Written By: Security.org Team | Published: April 26, 2021

Open Instagram and you’ll see thousands of pictures, videos, and other content that includes children. From newborn pictures to soccer practice videos, it’s natural that parents want to share content about their kids with their friends and family. However, when it comes to sharing this content on social media, there are a few risks to consider like identity theft, embarrassing your kid, or even preventing them from getting jobs later on.

In this guide, we’ll define “sharenting” and tell you the best practices for parents and social media. We’ll also share the results of two surveys regarding parenting and social media, one from parents, and one from teens ages 13 to 17. Some of our key findings include:

  • Over three-quarters of parents have shared stories, videos, or images of their children or stepchildren on social media.
  • In these posts, over 80 percent of parents use their children’s real names.
  • Less than a quarter of parents always get their childrens’ permission before posting content about them on social media, and about a third never ask for their permission.
  • Nearly a quarter of parents have public settings on their social media apps, meaning that anyone can see what they post, even if they’re not friends.
  • Nearly eight in 10 parents have friends or followers on social media that they have never met in real life.

Table of Contents

  1. What is Sharenting?
  2. The Consequences of Sharenting
  3. Sharenting Do’s and Don’ts
  4. Recap
  5. Methodology

What is Sharenting?

First coined in 2021 in the Wall Street Journal, “sharenting” is a term that refers to parents (and other family members) sharing the content of their children online.1 According to our survey data, 77 percent of parents have shared stories, videos, or images about their child(ren) or step-child(ren) on social media.

Have you ever shared stories, videos, or images of your child(ren) or step-child(ren) on social media?

Responses

Yes

77%

No

23%

While previous generations took pictures and videos of their children on special occasions only, with smartphones and tablets, we have the technology at our fingertips at all times and check our social media apps dozens of times a day. But don’t worry: you’re not the only one who spends too much time on social media. Rather than putting together a few photo albums, the majority of parents have posted almost 1,500 photos of their children by their fifth birthdays,2 implying a trend of too much screen time overall.

While this number may sound extreme, the impulse to sharent is normal and healthy, according to Pamela B. Rutledge, Ph.D., and Director of the Media Psychology Research Center. It’s a way of remembering an experience as well as gaining social support and validation, Dr. Rutledge explains.3 There’s nothing wrong with staying connected with friends on social media platforms. But as the road to hell is paved with good intentions, sharenting can be taken too far, resulting in dire consequences.

The Consequences of Sharenting

Without the proper precautions, sharenting can result in identity theft, distrust between parents and their children, and even kidnapping, according to law enforcement and the findings of social science.

Child Pornography

Depending on the social media network you use as well as your device’s settings, you may not know who has access to the content you post about your child. From companies collecting personal data for targeted ads to online predators, you may be exposing images and videos of your child to less than ideal parties.

Of course, social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram have bans against child pornography, but it’s impossible to detect all of it. In 2020, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s CyberTipline received over 21.7 million reports, 95 percent of which were from Facebook and Instagram. These tips included child sexual abuse material (CSAM), sex trafficking and online enticement as well as child pornography4.

Troublingly, both Facebook and Instagram reported increases in the amount of child nudity/ sexual exploitation content that they remove.

Social media platform

Quarter

Year

Number of pieces taken down for child nudity/ sexual exploitation content in millions

Facebook

Q2

2020

9.5

Facebook

Q3

2020

12.4

Instagram

Q2

2020

0.481

Instagram

Q3

2020

1

From the second to the third quarters of 2020, Facebook took down over 30 percent more of this type of content, while Instagram took down over 50 percent more.5 While the social networks attempt to take down as much of this inappropriate content as they can, some content is bound to slip through the cracks, especially considering the quarterly increase.

Identity Theft

When parents unknowingly reveal their children’s PII, or personally identifiable information, on social media, they put their kids at risk for identity theft, child identity theft specifically. According to our survey, more than 80 percent of parents use their children’s real names on social media.

When you post about your child(ren) or step-child(ren) on social media do you use their real names?

Responses

Yes

81%

No

19%

Many teens aren’t aware that their parents are posting their real names on social media; we found a nine percent gap between the parents’ and teens’ responses, implying that many kids aren’t aware that their PII is online.

When your parent or step-parent posts about you on social media do they use your real name?

Responses

Yes

72%

No

13%

I don't know

15%

Along with other PII including birthdays, street addresses from geotagged metadata, and phone numbers, sharing PII on social media puts kids at risk for child identity theft.

Our previous research found that 14 percent of kids have had their identities stolen, according to their parents. But while 53 percent of parents believe that social media poses the biggest risk for child identity theft, only 42 percent report limiting the information they post about their kids on social media in order to prevent identity theft. Barclays forecasts that the cost of the online fraud stemming from children’s public information will be over $924 million by 2030.6 

Children’s Reputations

Millennial parents and older generations weren’t born into the world of social media, unlike Gen-Z and younger generations. That means that current childrens’ online reputations take shape early in life, according to Stacey Steinberg, University of Florida law professor and author of “Growing Up Shared”. Some parents even post about their children before they’re born, creating Instagram accounts for their children while in utero.

Posting this content online makes kids searchable for the rest of their lives, with or without their knowledge or consent.7 As parents post their photos, videos, and anecdotes, childrens’ online identities are formed. Troublingly, our data found that nearly 30 percent of parents never ask for their child’s permission to post about them on social media.

When sharing pictures, videos, or stories about your child(ren) or step-child(ren) on social media, how often do you ask them for permission before you publish it?

Responses

Every time

24%

Most of the time

26%

Some of the time

21%

I never ask their permission

29%

According to the teens, this number is even higher; 45 percent of teens reported that their parents never ask them for permission before posting, a difference of 15 percent.

When your parent or step-parent shares pictures, videos, or stories about you on social media, how often do they get your permission to post before they publish it?

Responses

Every time

20%

Most of the time

18%

Some of the time

18%

They never ask me for permission

45%

Moreover, 32 percent of teens reported that their parents had shared content about them even after they had asked them not to.

Has your parent or step-parent ever shared a story, image, or video of you on social media after you asked them not to?

Responses

Yes

32%

No

53%

I don't know

15%

Aside from the ethical issue of consent, a child’s online reputation can affect future job prospects whether it’s the parent posting or the child themself.8 

Action

Percentage of employers who perform the action

Found content on social media that caused them not to hire a candidate

57%

Use social networking sites to research job candidates

70%

Check up on current employees' social media accounts

48%

Have reprimanded or fired an employee based on the online content they found

34%

According to a survey from CareerBuilder, over half of employees have found social media content that caused them not to hire someone. Moreover, 70 percent of employers use social media networks to research job candidates, while nearly half check their current employees’ social media profiles. And with 34 percent of employers having reprimanded or fired someone based on online content9, childrens’ social media reputations matter for getting and maintaining future employment.

Emotional Risks

Especially given the rise of cyberbullying during the COVID-19 pandemic, content that parents post on social media about their kids can result in cyberbullying. According to our research, 21 percent of parents said that a child in their home had been cyberbullied; for kids with their own social media accounts, rates climbed higher. Learn more about resources for cyberbullying.

Has your child been cyberbullied?

Not Sure

No

Yes

Tiktok

57%

51%

64%

Snapchat

63%

55%

69%

Facebook

49%

33%

49%

Twitter

31%

17%

28%

An India-specific survey from McAfee found that 98 percent of parents have posted images of their kids on social media that might be embarrassing or that is against their wishes10, unfortunately. In addition, 42 percent of teens in 25 different countries said that they have a problem with their parents posting about them on social media.11 Whether it’s cyberbullying or fighting with parents, what kids feel and say about their content on social media matters.

Kidnapping

At the most extreme end, posting about kids on social media can result in kidnapping, whether in-person or digital. Kidnappers can use the metadata from geotags to learn childrens’ addresses and kidnap them physically. On the digital end, random people on their internet have been “role-playing” as children by stealing their photos and posting them to gain likes and comments. Called an “rp” for short, these photos often include hashtags like #adoptionrp, #orphanrp or #babyrp.12 

Sharenting Do’s and Don’ts

With all of the potential risks in mind, protecting children online and their data privacy should be at the forefront of your mind while on social media. Here are some best practices when posting about your kids.

Do’s

  • Read privacy policies: The E.U’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) stipulates that tech companies with visitors from the E.U must have clear and accessible privacy policies.13 Even if you’re not from the E.U, international social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram must follow these protocols, so take advantage by reading their privacy policies. Note what social media companies log and, more importantly, what they share with third parties for marketing or advertising purposes.
  • Adjust device settings: In the same vein, check your device’s settings to see what information your operating system saves, shares and sells.
  • Disable geotagging: If you post any photos or videos of your child, be sure to disable geotagging and metadata, or the EXIF data that could share their locations.
  • Make your accounts private: Only your friends and family should be able to see your child-related social media content, but according to our research, nearly one in four parents have completely public posts.

For the social media app that you use the most, what are your privacy settings?

Parents’ Response

Public (anyone can see what I post)

24%

Private (only approved people can see what I post)

57%

Friends of friends (friends of my contacts can see what I post)

16%

I’m not sure

3%

  • Communicate your boundaries with friends and family: Parents aren’t the only ones posting content on social media about children. You also have to worry about your friends and family. Communicate your views on posting and tagging photos and videos of your children, establishing boundaries you feel comfortable with.
  • Ask for consent: For parents of children older than age five or six, ask them if they are okay with posting content about them. Around three-quarters of parents and teens agree that parents should ask their kids under the age of 18 for permission before posting about them on social media.

At what age do you feel that parents and step-parents should ask a child for permission to share stories, videos, or images of them on a social media account?

Parents’ response

Teens’ response

Younger than 5, as soon as they can speak

11%

10%

6 – 8 years old

18%

8%

9 – 11 years old

15%

14%

12 – 14 years old

21%

26%

15 – 17 years old

10%

17%

18 years old and over

8%

4%

I do not believe parents and step-parents need consent to post about their children or step-children at any age.

18%

22%

For older kids, we recommend giving them veto power, telling them exactly where you want to post the content, and letting them read and respond to comments.

  • Discuss the benefits of sharing: Sharenting isn’t all bad; it’s a great way of connecting with long distance family and friends and building communities, online relationships and networks, according to Dr. Steinberg. Just as you should discuss the risks of sharenting, explain to your child why you want to do it in the first place.
  • Go through your followers: Making your accounts private to your followers isn’t enough if you don’t know all of them. Only 22 percent of parents have met all of their social media friends and followers in real life, meaning that you’re still sharing content with virtual strangers even if you’ve chosen private settings.

When thinking of all your friends and followers across all social media apps (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, etc.), how many of those people do you know in real life (people that you've met in person at least once)?

Response

100%

22%

75 – 99%

42%

50 – 74%

24%

25 – 49%

6%

Less than 25%

6%

  • Use identity theft protection: The easiest way to prevent child identity theft is to use identity theft protection for families, which typically covers two adults and up to 10 children.
  • Secure passwords: Make sure that each of your social media accounts has a secure password, meaning it’s long, unique and complicated. Learn more about the best password strategies.
  • Add authentication: If it’s available, add two or multi-factor authentication to your social media accounts to prevent unauthorized access.
  • Delete your child’s PII from Google: Google your child’s name. Does any of their PII come up on the first page? If so, take the steps to delete personal information from Google.
  • Use private social platforms: While Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are extraordinarily popular, there are other apps and websites you can use to share content about your kids, safely and privately. Whatsapp, for example, has end-to-end encryption, unlike its parent company Facebook. You can use Flickr to make a private, invite-only photo album, or you can use Tinybeans, which involves invite-only private groups.14 These platforms offer the best of both worlds: a way to share content with your friends and family, without the eyes of strangers around the world.

Don'ts

  • Don’t post naked or semi-naked pictures: It’s safe to say that you’re not posting naked pictures of your kids online, but even pictures of them in a towel can be used for CSAM.
  • Don’t post PII: Avoid posting your child’s name, birthday, or age. In a phishing attack, this information could be used to access accounts. You also shouldn’t reveal your mother’s maiden name, pet name, or favorite sports team, information commonly used on password reset models. Even nicknames should be avoided.
  • Don’t take photos with address information: Be careful when posting pictures of your house, as this could reveal your address. Avoid street names and numbers.
  • Don’t post pictures with school uniforms: This could reveal your child’s school, a kidnapping risk.
  • Don’t post embarrassing content: While embarrassing may be a subjective term, some topics, like potty training, should be left out of social media, full stop.
  • Don’t post content without consent: Unless they’re under the age of four and too young to understand, don’t post anything about your child on social media without their permission.
  • Don’t make your accounts public: While you may rack up more favorites, comments and likes with public accounts, it’s best to keep your accounts private for safety reasons.

Recap

With this information in mind, hopefully you’ll think twice before posting that annual photo of your child in front of your home with a caption that includes their full name, birthdate, and school. Uploading even something as seemingly insignificant as an Instagram story may have more consequences than you think, so consider your child’s online reputation and safety as your sharent responsibly.

Methodology

We conducted two surveys of 622 parents and 386 teens ages 13 to 17 from April 12 to April 13, 2021. We also included information from McAfee, Mother.ly, the BBC, the Wall Street Journal, Nominet, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Facebook, WBIR, Careerbuilder, Microsoft, Parent Map and Kaspersky to supplement our original research.

References

  1. https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304451104577392041180138910
  2. https://www.nominet.uk/parents-oversharing-family-photos-online-lack-basic-privacy-know/
  3. https://www.mother.ly/child/should-i-post-my-kids-on-social-media
  4. https://www.missingkids.org/content/dam/missingkids/gethelp/2020-reports-by-esp.pdf
  5. https://about.fb.com/news/2020/11/community-standards-enforcement-report-nov-2020/
  6. https://www.bbc.com/news/education-44153754
  7. https://www.mother.ly/child/should-i-post-my-kids-on-social-media
  8. https://www.wbir.com/article/life/family/sharenting-can-impact-childrens-future-job-prospects-damage-self-esteem/51-62a48829-cf8c-47a9-aa77-407d912016c3
  9. http://press.careerbuilder.com/2018-08-09-More-Than-Half-of-Employers-Have-Found-Content-on-Social-Media-That-Caused-Them-NOT-to-Hire-a-Candidate-According-to-Recent-CareerBuilder-Survey
  10. https://www.mcafee.com/blogs/consumer/mcafee-survey-parents-share-pictures-of-their-kids-online-despite-understanding-the-risks-involved/
  11. https://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2019/10/09/teens-say-parents-share-too-much-about-them-online-microsoft-study/
  12. https://www.parentmap.com/article/kidnappers-kids-photos-digital-kidnapping-social-media
  13. https://gdpr-info.eu/
  14. https://usa.kaspersky.com/resource-center/threats/children-photos-and-online-safety