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How Online Actions Impact Today's Kids

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Adults who share images on social media aren’t the only ones who need to worry about their privacy. Our culture’s tendency to share every move and celebration affects the privacy of our children, too.

It was game time. Several seconds were left on the clock as my grandchild’s basketball team raced to make the final basket. I was cheering, excited to be there. Out of the corner of my eye I counted five parents with cell phones poised to snap the winning shot. Seconds later, I see their screens switch to the familiar color scheme we all recognize as one of the major social media sites.


In that moment I realized that while my grandkids weren’t allowed on social media in an effort to reduce their online footprint, it was being created and cultivated anyway—without their permission.


Think about it: Other parents at school events, other grandparents at birthday parties, our own family members at seasonal gatherings, all snapping photos and posting them on their individual social media accounts. If I would take the time to search through these profiles, I know without a doubt I’d run across photo after photo featuring—or including—my grandkids. The reality is these photos won’t just reach our family members and close friends, but the individual’s friends and acquaintances, spanning age groups and geographic locations. This opens up my grandkids to possible exposure to less than satisfactory individuals, image grabs for advertising, and an unnecessary accessibility to their personal information.


This is the current dilemma facing parents today. How can parents protect their children’s online privacy when so many people share their faces, information, and whereabouts on a regular basis? How can parents expect kids to make their own decisions someday on what their online footprint will be if we’ve unwittingly been creating it for them all these years?


Parents aren’t blameless in this. Our decisions have subjected our kids and grandkids to be innocent bystanders in their own online futures. Yalda Uhls, author of “Media Moms & Digital Dads”, has discovered that 81% of kids have a digital footprint before they reach 2 years old, largely thanks to their parents.


This is even a topic of focus for major studies. In 2015, an NYU study hypothesized that Facebook has become a “modern day baby book.” They evaluated 2,383 Facebook users and discovered 575 of those accounts (8.5%) had photos containing children between the ages of zero and seven years old. Due to the comments left and the content and the nature of the posts, experts were able to determine first name, last name, and date of birth for children featured in 45 of these accounts. These are children who, one day, will be easy targets of identity theft due to the public information their parents made readily available online.


But for those parents and grandparents fiercely safeguarding their children’s online privacy in actions and behavior, the question reminds: How can we step in front of other members of society to halt the sharing of children’s images and information, without it becoming a full time job?


Here are some tactics to approach protecting your child from other online profiles:


Start the conversation. Meet with the parents of your kid’s friends and classmates and discuss your desire to not have your kid’s face and personal information be a part of social sharing during friendly gatherings and special events. If you’re one among a group of parents who feel this way, it’s worth discussing the issue with your kid’s school and even the school board, as schools are now also snapping pictures of extracurricular events for use in marketing campaigns. Schools will likely be supportive of finding creative ways to remind parents to ‘get back to basics’ and be present, not always focusing on capturing the perfect photo. Some schools have even implemented social media waivers, giving parents the ability to decide whether or not their kid’s image can be used in school marketing initiatives or social media shares.


Plan ahead. Sometimes parents forget things, even when they have the best of intentions. When you plan a party or gathering for your child, post reminders in invites and around the venue about enjoying the moment and putting the camera down.


Share your knowledge. Keep in mind that some grandparents and parents aren’t tech savvy and they might not realize what they’re doing. Find ways to educate friends and family on their own privacy settings so they’re made aware of how they’re sharing information online. Chances are, they may not realize their posts are public.


Set an example. When at someone else’s event or you notice someone taking pictures of your kid, take a picture of their kid and then ask their permission to post it online. Saying something along the lines of, “I always ask since a lot of parents don’t want their kid’s image posted online,” is a non-confrontational way to bring up the topic.


Monitor accounts. Depending on how passionate you are about this topic, it may require friending, following, and monitoring accounts of family friends as well as parents in the school or community who are always eager to share photos online. Viewing what’s being shared of your child opens the door for conversations on cropping photos or even removing them altogether.


How are you protecting your child’s online footprint? Do you think these tips are attainable? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.


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