Being a modern parent comes with a unique set of challenges — most of which seem involve the internet. Outside of worrying if your kid gets too much screen time, the biggest technology concern facing you as a parent may be whether you’re sharing too much information about your children via social media platforms. Before you freak out at this thought and abruptly go incognito from the virtual world, pause and take a deep breath.
“Like many other things in our lives, it’s only dangerous if you open yourself to unnecessary risk,” says Chip Wolford, a Cincinnati-based parent and security and privacy director of the global consulting firm Protiviti. “The concern I often hear from parents surrounds who can see the information you post online and the fear that random people will learn about their children without their consent.”
With some clarity of mind and some common sense, you can post those pics of your family’s trip to the lake for your granny to see without risk of a creeper stalking you in the Starbucks line. Wolford offers these five tips.
1. Understand security and privacy guidelines
All social media platforms — whether you use Instagram, Facebook or Twitter — have a set of security guidelines. “Some even specifically provide guidelines for parents with step-by-step instructions to improve your security,” Wolford says. Do your homework and read up before you start sharing.
2. Adjust your privacy settings
Your social media platform of choice probably gives you some degree of control over who sees the content you share. Get to know the privacy features on the platforms you use, and make sure only those in your inner circle get to see the most intimate parts of your online life – otherwise, you risk Aunt Gertrude’s hairstylist’s brother seeing some of your posts.
Amy Eddy, who writes about her family’s adventures in the blog This Urban Life with Kids, has used this tip to gain control over who sees what she posts. “I have a public Instagram account to go along with my blog, which I converted from a private account earlier this year, removing personal data, names and most photos of my kids,” she says. “I now have a separate Instagram account for a small number of friends, relatives and neighbors to keep up with photos of our family and the kids.”
3. Cull your “friends” and followers
Take time to remove online connections you either don’t know or don’t want anymore. Accepting friend requests from people you don’t know well can put you at risk, particularly if your content is viewable to connections of friends. Taryn Skees, a Cincinnati-area mom who shares about her family and her son’s Apert Syndrome diagnosis on the blog More Skees Please, does just this.
“I have more than 12,000 followers combined, so I am more aware of what information I share than ever before,” she says. “I also carefully and regularly scan my follower lists and block any that I find suspicious, spam-like or inappropriate.”
4. Be choosy with the details
Avoid sharing specific details, particularly times, dates and locations of specific events, and avoid posting any photos that contain sensitive information, such as of driver’s licenses, medical records or birth certificates. If your social media platform of choice automatically generates any of these details, such as time or location, disable that feature.
Katie Holocher, the voice behind the Cincinnati-based blog Out + Outfit, gets around sharing time-sensitive details of her family’s life by delaying her posts. “I am honestly not the best “Insta” when it comes to Instagram, meaning that I am rarely posting in real time,” she says. “So, while I like to post things that we do when we are out and about, I don’t do it in the moment, which I think helps allow us some safety and privacy.”
Respect may be the biggest guiding force when determining what to post about your family and others online. Wolford cautions that even though you may find it perfectly acceptable to post a photo of your child in their sleepover PJs, your mama friend may not feel the same way. If in doubt, ask permission before posting pics of your friends’ littles.
Skees and Eddy both also extend this same courtesy to their children. “I want [my children] to feel a sense of agency, respect and dignity when it comes to their online identity in the future, and that affects how I decide what I share about them now,” Eddy says.
This kind of thoughtfulness can have long-lasting effects.
“We are beginning [our children’s] personal digital footprint before they choose to do so themselves,” Skees says. “I think some parents forget that the cute naked-baby photos they posted years ago can one day be found by the kid that picks on them in middle school, and be used against them.”