Sharing is caring? Being mindful of revealing family life online
Social media is a part of modern life but it's important to be mindful of how much of your family's life is online, writes Olivia Willis
Would you believe me if I told you that in today's world, on average 973 photos are posted online by parents before their children turn five?
We ourselves grew up with the luxury of not having our lives documented in pictures online. Those embarrassing baby photos remained firmly locked up in albums, unless our parents decided to air them at our 21st birthday parties or to potential romantic suitors. Kids today don't have that 'luxury'.
Love it or loathe it, social media is a fact of modern life. Sharing pictures of our children with friends and family is one of the most popular uses of social media. It's seen as a great way to stay in touch with those we're connected to. Personally, I do it because I want to share the growth and development of my children with friends and relatives who don't necessarily live nearby.
The arrival of smartphones has made the process near-effortless. Most of us give far less thought to what we post online than in the days when we had to go home and switch on our computers and take the time and effort that was involved in uploading information and photographs. Now, it's a point, click, tap and it's all done with little time for thought. So let's take the time now to think about it…
Posting photos of your kids creates a digital footprint - think of it as an electronic paper trail. This trail forms their identities in a world they haven't chosen to enter yet. Someday our cute toddlers will grow up, and they might not want documentation of their half-naked days hanging out for their friends to find online!
Once you post a picture online, you could potentially lose control over it. Someone could easily copy the photo, tag it, save it, or otherwise use it - and you might never know. The big point of concern is that many parents aren't checking their social network privacy settings, leaving pictures and other sensitive/private information susceptible to misuse or worse. In fact, The Parent Zone, a recent study in the UK on behalf of a safety campaign called Knowthenet, reported that 17pc of parents have never checked their privacy settings, which control where these images are displayed.
Until very recently, I hadn't ticked a box on Facebook that says I can approve any photo I'm tagged in before it is broadcast to the rest of the world. If someone were to have posted a picture of me and/or my kids on Facebook and tagged me in it, it was out there for all to see. I've now ticked that box which now affords me a degree of extra control as to who sees what about me and my family.
And as the business models of social networking sites change and digital technology develops, could these innocent snapshots someday come back and bite our children in the bum? What about in 10 or 20 years, when today's kids reach adulthood? It's hard to know what these social media sites will look like 15 to 20 years from now.
By the time today's toddlers are teenagers, we can expect social media sites to be far more sophisticated and widespread than they are today. We just don't know how much more? Meanwhile, the diary of our kids' lives in beautiful shades and lenses are awaiting these next unknown steps…
If you do decide to share pictures of your children online, as already mentioned, be mindful and safe about it. It's also worth considering a few more things before posting certain types of pictures.
Nude photos: While you may think sharing photos of your toddler at bath time is cute, it's an invitation for misuse. Don't take the risk of those pictures getting into the wrong hands.
Photos with a hashtag of your child's full name: Did you know that hashtags (#) are searchable on social media and hashtagging your child's name (eg #TomMurphy) means you're creating a library of your child's information, including their activity and their photos.
Other people's children: Some parents shield their children from social media altogether. So think before you post pictures of other people's children or seek permission in advance. Samples include a birthday party, days out, a football match, or any other social occasion.
Where your kids go to school: Schools should be a safe zone, so let's all aim to keep it that way. If you are taking photos of your children in the classroom or on school grounds (there were so many on people's newsfeeds last month with kids starting school), make sure that the school's logo isn't on display or the location isn't geotagged in the post so that the name of the school is kept hidden.
In today's world it appears to be phenomenally difficult to have absolutely no digital footprint - even for those who have not yet learned to type yet!
Our online habits could compromise our kids' safety and well-being in any number of ways.
One example is sinister people trolling parents' profiles (depending on your security settings) and trying to deduce our children's first and last names, birth dates, where they live and other personal information... which turns them into easier prey for identity fraud or worse still.
Olivia Willis is the co-founder of www.familyfriendlyhq.ie, an Irish family website with information for parents, things to do, daily blogs, reviews and expert family advice.
• Blasting your child's birthday or birth date online. "Today is Thomas's birthday!" While this is a lovely thing to share and seems innocent - it's a prime way for observers to collect a key piece of personal information which could lead to potential issues.
• Using your kid's name. Now this one is very hard to avoid, but consider using DD (darling daughter) or DS (darling son). A child is much more likely to trust a stranger who calls him/her by their name.
• Not making sure your pages are set to private. This is what I meant by your security settings. On Instagram, posts are fully public by default, so you have to manually change it. Many parents assume their pages are private, but they are not. This means that anyone can view your child's info and photos. Even if your profile is set to the correct privacy settings, do you really know all the people in your social network? Make sure you know them well enough to share this information with them. Personally, when I looked at mine properly, I noted that some of my 'friends' were relics from my schooldays. Just be sure those that you're connected with are people you trust enough to share your intimate family moments with.