The pitfalls of sharing photos of children online

Sharing photos and videos of our children online is the norm these days, but who’s to say that strangers across the globe aren’t manipulating these to their own advantage? According to digital parenting expert Martine Oglethorpe we must accept that our children are growing up in a very public environment and proceed with caution.

My daughter recently questioned why I was sharing a photo of her and her brothers on my Instagram page and it really got me thinking. Why was I putting her image out to the big wide world without asking her beforehand?

It wasn’t until she queried my actions that I stopped and thought that perhaps I have no right to share her photo without permission. So we came to an agreement that I wouldn’t put anything up on social media without her agreeing to it.

However, it’s probably a little too late to stress out because I’ve been sharing her life experiences with strangers online for years, and even if I shut down all my accounts remnants of her will remain scattered across the internet. It’s actually quite overwhelming when you realise that some stranger on the other side of the globe could be sitting at their computer staring at a photo of your child in their swimmers or as a baby in the bath. 

But should we panic and immediately deactivate all our social media accounts for fear we’re muddying our children’s digital footprints? 

According to digital parenting expert Martine Oglethorpe the answer is no. She says we must accept that our children are growing up in a very public environment which means in the future, photos of them online are likely to be the norm. Despite this, she advises parents to tread with care and be acutely aware that photos they share online will likely become part of that child's digital footprint. Martine suggests that as such it’s crucial that as our children grow older we ask permission before posting a photo of them online. “This helps them have a little more control over their digital footprint and also makes them aware of the need to ask permission so that hopefully they do the same with their own friends,” she says.

She cautions that while there are valid concerns that online images could ending up in pornographic websites or be subject to identity theft, there are things we can do to help reduce that risk. 
Father and son on computer
She suggests a common sense and general etiquette approach in regards to sharing photos and videos, in particular taking care to ensure that anything posted won’t be detrimental to a child’s safety or reputation.

“For example, don't put any photos up of your child where they are naked or partially so, or any photos that could cause them embarrassment,” she says. “When children are young we cannot be asking their permission so we need to use our own common sense about what we share and with whom. While we know we lose a lot of control over the privacy of a photo once it appears online, we can certainly be mindful or our privacy settings and our friends and followers before we post.” 

As a mother of three, the issue that concerns me the most is that any photo or video I post can be shared, copied or manipulated by a third party. The mind just boggles and it’s enough to make me want to completely avoid the online world forever.

But the reality is that our children are growing up in a digital world, it’s helping to shape who they are and how they think and there’s no point in ignoring social media because it’s not going away.

So what’s the answer? Well maybe it’s thinking twice before we share a photo of our child having a tantrum on the supermarket floor, because this might be something they come to feel embarrassed about as they grow older. 

We can also find different ways to share photos and videos of our children. Sure, we might not get many ‘likes’ but we might feel better that we’re not messing with their digital footprints.

Here are 3 alternative ways to share photos:

  1. Go back to the ‘good old days’ and send an email with your child’s photo attached.

  2. Use a secure online portal that users need a password to log in with, for example a Dropbox account.

  3. Multimedia messaging service - send photos and videos over a mobile network using your phone.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for some information on how to decide what online content is trustworthy read this post.

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