Cheerful mother and daughter taking selfies

Parents report posting online to feel less alone, more informed and less nervous about certain parenting issues.

When I first had my son, Keegan, I was wary about sharing photos of him online. In fact, I wouldn’t share any at all. I was told it was a slippery slope, difficult to stop once you got started. But as my son grew older, I loosened up a bit. I’m not sure why. Maybe I was lonely at home with a baby or maybe it felt less risky because everyone was doing it. 

I don’t post all the time, but in those proud parenting moments, I’m not afraid to digitally brag with an extra adorable snapshot. However, according to experts, as the first generation to be quite so loose with privacy, especially when it comes to our kids, it’s time to take a closer look at the repercussions of sharing photos online.

According to polls, I’m far from an outlier on the issue. C.S. Mott’s National Poll on Children’s Health found that a majority of parents share information about their kids on social media. Most parents of young children (84 percent of mothers and 70 percent of fathers) report using social media like Facebook, online forums or blogs. Parents report using these online tools to feel less alone, more informed and less nervous about certain parenting issues. But it’s concerning that a majority of these parents (74 percent), according to the poll, also admit to knowing of a parent who’s an “oversharer.” These parents take it a step further, often posting “embarrassing information about a child, offer(ing) personal information that could identify a child’s location or shar(ing) inappropriate photos."

In recent years, the issue has even garnered its own term, called “sharenting” by experts in the field. Dr. Claire McCarthy, assistant professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, warns parents to be vigilant. 

“Nothing online is completely private, and everything is permanent. You can use privacy settings, and you absolutely should, but there are always ways around them (such as screenshots) — and even when you take something down, that doesn't mean it's completely gone.” And maybe even more importantly, writes Dr. McCarthy, “it's not your information; it belongs to your children.”

Jordan.jpg

Titania Jordan is a mother and “Chief Parent Officer” of Bark, a parental monitoring app.

Sharing photos of your children online is often innocent enough, says Titania Jordan, "Chief Parenting Officer" for Bark.us, a service that analyzes online activity and text messages for signs of cyber bullying, sexting and depression, but it can become addictive.

“Today’s village is a virtual one. Gone are the days when we carried actual photos in our wallets to share with our friends and coworkers in real life,” says Jordan. “Not only do we (parents and caregivers) love to showcase our cute kids, but social media has gamified the process so that we get a hit of dopamine when our network interacts with our content. It literally feels good to share, and it makes us want to do it more and more.”

While posting is often harmless, as a general rule Jordan says that parents should try and avoid potentially embarrassing photos of your child (partial nudity, crying, etc.), any content that contains personally identifiable information that can be used in a nefarious way, such as your child’s name, school or date of birth. Parents should obviously avoid anything your child asks you not to post online, (if he or she is old enough to ask permission) and content that is overly critical of your child or shames them in any way.

“Another unfortunate reality of the internet is the prevalence of online predators. To date, Bark has turned over more than 300 online predators to law enforcement. Please know that photos and videos of your children can contain PII (personally identifiable information) that predators can use to lure your children. Make sure you protect their digital footprint,” says Jordan. 

It’s a lot to swallow, and certainly makes you think twice about posting those seemingly adorable photos of a half-naked toddler sitting on his mini potty. Not to mention that, as my son gets older, I’ll have to consider that employers and even potential partners are likely to Google him, uncovering any less than stellar images from his youth. It all makes social media feel like the Wild West, a world that’s a bit too unsavory and uncontrollable.

Kevin Gray

Dr. Kevin Gray is the director of child and adolescent psychiatry at MUSC. Provided. 

In the end, parents have varying views on posting. It’s a heated debate that as editor of Lowcountry Parent, I’m constantly hearing about from varying angles. But no matter where you are on the spectrum, whether you post all the time or you shun social media entirely, according to Dr. Kevin M. Gray, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina, “(p)osting of images and information should always be done with consideration of the permanence.”

The bottom line, according to experts, when your mini becomes a teen, those potty training pics will never go away and you never know who will get ahold of them. It makes me miss the days of dropping off my disposable camera at CVS and waiting with bated breath for my photos to be developed. At least then I had something to show for it. 

Sara Novak is the editor of Lowcountry Parent magazine, a monthly publication of The Post and Courier.