When Elisa Shore has a fun moment with her 18-month-old daughter, she’ll share it on Instagram, but crop out her daughter’s face so that maybe just the baby’s hands are in the shot.
“In one, there are her feet next to the Degas ballerina’s feet,” recalled Shore, 35, who lives in Society Hill. “But we don’t put her face anywhere on social media.”
Though Shore said she uses social media all the time, she and her husband have concerns about her daughter’s privacy and safety. “We live in a scary world, where people attack people online with the kind of hate that’s anonymous,” she said.
Instead, they use a shared digital photo album where they can text her daughter’s pictures to their inner circle of family and friends, all of whom have promised they won’t share her pictures on their social media accounts.
Shore has reason to be concerned about cyberbullying. About 37% of young people between ages 12 and 17 have been bullied online, according to DoSomething.org, a nonprofit focused on motivating young people to make positive change online. Instagram is the social media site where most young people report experiencing cyberbullying, with 42% of those surveyed saying they had been harassed on the platform.
Although social media offers an outlet to share common experiences, it can go too far, said Valerie Braunstein, a clinical psychologist at Philly Psychology in Rittenhouse Square. The phenomenon of “over-sharenting” — a combination of oversharing and parenting — is the use of social media to share news or images of one’s children, she explained.
“In 2012, an Ohio State study found that 98% of mothers and 89% of fathers had reported uploading photos of their child to Facebook,” she said. Though she doesn’t know specific statistics today, “I think there is more awareness currently about the risks of sharenting, and the more education there is around those risks, I would hope to see more parents think about what they share before they share it.”
Those risks include interfering with a child’s sense of privacy, as well as safety. Research shows that children may be more wary and concerned about what parents post than parents are, Braunstein said. “We want children to feel a sense of trust in their parents, control over their virtual footprint, and the space to form their own identity.”
“Any time you’re putting images of your child out there, you just don’t know who is seeing them and what they are going to do with them,” said Callahan Walsh, child advocate with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “It’s now out of your control.”
The most important thing parents can do is make sure their profiles are private and share only with a select group, said Callahan. Then, think about the images you’re posting. “Bath time — not so appropriate,” he said.
But even a private profile can safeguard you only so much. “Any time a user uploads an image to social media, it is no longer in their control,” he said. The social platforms save the image to their servers, and their terms of service determine what they do with it. “There are also groups who are constantly scraping data from the internet, almost like taking a snapshot of everything that is indexed or posted online. Your uploaded content could be scraped and saved forever, making it nearly impossible to remove or delete.”
That’s a big concern for Camillia Travia, mother to Sally, who was born in June. “What scares me is wondering if somebody is going to go back and find these pictures and bully her,” said Travia, 32, who lives in Washington Township. “Is she not going to be able to get a job because someone has googled her to find out more information and her entire life story is there for anyone to see?”
Travia is puzzled by oversharing. It’s one thing to chronicle your baby’s big moments with family and friends. But she wonders whether the girl who sat next to you in college English class 15 years ago needs to see your bundle of joy in the bathtub on Facebook.
Jon Shearburn keeps his almost 2-year-old son off social media to protect his privacy, but also to respect his son’s future wishes. “He might not want to know that there’s a picture of his naked butt out there when he’s 15 years old or 25,” said Shearburn, 42, of South Philadelphia. “Let him make these decisions when he’s old enough.”
Braunstein urges parents to think about how their personal pictures might impact their child and their future relationship with their child. “You don’t want to interfere with a child’s sense of privacy because the child might grow up and look back and be resentful of what you posted,” she added.
She encourages parents to avoid sharing pictures of their child in any state of undress and to ask permission regarding what they post — even of children as young as age 4. That’s when children begin to have a sense of themselves and their own likes and dislikes, she said.
It’s very rare that Alison Smyth’s 4-year-old son’s face will appear on social media at home or in school. She has shown the back of his head — such as the time he was using his toy mower to shadow his father mowing the lawn. Sometimes she’ll obscure his face when he’s in a group shot.
“I feel like people are starting with pictures in utero,” said Smyth, 42, who lives in Voorhees. She knows the day will come when he will make up his own mind, but until then, she’s protecting his privacy and safety.