My nine-year-old is quick to shout, “I hate you mum.” She is spirited to say the least and has never been one to hold back her opinions. This happened when I recently sent a picture of the two of us safely arriving in Geneva airport, to her granny and she was not happy about it.
She said “I hate you mum, you should have checked with me first,” perhaps her wording was a little strong, but she was right.
A young girl wanting control over her own image and what happens to it is a good thing, something to be applauded even. Saying that, I didn’t enjoy her verbal battering at the time. Despite it being a private message to a family member, I had not asked for her consent and unwittingly I had fallen into the trap of “sharenting.” The word for parents over-sharing or sharing without their child’s knowledge pictures or details about their lives.
Later, I felt proud that she understood the importance of the indelibility of her digital fingerprint at such a young age. I was pleased that through the discussions we have had at home and the training she has had at school, she has already learnt ways to protect herself online. I just pray that it will be enough to see her through her teenage years in safety. Her generation is the first to be born into the glare of such public scrutiny and her experiences growing up will shape her understanding of privacy. She is part of a new generation, growing up in uncharted territory, where much of what was private is now public and we don’t yet know where this change will lead us.
I am certainly not alone when it comes to being called out by our children. Gwyneth Paltrow posted a snap from her ski holiday of her and her daughter Apple Martin on a ski-lift to her almost 7 million followers. Later Apple replied from her own Instagram account, “Mom we have discussed this. You may not post anything without my consent.”
How often do we look at our own actions and ask ourselves are we over sharing information about our children?
As educators and parents, we hear daily about the risky situation children put themselves in online. However, how often do we look at our own actions and ask ourselves are we over sharing our children? We track our children’s whereabouts with the GPS on their phones, we post family images on face book and who knows whether Alexa may be listening into our kitchen table discussions? There is no doubt that today parenting has become a digitally shared experience.
This is clearly a discussion which is long overdue. Some research has found that the number of parents who post pictures of their children on Facebook reaches 98% (Bartholomew et al., 2012). At the same time the frequency of posts is growing in many regions around the world. Now every 60 seconds 136,000 photos are posted on Facebook alone (zephoria.com). It is becoming a form of social voyeurism. Researchers have found a correlation between the number of photos shared and the number of facebook friends someone has.
It makes sense for us expats who want to keep in touch with friends and family back home, sharing pictures of our children often comes from the best possible intentions. As generation X parents we are not digital natives and have little in common with our ultra-connected children who are growing up in the wild frontier of the internet where the tech behemoths are relatively unfettered. Companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook have taken our personal information in return for the use of their services. Perhaps we were naïve and, not many saw where this would take us with Cambridge Analytica, Trump and beyond.
In many ways perhaps we were the lucky ones.
The bad haircuts, the spots and braces from our teenage years will remain hidden in our parents’ photo-albums. However, millennials know they will have to live with their digital images forever.
It is important our children know that their drunken escapades and inappropriate photos, when captured online, could get thrown up in searches by future employers who may decide not to offer that internship, or university place after all. None of us know what the google algorithms will choose to retrieve in the future.
Did we realise that we were part of the problem? When we post about our children’s lives what should cross our mind before we hit “share”? Often the steps we need to take to protect our children’s data online are complicated and can be time consuming. Making sure we are doing the best we can is often not intuitive or common sense and requires a concerted effort to limit our digital sharing and change patterns we have already established.
Are we setting strict limits for our children and then not following them ourselves?
Here are some tips to keep your sharing as low risk as possible in our increasingly digital culture:
Top tips to protect your family’s privacy online
1) Have a discussion and decide as a family what it is ok and not ok to share.
We can all be tempted to put off the difficult conversations until an issue arises. However, starting these conversations early is a way of protecting your child. In the same way as you talk about being careful of strangers and crossing the road safely, we need to bring online behaviour into those childhood conversations too.
2) Be aware that it is near impossible to control what happens to online images.
It is best to assume anything you share online could be published anywhere in the world. It is terrifying but children’s images have been taken from private facebook accounts have turned up on sites in China. There is even a phenomenon called digital kidnapping. This is where individuals download photos of other people’s children and post them as if they were their own.
3) Think, will I and my children be happy to see this online in 10 years?
As we post a cute image of our child, it is hard to think that one day they will be grown up and may not appreciate that we shared the image. It is hard to project our thoughts so far into the future. However, it is important to make sure we aren’t posting anything that could be embarrassing or controversial in the future.
4) Could any post be used to bully your child?
An image that is cute to parents, may be mortifying for our children. With the complexity of connections within social media children in your child’s year at school may well be able to view the photo even if your settings are friends only.
5) Don’t share any information which could lead to identity theft.
Yes, this happens to children too. Sharing the name, date of birth, location or uniform that will identify the school they attend could lead to your child’s identity being stolen. According to the UK report, Barclays bank forecast that by 2030 “sharenting” will account for 2 out of 3 identity thefts. As a result, it will end up costing hundreds of millions each year.
6) Are your privacy settings maximised?
This may be an obvious question. However, it can be surprising how many of our sharing platforms default settings can be improved. Just a few simple checks can enable much higher levels of privacy and protection.
7) Is your geo-locator sharing more data than you are aware of about your family?
If you share your GPS location data with your family, be aware of the risks. Researchers at MIT and the Catholic University of Louvain found that just four time-stamped locations could uniquely identify 95% of individuals.
By Sara Lloyd
About the Author
Sara has been an education consultant for TutorsPlus for over 10 years. She is also a parent of two lively children.
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