What’s wrong with sharing pictures of my child on Facebook?

By DQ Team  04/30/2018

Topics: Privacy Management, Parenting Tips, DQ TOP Rules, DQ Parents’Handbook


Learning how to protect our data is becoming increasingly important and the key to the future of how we experience our digital lives. At a moment where technology companies seem to be facing a reckoning, so too are we being forced to confront our lapses in information sharing and our careless treatment of personal information.
Despite this, perhaps you’ve baulked at the idea of deleting your own social media accounts. For many of us, an offline and online dichotomy now seems anachronistic when we’ve so thoroughly integrated these digital platforms and services into our lives. For some, social media has brought us that much closer to our friends and families. For others, posting snippets of our lives online has become a cathartic process of self-reflection. Elsewhere around the world, where Facebook and Google are the only modes of Internet access, opting out of these platforms simply isn’t an option.
When it comes to children, our research revealed that 85% of 8-12 year olds are already using social media platforms – despite the legal age for using social networking sites set at 13. In addition, EU Kids Online found that less than half of 9-16 year olds set their social networking profiles to private1. As Internet penetration increases and social media use gets even more ubiquitous, expecting children to stay off social media is not only unrealistic, but it also denies them opportunities for playful self-expression.
For both adults and children, then, we need to be able to walk the line between self-expression and unknowingly leaving ourselves and our loved ones vulnerable to those who may mean us harm. Online, strangers may lie about their gender and age in order to orchestrate ways to meet children in person or take advantage of information shared online to engage in cyberstalking or identity theft. On the other hand, as companies streamline our experiences on their platforms, these businesses can exploit and profit from our consumer information2. As these platforms increasingly encourage self-disclosure3, we need to be aware of not only the types of information that we inadvertently share, but also that this information may be shared with third-parties as well.
Unfortunately, many of us haven’t been the best role-models for demonstrating responsible privacy management. When we post pictures and upload videos of our days out with our families, we often don’t consider the signals we may be sending to kids about what can be posted online, much less the potential ramifications of these snippets for children’s privacy4. Nonetheless, existing research on how adolescents manage their privacy settings revealed that the risks they face can actually increase when they are unaware that their personal data is being collected and used5.
With all that’s at stake, here’s how you can start addressing the behemoth of privacy management as a family:
1. Talk – What is Personal Information?
While you may be tempted to keep your child off the Internet in order to protect them and your family’s personal information, existing research on effective parental mediation strategies suggests that it would be more helpful to talk to your children about your privacy concerns and management habits instead. For example, research has shown that such methods of active mediation (where parents discuss online habits with their children) are useful for adolescents to develop privacy awareness and encourages them not to disclose their personal information online6.
What does your child understand the term “personal information”? Try having them name a few! Personal information refers to any information that can be used to identify who you are in real life. This can be your full name, home address, phone number, or a combination of other information – such as medical histories, school records, and real-time location information – that can be traced back to you.
To help your child understand different types of identifying information, pull up your own social media feeds and get your children to identify the different types of personal information that you may have disclosed. If you are reluctant to log out of your online accounts, you can also open a private browser to see what types of personal information strangers may also come across when they first view your profile. For example, did you and your family know that even with friends-only settings on Facebook, some identifiers like your name, profile picture, and cover images are always publically available?
As digital natives are increasingly more IT savvy than their parents, remember that this conversation has to be a two-way street. Your child probably has some questions and observations of their own to share!
2. Obey – Respect others’ privacy the way you would want them to respect yours
We tend to think about privacy management as a largely individual endeavour – but when we Tweet about our family days or tag pictures of our friends on Facebook, these posts reveal a lot about whoever is in our ambit as well. This means that when we practice healthy and responsible privacy management habits, we’re also protecting the personal information of our friends and loved ones.
With this in mind, think about efforts to maintain your privacy as a collective enterprise built on our respect for each other’s privacy. Use these prompts as a way to get your child to understand that sharing other people’s (perhaps a friend or relative) personal information may not only jeopardise themselves but others as well:

  • How would you feel if someone had secretly taken photos of you?
  • How would you feel if someone posted your private video without asking?

In turn, encourage your child to practice the following step before posting anything online:

  • Tell your friends what you’ll be posting (also important is to ensure that your child respects their friends and relatives wish not to have their images online)
  • Tell them why you’ll be posting it
  • Tell them where you plan to post it (which website)

3. Play – Navigate privacy settings together as a family

Come together and inculcate healthy habits as a family! For younger children, some practices can include:

  • Setting all social networking site profiles to “private”
  • Avoid posting photos/videos of oneself publicly
  • Avoid sharing personal information publicly (full name, home address, phone numbers, or a combination of other information, such as medical, school, and real-time location information)
  • Avoid adding and interacting with new online friends that they have not met in person
  • Avoid opening emails/messages from strangers and avoid forwarding such messages to others

As their curiosity grows, step back from such restrictive practices and bring the conversation forward by developing their critical thinking:

  • Teach your child to navigate the privacy settings of a website/application – take a deep dive into the annals of your Facebook and Google history!
  • Encourage the use of ad-blockers like Privacy Badger, and make it a habit to clear your browser history, cache, and cookies.
  • Go over a website’s/application’s privacy policy and understand what kind of data they may collect, who they may share it with, and if there is an option to opt out of such collection
  • We understand that privacy policies may be difficult to decipher (even for adults!); one alternative to reading these policies can be to find sources that address how to manage your privacy settings online. These guides not only provide practical tips but more often than not, they teach us about the different ways our data may be used.

In the face of changing privacy legislation and tech companies constantly updating their privacy policies, it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of information and feel overwhelmed. But allowing ourselves to disclose personal information online leaves us and our loved ones vulnerable to cyber-risks and manipulation. We hope that this post sparks a conversation in your family about the kinds of information that you may be unintentionally sharing – and has been instructive for the steps you can take to start managing your information online!
Whether it ultimately involves using technical solutions like using a VPN service or clearing your cache or taking time to understand a company’s terms of service, make sure your family commits to these habits once they’ve been established. Use our Privacy Pledge in the DQ Parent’s Guidebook, or even make your own, and revisit them whenever you can.
What works best for your family? Email us, drop us a message on Facebook, or tag us with #DQEveryChild with your stories of how you’ve taught your kids (or vice versa!) to develop healthy and safe online habits.

This is the third in a series of 9 posts that the DQ Institute is publishing for parents and caretakers to help you get started on inculcating healthy and responsible digital habits for you and your family. If you found the tips from this article helpful, you can find more in our previous post about cultivating healthy Screen Time Management habits for your family. Otherwise, check back next month for some more tips on navigating cyberbullying and what to do if you think your child has been victimised by cyberbullies online.
1. Hasebrink, U., Görzig, A., Haddon, L., Kalmus, V., & Livingstone, S. (2011). Patterns of risk and safety online: In-depth analyses from the EU Kids Online survey of 9-to 16-year-olds and their parents in 25 European countries.
2. Srnicek, N. (2017). Platform capitalism. John Wiley & Sons.
3. Shin, W., & Kang, H. (2016). Adolescents’ privacy concerns and information disclosure online: the role of parents and the Internet. Computers in Human Behavior, 54, 114-123.
4. Duggan, M., Lehnhart, A. (2015). Parents and Social Media. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center. Available at: www.pewinternet.org/2015/07/16/parents-and-social-media/; Lupton, D., & Pedersen, S. (2016). An Australian survey of women’s use of pregnancy and parenting apps. Women and Birth, 29(4), 368-375.
5. Feng, Y., & Xie, W. (2014). Teens’ concern for privacy when using social networking sites: An analysis of socialization agents and relationships with privacy-protecting behaviours. Computers in Human Behavior, 33, 153-162.
6. Lwin, M. O., Stanaland, A. J., & Miyazaki, A. D. (2008). Protecting children’s privacy online: How parental mediation strategies affect website safeguard effectiveness. Journal of Retailing, 84(2), 205-217.