Sharing is Only Caring if You Ask Permission First

You know it’s Year 12 ball season when tuxedoed and frocked-up teens start popping up on your Facebook and Instagram feeds in rapid succession.

You know it’s back-to-school time when your social media accounts are inundated with photos of Janes and Jacks in their new school uniforms.

You know you forgot little Jessica’s birthday when you see an album of photos to commemorate the occasion, accompanying a post to thank “everyone” for all their special wishes.  You are acutely aware, but does Jessica know? Do Jane or Jack know?

Sharenting (parents posting about their children online) is coming under increased scrutiny worldwide, as the frequency of these posts continues to rise.  What are parents posting? Do they have permission? What privacy issues might come into play?

Unchartered Territory

Parents today are the first generation who have the capacity to publish photos and information about their children freely and easily online.  This is largely unchartered territory, and there are bound to be some speed bumps along the way.  While it is tempting to want to share how cute, adorable or beautiful our children are with the world, parents may want to consider the potential short, medium and long-term implications.  Parents should also ensure that they understand how to manage privacy settings, and that relevant permissions are sought.

According to a 2016 U.K. study, parents posted an average of almost 1500 photos of their child online before the child’s fifth birthday. This was an increase of 54% from the previous year (Nominet, 2016).  The study also found that parents, on average, posted a photo of someone else’s child (aged 0 – 13) 30 times in the previous year.  However, only 16% of respondents always asked permission from the child’s parents.

As yet, there has been no comprehensive study of this kind in Australia, but sharenting seems to vary quite a lot based on anecdotal evidence.  Sydney Mum, Lisa, chooses not to post images of her child online and asks her friends to also refrain from posting images of her daughter, because, “Essentially on social media you are a product that is sold to advertisers, and my child is not going be a product” (Barnes, 2019), while Sunshine Coast mother, Emma, feels that the benefits outweigh the dangers or future implications. “We…like to share about our lives…so it wouldn’t feel right to not share about our kids” (Barnes, 2019).  Expert on internet law and ethics, Eric Delcroix, points out, “We often criticise teenagers for their online behaviour, but parents are no better” (Chazan, 2016).

Think Before You Post

At PLC, we encourage students to think before they share, to consider their digital footprint, and to understand that anything that they post online can never be completely deleted.  However, parents can also have an impact on their child’s digital footprint.  According to Steinberg (as cited in Hobson, 2019), “it’s really important that before we press ‘share’…that we really think about who they [our children] might become and how we can give them the best opportunity to control this new digital identity.”


Don’t Be ‘That Parent’

Approximately 1 in 4 children are already embarrassed by what their parents share about them online (Hobson, 2019), and it is even possible that when today’s children become adults, they could take their parents to court for breaching their right to privacy as children in relation to online posts (Chazan, 2016).  Therefore, it is important for parents to think very carefully before sharing.

In the Nominet survey, 79% of parents were not aware that posts in which others are tagged could be viewed by strangers, even if their settings were set to be viewed only by friends.  Many parents are not completely confident with managing privacy settings across and within the different social media platforms.  In addition, it is not always straightforward to determine exactly what information is being shared when posting photos online.  Apart from potential security issues associated with displaying a child’s name, school (uniform), age (e.g. birthday photos, school year level) and address (identifiable buildings/locations), digital photos generally contain additional metadata which is not immediately visible, such as time, date and GPS coordinates.

Tips for Parents

Following the advice of expert bodies, such as the Office of the Australian eSafety Commissioner (2019), here are a few tips for safer sharenting:

  1. Where possible, involve your child in the process of sharing their image online, including requesting their permission.
  2. Always request permission of other children and/or their parents before posting, sharing or tagging.
  3. Check the location settings on your social media apps and turn them off if possible.
  4. Be careful not to give away personal details (e.g. child’s school, sports club, address)  through visual information or comments.
  5. Only share with people you really know and trust – consider sharing only to specific people and/or within a private group.
  6. If someone has posted a photo or video of your child without your permission, you can request for it to be removed, either by the person who posted it, or through the social media service.
  7. Keep up to date about how to protect your information and seek more safety guidance across the different social media platforms by accessing this eSafety Guide.

Social media can be a quick, engaging and effective way to share your children’s special moments with family and friends, especially those living far away.  Just don’t forget to check what, how and to whom you are sharing before you post, and always try to include your children  in related discussions and decisions.

Kelly Curran, Senior School ILT Integration Specialist
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