92% of American children have a digital footprint by the time they’re two years old. With millions of photos of children circulating the web, the practice of “sharenting” (parents posting photos and videos of their childen on social media), has been normalized.
But is it safe to share photos of your kids on Instagram or Facebook? Unfortunately, no. Not only are social media accounts less private than you might think, sharenting also makes kids vulnerable to identity theft and sexual exploitation.
On top of that, a child’s digital identity can follow them for the rest of their lives.
In this guide for parents, we discuss best practices for sharenting, such as:
- Avoid posting photos where your child’s in any state of undress.
- Consider using private email or secure messaging apps instead of social media.
- Involve your child and ask for permission to post.
- Never include any indentifying information, including name, date of birth, or school.
Every day, we see online photos of kids we’ve never met in real life. From celebrity accounts to private Facebook groups for friends and family, for many parents, it’s become a habit to document their children’s daily lives on social media.
According to TIME, a staggering 92% of American children have an online presence before they’re two years old. In fact, a quarter of all kids are on social media before they’re even born, in the form of sonograms shared online or on Instagram accounts that are specifically dedicated to the new baby.
The practice of “sharenting” — a portmanteau of “sharing” and “parenting” — has become so widespread that experts worry about how these digital identities impact children’s real lives.
What about a child’s right to privacy? What about online exploitation? And how can photos from the past put a child’s future at risk? In this guide for parents, we go over the dangers of sharenting, and provide our recommendations.
What is Sharenting?
The term “sharenting” refers to the growing phenomenon of parents sharing photos and videos of their children, as well as other identifying information, on their own social media accounts.
It’s the habitual use of these platforms, which often have minimal privacy protection, that has many people worried.
What are the reasons for sharenting?
By the time a child is five years old, most parents will have already shared roughly 1,500 photos of them on social media, according to some estimates. Websites like Facebook, YouTube, and Snapchat are flooded with content that features kids.
Like a modern-day scrapbook, social media accounts are used to document every detail of a kid’s life, often from the moment they are born.
For many parents, sharing photos of their kids is a way to stay in touch with friends and family. For first-time parents, it can also be a way to build a community, share parenting advice, and connect with other families.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the sharenting trend reached astronomical heights. In many cases, parents were actively encouraged by schools, communities, or businesses, to shift their children’s lives online.
From virtual playdates to competing with classmates in online challenges, the pandemic normalized sharenting even more. You might be wondering: what’s the problem?
Of course, parents want to share moments from their child’s life that they find endearing! However, there are a couple of serious concerns related to this seemingly harmless trend.
On top of that, not all parents consider the child’s position. In some cases, they start sharing their kid’s photos in a bid to grow their own social media presence, often in the hopes of monetization.
Generation Tagged: Making An Online Career Out of Your Kids
There was a time when celebrities tried to shield their children from paparazzi and public attention, but the tables have turned. If you work in social media, kid-focused content is now a lucrative business opportunity.
Many parents no longer shy away from using their children as an extension of their personal brand. In the case of YouTube family vloggers or so-called “kidfluencers,” the main goal is making money off of content featuring children.
When asked what they want to be when they grow up, many kids nowadays say, “Influencer!”
It’s no surprise that kids on social media with large amounts of followers — kidfluencers, if you will — are making major waves online. Having grown up with technology, these kids and teenagers, know exactly how to attract fans.
Sometimes, they are as young as five years old, as is the case for Kairo Forbes. With over a million followers on Instagram, she is known for her fashion content and online “look books.”
On TikTok, fifteen-year-old Pressley Hosbach is pulling in money with her dance videos. She has more than 100k followers and millions of likes. For other children trying to “break through” on social media, a life like this is the ultimate dream.
But the fact that brands are extremely interested in targeting children, exposes kids and young adults to all sorts of opportunities for exploitation.
Child labor laws for social media are pretty much non-existent, not to mention the range of negative effects on children’s mental health that come with being exposed to millions and millions of people.
Children’s rights organization Humanium has expressed concern about the lack of legal protection for kids on social media.
YouTube family channels
YouTube has brought a camera directly into people’s homes, so much so that YouTube families can make a living off of their (daily) vlogs.
When looking at the most popular YouTube channels in the world, it doesn’t take long to find content that features kids: the Kids Diana Show channel ranks #6 in the world and has 97.8 million subscribers at the time of writing.
It’s aimed towards kids and features siblings Diana and Roma engaging in all sorts of activities. In a similar fashion, one of the most well-known and popular channels is Ryan’s World.
At seven years of age, Ryan Kaji has 28 million subscribers and creates videos centered on toys. In 2018 alone, Ryan earned an estimated $22 million from his channel. These large sums of money provide a high incentive for parents to get their kids on YouTube.
This doesn’t always go over well. The controversy around lifestyle family channels has been growing in recent years. In a clear example of “sharenting gone bad,” popular channel DaddyOFive was shut down over a custody battle.
Michael and Heather Martin, who ran the channel, specialized in “prank” videos that displayed verbal and physical abuse of their five children for shock value. The Martins were sentenced to five years of probation.
The concern with vlogging channels is that content is often shared without children’s explicit permission. In a 2014 vlog by a popular vlogging channel, The Shaytards (4.8 million subscribers), one of the children repeatedly pleads with her father to cut out certain parts of the vlog.
On the 8 Passengers channel (2.3 million subscribers), young daughters are often publicly shamed for going through puberty.
Since YouTube families are unregulated, there is no limit on the amount of footage that can be uploaded or the hours that kids spent in front of the camera. The Fair Labor Standards Act, which protects children from being exploited, doesn’t apply to work on social media.
The 7 Major Dangers of Posting Photos of Your Kids Online
As long as kids online are unidentifiable, sharenting on social media is relatively low-risk. With concerns rising, some parents post photos where their child’s face is pixelated, or where you can only see the back of their head.
This is because there are many risks involved with the digital identities of your kids.
1. No such thing as ‘private’
Most parents don’t usually share photos of their kids on social media expecting that these will be seen beyond a specific audience. After all, Facebook or Instagram accounts can be set to private, right?
Unfortunately, privacy settings provide a false sense of security. Even photos of your children on closed accounts can be redistributed to large audiences. All someone needs to do is take a screenshot and repost the photo somewhere else.
It’s become quite clear that, as soon as you post pictures online, you’ve effectively lost control over them. Home cameras or baby monitors all generate digital data that could end up in the wrong hands. The privacy risks of baby monitors are also quite well-documented.
If you use a lot of smart tech in your house, you may want to check our guide on how to protect your router at the very least.
2. Digital kidnapping
Identity theft is a major risk associated with sharenting. Parents, unaware of the consequences, often include confidential information in their posts. For example, 45.2% of posts that feature children on Facebook, also mention the child’s first name.
On Instagram, 19% of parents posting about their children reference both name and date of birth. If this data is combined with social security information obtained illegally on the dark web, digital kidnapping suddenly becomes a serious risk.
3. Sexual exploitation
Where there are children online, there are sexual predators. Known to flock to spaces where kids are present, including virtual reality worlds and popular games, people who wish your child harm will always find a way.
Investigators looking into child abuse online, have found that tens of millions of photos of children shared on social media, resurface on pornographic platforms. Even if this material is not explicit, commentary on them often is. On top of that, photos can be digitally manipulated to take on a sexual nature.
As a parent, you have to be mindful of what you post. You might think a photo of your toddler in diapers is innocent enough, but the image can easily be abused. The same goes for holiday photos of children in swimwear.
4. Emotional harm
As kids grow older, they might feel shame or embarrassment over certain online content, despite their parents’ good intentions. The negative consequences of a digital footprint might only follow years after the fact. In some cases, public humiliation on social media is a deliberate parenting technique.
In 2016, an 18-year-old girl in Austria sued her parents for sharing over 500 photos of her with their Facebook friends. She claims these photos, depicting her in extremely personal ways, have had very negative real-life consequences for her.
In the Netherlands, a court ruled that a grandmother had to take down photos of her grandchildren that she posted without consent.
There’s also an underlying problem with sharing photos and videos online: metadata. In exchange for using social media services, we give up a large amount of our personal information. Digital photos of your children, as it turns out, say more about them than you might think.
Metadata attached to the photo tells third parties all sorts of things about what’s in the photo, where it was taken, and what type of person posted it. Data brokers work hard to build social profiles of internet users. This way, companies can build a digital dossier on users that tells them exactly what they’re most likely to click on.
The manipulative power of these types of systems is far-reaching and dangerous. Especially when it comes to children’s data, it’s risky to allow certain information to become subject to surveillance.
6. Online permanence
Who owns photos that are uploaded to social media sites? Many big tech companies have terms and conditions that give them the rights to user-generated content.
This means you’re handing ownership of the photos or videos over to corporate companies. This can make it difficult to request content removal if you find your photos in places where they don’t belong.
All of this creates a sense of permanence to a child’s digital identity. They might grow up, but somewhere on the internet, evidence of their childhood will continue to exist.
Will future employers dive into the digital archives and find embarrassing holiday photos from when your child was young? Can college admission offices deny your kids entrance to a university program because you’ve shared their toddler tantrums?
It’s difficult to look into the future and know for certain. But is it something you’re willing to risk?
7. Lack of legislation
In the United States, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA), was created to protect against data collection of children under the age of 13. In reality, however, COPPA is largely ineffective and difficult to apply to social media platforms.
Since the legislation assumes that parents protect their children’s privacy, sharenting is widely unregulated. The European Union uses the General Data Protection Regulation framework to protect children from data mining. However, Recital 18 cites that content regulation does not apply to “personal or household activities.”
Being aware of the risks, parents have the responsibility to treat their children’s privacy with care, especially if they’re too young to consent. Children are exposed to a digital world over which they have barely any control.
Sharing whatever photos or videos you take of them, deprives them of the option to choose for themselves. When it comes to posting photos, especially of younger kids, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that you ask yourself the following five questions before you post:
- Why are you sharing it? Answering this question requires you to be honest about your motivations for posting photos or videos. Is this for your own benefit or for your child’s?
- Would you want someone to share it about you? Not every cute or funny video, should be public. How would you feel if it was you in the picture or video?
- Could your child be embarrassed about it now, or in the future? Consider the long-term consequences.
- Is there anyone in the world who shouldn’t see this about your child, now – or ever? This is a good way to check whether the content is compromising in any way.
- Is this something you want to be part of your child’s digital footprint? As soon as embarrassing photos are on the internet, it’s very difficult to get them off.
All these questions can help you consider which parts of your life (and your kids’ lives) should be shared online, and whether there might be other ways to go about it.
5 Safety Tips: How To Share Photos of Your Kids Online
Should you never post anything about your children on the internet ever again? Ban technology altogether? No. There are certainly ways you can safely share pictures of your family life online, as long as you remain conscious of the possible consequences and consider the position of your child.
Here are some guidelines to keep in mind.
1. Switch mediums
One of the biggest risks of sharenting is the fact that social media platforms aren’t designed to protect children’s privacy. In fact, social media sites make a profit from selling user data to advertisement companies.
So how can you share photos in a more secure way? We recommend using a private email service or a secure messaging app. That way, you can still interact with friends and families, but the chance of private information ending up in the wrong places is much lower.
2. Avoid nudity
You might think nothing of it, but sharing (partially) nude photographs of your kids online, make them vulnerable to abuse. The dark underbelly of the internet is full of people looking to take advantage of photos that have been plucked directly off of social media.
On top of that, as they grow older, your kids might feel ashamed about the fact that embarrassing photos or pictures they are otherwise uncomfortable with, exist online.
3. Limit confidential information
Be mindful of the information included in your photos. Is your location visible in any way? Does the post mention your child’s full name? What about the clothing they’re wearing? Does it feature a school logo or the name of the soccer club your kids attend?
Cybercriminals don’t need much to tie bits of information together. Double-check your photos to make sure there’s no confidential information in them.
4. Get your child’s consent
One of the best practices when it comes to keeping your children safe online is talking to them.
By the time children are four years old, they have a sense of self. Before posting any photo, get their consent. Some photos might be okay to share with grandparents, but not with colleagues. Ask them if anything makes them feel embarrassed or upset. Be mindful of their feelings.
Not only will this establish clear boundaries that both of you can agree on, but it also teaches your children digital responsibility.
5. Never share photos of other people’s children
If you want to share a photo of someone else’s child, make sure you get explicit permission. It’s a two-way street: by talking to other parents and treating their boundaries with respect, it’s less likely that any photos of your own children will end up anywhere you don’t want them.
On top of that, you can talk to your child’s school about what practices they use for posting photos of the students.
Help! Photos of My Child Are Shared Without My Consent Online!
It can happen. You’re browsing the internet and all of a sudden you find a picture of your child in a place where it doesn’t belong. What can you do?
If you know the person who posted the photo, you can contact them directly and request removal. Make sure to emphasize that you wish to protect your child’s privacy and that you would like them to respect your boundaries.
If this doesn’t work, you can contact the social media network itself and request them to remove the photo. You also have the option to reach out to the web host.
If your request for removal falls on deaf ears, you may want to reach out to authorities. Depending on the type of picture and where it’s shared, you may want to involve the police or legal enforcement.
In this case, it’s best to keep evidence of where the photo has been shared as well as any type of proof that verifies that you’re the rightful owner of the image.
For more resources, check out Childline and IWF’s Report Remove tool. You can share the image or video securely and have a specialist analyst review it.
Alternatively, the Cyber Tipline of the NCMEC, is the centralized reporting system for the online exploitation of children.
Final Thoughts: To Share or Not to Share
In the fast-evolving world of social media, sharenting can have serious consequences. While parents might have the ability to set their own boundaries when it comes to social media, children don’t have such control over their digital footprint.
On top of that, the rise of kidfluencers and family vlogging channels highlights how little legislation exist to protect kids.
This makes them vulnerable to all sorts of risks:
- Identity theft
- Sexual exploitation
- Emotional harm
- A permanent digital presence that can negatively impact their future
Good practices for parents looking to keep their children safe online include talking to them about what they’re comfortable with, discussing the risks involved with having certain content online and allowing them their privacy.
- Is Snapchat Safe For Kids? Advice for Parents
- The Ultimate Guide to TikTok: Is TikTok Safe for Kids?
- Is YouTube Kids Safe for Kids? An Essential Guide for Parents
- Is Facebook Messenger Kids Safe? Useful Tips
You might be wondering how safe it is to share photos of your children on social media. Check out our FAQ to find out more.
Sharenting refers to the growning practice of parents regularly sharing photos and videos of their children on social media. In recent years, this has become completely normalized: by the time a child is 5 years old, their parents have generally posted 1,500 photos of them online.
Many parents don’t realize the consequences of sharing so much private content.
Many parents like to keep friends and families informed about their children’s lives. Unfortunately, posting pictures of your children on social media can be risky. Here’s why:
- Social media platforms are not as private as they seem: it’s very easy for private content to end up in the wrong hands.
- Posts on social media carry tons of metadata. This allows data brokers to gather a lot of potentially sensitive information about you and your children.
- Your child can fall victim to identity theft and sexual exploitation.
Facebook has pretty terrible privacy protection. While it might seem that you’re sharing your photos with a select group of people, it’s easy enough for these photos to end up elsewhere.
If you want to share, ask yourself who’s getting access to the photos, whether your child may be ashamed or embarrassed about them later, and if there’s any other medium you could share the photos on instead.
Instagram is not the safest platform to post photos of your kids. Though your account might be set to private, any of your followers can easily take a screenshot and re-post the photos on a different account or site.
Try to be mindful of what you upload. Check with your children whether they are okay with the photos or videos you wish to share, or consider anonymizing the photos by only showing the backs of their heads.
You can sue them, but it’s generally difficult to prove the claim given the sheer number of variables on posting content on social media.
Privacy legislation around sharenting is murky, to say the least. It can be difficult to request removal from social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram, let alone sue people.