of our kids in their school uniform (almost half of us have done, or would do this), 77 per cent of parents only post images of their kids on locked accounts. 

"Only sharing photos of children on private social media accounts is certainly a good first step, but there is much more that needs to be done to ensure parents are protecting their children's safety online," said Alex Merton-McCann, McAfee's Cybermum in Australia. "As the survey makes obvious, parents are not giving enough consideration to what they post on social media and how it could harm their children. If images get into the wrong hands, they can be used to gather information like their birth dates, home address, school, or even the child's full name, which is a scary thought for any parent."

According to McAffee, proud mums and dads are also not particularly concerned about the "emotional risks" of sharenting. Only 28 per cent of parents consider whether posting an image of their child online could result in worry and anxiety for their child, and only 28 per cent ponder whether their child might be embarrassed by a particular photo.

When it comes to embarrassing content, however, (hello toilet training photos), the survey identified that mums are more sensitive to their kids' feelings than dads: 35 per cent of dads assume their kids will simply "get over" an embarrassing snap, compared to only 24 per cent of mums.

"As a parent I know how important it is to immortalise those big moments, like the first day of school, through pictures," says Ms Merton-McCann. "The desire to share those precious images with friends and family via social channels is understandable, but parents should consider the emotional and security risks of posting on their children's behalf.

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"In addition to sometimes embarrassing their children, parents need to know that it can also have damaging ramifications on their digital and even physical safety. I caution parents to think twice about what they share publicly."

It's not the first time research has identified the emotional impact parents' social media use might have on their kids.

A 2016 paper, "Sharenting: Children's Privacy in the Age of Social Media," highlighted the need for parents to be given "healthy rules of thumb" when it comes to making online disclosures about their children. "Through sharenting, or online sharing about parenting, parents now shape their children's digital identity long before these young people open their first email," wrote lead author Stacey Steinberg, warning that the disclosures parents make online are "sure to follow their children into adulthood".

And while she noted that "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, it's one we need to take seriously. 

"Parents must consider the overall effect sharing has on a child's psychological development," Seinberg wrote in her paper. "Children model the behaviour of their parents, and when parents constantly share milestones, monitor their social media accounts for likes and followers, and seek out recognition for what was once considered mundane daily life, children take note."

As such, Seinberg and co-author, Pediatrician Bahareh Keith, suggested the follow tips:

  • 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.

It's advice echoed by McAfee, who note that parents should also be aware of geo-tagging (when your location is shared online using your device's GPS or internet connection) and ensure this function is disabled.

Friends, relatives and carers such as babysitters, should also be informed of any family policies around social media so photos aren't posted without seeking permission first.

For more information and resources on online safety, visit ThinkUKnow