Balancing a Parent’s Right to Share on Social Media with Their Child’s Right to Privacy

Back when I was fresh out of law school, working my first job at a big law firm and living at a swank address in Dallas with enough disposable income to fully fund my designer purse habit, I was friends with another young lawyer who just so happened to have a baby.

Did she want to talk about the interesting cases she was working on? Nope. Celebrity gossip? Nope. Politics? Nope.

Just the baby. All she ever want to talk about was that stinking (cute) baby.

Her litany of inane baby issues was endless. Tummy-time. Sleep. Baby poop. Breast pumps. Geez how many of us women cringed in disbelief the first time we heard of a breast pump? You put that machine where to do what? Are you insane?

I smugly assured myself I would never be one of those persons who could only talk about their kids.

A pledge which of course ended the minute the stick turned blue.

Parents like to talk about their kids and show off photos of them. We love our kids. We’re proud of our kids. We want to connect with other parents and seek their support. Parenting is a tough business and who better than other parents to give us advice and support when we are going through challenging times with our kids.

Thanks to social media, those stories and pictures and videos of our kids that we used to just share with our family, co-workers, and other parents at the playground, can now be shared with the entire world.

This can be a good thing. For example, thanks to social media, relatives living thousands of miles away get to regularly see photos of my girls. I have friends whose kids have serious medical challenges. They are able to easily connect on social media with other families with similar issues.

Did you know by the age of two, 92% of American children will have an online presence? Approximately a third of these children appear on social media when they are newborns. Think about how much personal information someone could extrapolate about your child in a newborn post. Your child’s full name and exact birthdate, and his parents’ full names.

Here’s a shocking thing to think about. Someone who is 30 years old today, has an online footprint stretching back 10-15 years at most, while the vast majority of children today will have online presence by the time they are two-years-old – a presence that will continue to build throughout their whole lives.

We parents need to understand two very important concepts about sharing information about our children on social media:

  • Nothing is ever completely private, and nothing can ever be completely deleted.
  • The information you share about your children DOES NOT belong to you, it belongs to them.

The information you share about your children belongs to them, not you.

Let’s let that sink in for a moment.

We all have a “digital footprint.” Do a quick Google search of any person’s name and you will find all sorts of information. It’s one thing for an adult to choose to post or share content about themselves, or do something they know could be shared online. Children don’t have the same ability to protect themselves from having potentially embarrassing or damaging content about themselves posted online.

So what sort of information are we adding to our children’s “digital footprint” by posting about them on social media?

Your child’s struggle with a serious medical issue? While it’s great to get the support of other parents in similar situations, a future insurer may use this information to deny your child coverage. Your difficulties in getting your child to do his homework? A future employer could infer from this information that your child is lazy.

Okay, I’ll stop with the scary stories.

What I do want you to consider is balancing your right to express yourself with your child’s right to privacy. To put it simply, you should only share information about your children if the benefit of sharing the information outweighs the potential harm of the information.

So how the heck do we do that?

For what thing, before you share any anything about your child online, you should ask yourself why are you sharing the information. What benefit will you and your child gain from having the information shared with the world? In other words, you better have a good reason for violating your child’s privacy.

Remember the Golden Rule? It also applies to social media. Is the information you are sharing about your child something you would want shared about yourself? Would you want your bathroom habits shared with the rest of the world? No? The don’t share your child’s exploits with the potty.

Also ask yourself if there could be anyone in the word, now or at anytime in the future, who should not know this information about your child. Assume that employers, college admission staff, and even possible romantic interests will Google your child and find the information.

Ask your child’s permission before posting ANYTHING about them online, including photos, funny sayings, accomplishments, and challenges.

The word “consent” has been a hot-button topic in the last couple of years. For example, we’ve been told to stop forcing our kids to hug or kiss grandma because we want them to know they have the right to say no.

While we are hopefully getting better at giving our kids the skills to respect physical boundaries, we also need to respect our kids’ digital boundaries as well.

How? Before you post, ask your child if they want the information shared. If they say no, respect their decision.

I do this with all of my girls, even the youngest who is four. While she may not fully grasp the concept, she knows that I respect her privacy and she should always demand others do as well.

Finally, while nothing online can ever be a 100% secure, make sure you have done everything possible to secure the information you share. Regularly check the privacy settings on your social media accounts. Set up notifications when your child’s name appears in a Google search result. If you’re posting information about a challenge your child is experiencing, post anonymously.

Do you consider your child’s privacy when you post on social media? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail.

Copyright © 2018 by Siobhán Fitzpatrick Kratovil. All Rights Reserved.

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