Before You Share that Photo of Your Child: Privacy Considerations for Parents

Nichole Sterling and Emily Fedeles

Most of us were using social media before our parents. Whether we’re on every social media platform or none at all, we’ve grown up controlling our own digital identities. But now, as parents, social media savvy adults are assuming the novel responsibility of managing their children’s digital identities.

Studies show two-thirds of parents worry about their children’s privacy. Yet, studies have found more than 90 percent of two-year-olds have a social media presence, and average parents share more than 1,500 pictures before their child turns five. Roughly half of parents share their child’s name at birth, and a quarter shares the child’s birth date. Data brokers are happily mining this information to create profitable marketing profiles; the government may even be creating surveillance files from this information. How many lists do you want your child on?

We could all think more critically about what we post, especially when it concerns children. American privacy laws protect children from unauthorized third-party disclosures by requiring parental authorization before sharing many types of sensitive personal information. But, these laws do little to protect children from what their parents share. The parent assumes a dual role as a protector and curator of the child’s public data.

Of course, parents can share about their lives, which often center on children. Parents find valuable support and affirmation through their online communities. They keep far-flung family members close through social media, create public blogs detailing their children’s struggles, and even accidentally unleash memes. Simultaneously, they are creating an indelible digital footprint for their children. Perhaps then, it is equally valuable to give children a voice in creating their online narratives and shaping their digital identities.

Last spring, Professor Stacey Steinberg at the University of Florida, Levin College of Law, considered the issue of “sharenting”—the habitual use of social media to share about your children—in her article of the same name. She compiled a helpful list of seven best practices from a legal perspective for parents sharing on social media; we have added three.

  1. Parents should familiarize themselves with the privacy policies of the sites with which they share. Know who will see what you are sharing and what the site does with your data. Confirm and update your privacy settings regularly, reviewing any changes.
  2. Parents should set up notifications to alert them when their child’s name appears in a Google search result. Especially important when a child’s information is shared publicly, the alert notifies you if your child’s information appears somewhere new.
  3. Parents should consider sometimes sharing anonymously. If you are sharing private health information with others, anonymizing names and other identifying information protects your child.
  4. Parents should use caution before sharing their child’s actual location. Turn off photo location-tagging features on social media when you post real-time pictures of your child; consider it for other pictures.
  5. Parents should give their child “veto power” over online disclosures, including images, quotes, accomplishments, and challenges. Include your child in his or her online narrative construction as age-appropriate, and respect his or her (potentially inconsistent) opinions.
  6. Parents should consider not sharing pictures that show their children in any state of undress. Limit the audience for these pictures, which can be targeted by pedophiles.
  7. Parents should consider the effect that sharing can have on their child’s current and future sense of self and well-being. Before you share, consider whether you—not you now, but you as an awkward, insecure teenager—would want people seeing the post.
  8. Parents should consider the details they share about their children. It is incredibly easy to piece together seemingly irrelevant information to identify a specific person.
  9. Parents should clearly state their wishes to others who might share information about their children on social media. Whatever guidelines you follow, share them with your friends and family and monitor their social media in case you need follow-up conversations.
  10. Parents should use these interactions with their children as teaching moments for the children’s own social media use. By involving your children as age-appropriate, you can facilitate an open dialogue and begin to address issues that may arise when your children establish their own social media accounts.

Nichole Sterling is an associate with BakerHostetler in New York. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and not necessarily those of BakerHostetler or its clients.

Emily Fedeles is an associate with BakerHostetler in New York. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and not necessarily those of BakerHostetler or its clients.