If you’re a parent who uses social media, add the word “sharenting” to your vocabulary. Sharenting is what parents do when they share their parenting experiences online. If you do it — do it with caution.
You may experience some unintended and frightening consequences when you share photos, videos, and details about your child’s life (including carefree vacation photos of your little one splashing in the surf) on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube, or on blogs.
The average parent will post almost 1,000 photos of a child on social media before the child reaches five years old, according to a survey conducted by The Parent Zone. Many people also post videos. These posts may include cute comments and details about your children — such as their names and where they live. But once your private photos, videos, and comments are posted online, you may lose control over how they are used, which can pose some serious risks to your child.
Attorney Stacey Steinberg addresses some of these risks in a forthcoming Emory Law Journal article, “Sharenting: Children’s Privacy in the Age of Social Media.” Steinberg’s article includes the story of a mother who posted photos online of her young twins during toilet training. The mother was later shocked to find the photos had been downloaded by strangers and shared on a website frequented by pedophiles.
Commercial social media sites have privacy rules. Read them to know your rights. And if there are privacy settings — take advantage of those. But keep in mind that even limiting your sharing to your friends and family doesn’t guarantee safety. If their social media account gets hacked, the hackers can get access to your posts. If you post about your kids on a blog, it’s likely there will be no privacy protections to keep others from using your content.
When you don’t know the risks of posting about your child’s life online and you don’t know who will have access to the photos and information — you’re inviting unexpected trouble.
Here are some of the most common risks parents create for their children when posting about them online:
Many parents tend to think of the risks of this only in the context of social media use by their kids. But think about what could happen if you post a photo or cute anecdote about your child that gets accessed by your kids’ peers. Other kids may re-post your post with derogatory remarks, or by altering a seemingly innocent photo to embarrass or shame your child.
2.) Child Pornography
Most parents don’t think like pedophiles. So we may not think twice about posting an adorable photo or innocent video of our young children in their diapers or in the bathtub, or of our teen at the swimming pool or beach. But on the dark side of the internet, those photos or videos can resurface — and be altered or combined with other content to appeal to sick minds. Unsuspecting parents have been appalled to find innocent photos of their own children used to lure internet users to websites with very bad intentions.
Hiding your location doesn’t protect your children from digital kidnapping.
3.) Distancing Kids from Parents
Catherine Steiner-Adair is a research associate at Harvard Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry, and author of the book “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age.” Steiner-Adair warns about parents being so focused on getting a shareable photo or video that they fail to engage with their kids. Most kids want their parents to be mentally and emotionally present with them when they’re spending time together, rather than trying to get perfect positioning, lighting, and camera angles.
She says kids notice that when they’re on camera, “it puts a barrier between you and them.”
4.) Digital Kidnapping
When posting photos of my family online, I purposely avoid naming locations, in order to protect my family. What I didn’t know is that hiding your location doesn’t protect your children from digital kidnapping. This is when strangers steal photos or videos of a child from a social media post and post those images to their own social network — claiming the child as their own.
Consider the case of Danica Patterson of Dallas, Texas, as reported by CBS News. Photos of her four-year-old daughter were lifted by a man in New York who posted the photos on Facebook and claimed her daughter as his own.
According to the report, at the time Facebook had no restrictions prohibiting this. Since then, rules have changed — but digital kidnapping still occurs.
Jon Beaty,  a life coach and father of two, is based in Oregon and is the author of the book, “If You’re Not Growing, You’re Dying: 7 Habits for Thriving in Your Faith, Relationships and Work.”