Raising children in this day and age comes with its unique set of hurdles. One of the modern parenting challenges is the rise of social media. In recent decades, social media took the world over. Now parents have to decide what and how much they want to share online about their children. Parents all over the world embraced social media platforms and started posting excessively detailed information about their children. Sharing a lot of detailed information about one’s children is defined as sharenting. Check out my previous article about sharenting.
Pictures of children are cute, sweet, and heartwarming. The photos posted online by parents are most of the time innocent and inoffensive. But this is not always the case. The fact of the matter is, we don’t know yet how this extensive digital footprint will affect our children in the future. The latent adverse effects of oversharing will become apparent in the future when the children born in the social media era will become adults.
What prompted me to write this essay was an article I recently read. The article is centered around an interview with Erin Cash. She worked for Queensland Police’s Task Force Argos. The Task Force’s job was to find and bust pedophilia rings. In her interview, Erin speaks about her experiences working for the Task Force, how hard it was to deal with the traumatic images in her mind and gives some online safety tips for parents. Most importantly, she talks about the strategies predators use on social media to steal and then defile photos of little children. This article burned my mind and soul. I am not trying to cause panic and spark paranoia in parents. I want all the parents to make informed decisions, be aware of the risks and take precautions. Sharing photos online has become such a common practice, we don’t even think before posting something. Parents must establish clear boundaries on what is considered private information, what is suitable to share, and how the posted information will reflect on their children in the future.
Would you hand pictures of your child to strangers?
Of course not. That is what you are doing with the photos you post online. Once posted, you don’t have control over that content anymore. We must never forget we don’t know who is watching on the other side of the picture-perfect Instagram grid.
A report from 2015 found that about half of photos on children’s exploitation sites were innocent photos posted online.
Thus, before posting anything stop ask yourself:
“ Why I want to share this?”
“ Would I want someone to share this information about me?”
“Could this photo be embarrassing to your child now or in the future?”
Get yourself in the habit of asking these questions before posting online. At the end of the day, the information, photos, videos you are disclosing online do not belong to you; it belongs to your child.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when posting your children online:
1. Do not post photos of your child on the beach, taking a bath, or while potty-training. Even if a photo is cute and innocent, you don’t know who will see it. The truth is, not only pictures in a state of undressing attract unwanted attention. So, be very judicious about what you post online, especially if you have a large following on social media. The more attention a photo receives, the more chances it attracts the attention of a predator.
2. Do not use hashtags. When you use hashtags in the caption, the photos will appear in wider searches. This is one way predators look for photos. Some tags to avoid are #babygirl, #babyboy, #pottytraining, #bathtime. Also, be mindful of using geotags (set the location). Anyone who views that location can see the image and Screenshot it.
3. Make your social media platforms private, or consider carefully every picture you post of your child. Protecting your child’s privacy does have to look like you are hiding your child. You can post shots where their face is obscured, they are in the distance, or do not otherwise reveal private information.
4. Private mommy groups are not safe either. Do not full yourself, anyone can enter that group. All they have to do is send a request. Some predators pay the administrators to be members of the group.
5. Be mindful of posting things that could identify your child’s location. It is best not to disclose any information that could potentially be used to discover your child’s location like the school they attend, their daily routine, places you are visiting or staying at.
6. If your child is older and you allowed him/her to have profiles on social media, talk to them about the risks involved. Talk with them about online harassing, grooming, sexting, and nudes. Choose the topics you approach according to their age. Do not lecture your child about these things, instead, focus on communication and teaching them actual useful skills to keep themselves safe. Teach them ways to recognize a fake profile; teach them not to trust people they only meet online no matter how nice they seem; teach them to protect information like home address, personal phone number, etc.; teach them never to send messages or pictures they would not feel ok if the whole world saw.
7. Instate the rule that you don’t want photos of your child to be posted online without your permission. Talk about it with members of the family, but also with the daycare, kindergarten, or school your child is attending. If someone you don’t know posted a picture of your child contact them, report the post and submit a cybertip if the situation is inappropriate at cybertip.org
The social media era has only begun. What parents can do to protect their children’s safety is to set clear boundaries about what they feel comfortable sharing, be aware of the risks, and make informed decisions.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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