Should you keep those cute baby and toddler pictures off social media?

Let me blow your mind. Over 90 percent of children in the United States have an online social media presence by the age of two, according to a 2010 study conducted by AVG, an internet security firm. Even before they are born, one in four children already makes their online debut by sonogram.

“What’s the harm?” we think. It’s everywhere. Everyone does it. 

But have we ever stopped to think what the effect will be on our children?

I won’t judge. I won’t tell you to post or not to post. I will just raise a few points about keeping babies off social media that you may want to consider.

Our Children’s Privacy Is Virtually Gone

Over 90% of children in the US are “online” before they turn two years old. None of us as Gen X and Millennial parents today can say that!

Ultrasound snapshots. Facebook parenting groups (“Help! My toddler…”). Random photos of your child’s first attempt at singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star that got a hundred likes from your family and friends.

We willingly put out a lot of information about our children.

Did they get a say in what gets posted about them? Even if your two-year-old can already say yes, do they know what they are saying yes to?

How would you feel if your husband posted in a Facebook group, “Help! My wife…” And a hundred dads chimed in with differing points of view, judging your actions without even knowing you. (Okay, so I heard dad Facebook groups don’t really work that way, but that’s beside the point.)

Inadvertently and perhaps unconsciously, we rob our children of the privacy we enjoyed as kids and teenagers.

One day our kids will see these posts, comments, and ‘Likes’ and see how they “performed.”

How many likes or frown faces did this post get?

Who liked this post?

Does the photo capture a happy moment for your child, or does it show the world something more vulnerable and private, perhaps something they wouldn’t want others to see (especially as they get older)?

How many complete strangers saw these intimate moments posted online?

For who knows how long, the things we post on social media will remain there forever. Our posts become proprietary data for the platforms we post them to, like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Tik Tok.

Your Children Did Not Give Consent

Do you have a childhood memory that makes you cringe? An event during your teenage years that you’d rather forget? Our children may not have the luxury of forgetting.

Try this experiment. Go and dig up one of your mom’s old albums. Yes, those albums that have your cutest baby photos.

Now imagine if Facebook and Instagram existed back when you were a baby, and your mom posted about them online. Imagine your now-elderly aunts and your mom’s senior citizen circle looking at their phones – liking and commenting on those photos.

How do you feel about it? Do you think, “Oh, I wish we had Facebook back then – that would have been great!” Or, like me and many of my friends, do you breathe a sigh of relief that this wasn’t possible before?

Oversharing personal details and photos can also impact your child’s sense of trust in you.

Still, as children enter elementary school age, they’ll probably see or hear about their online presence from someone else–like from your sweet sister who exclaimed she saw your post yesterday about your toddler throwing a temper tantrum in the mall (she must’ve known the location because you “Checked In!”).

I’m not saying to stop posting online about your children, but we are stealing our children’s privacy this way. These memories will not be for them alone, but for whoever can see them online or wants to see them.

We’ll talk about security concerns in just a bit. 

According to Statista, there was 4.66 BILLION active internet uses as of October 2020. Not all of them will be on social media, but whew!–that’s a lot of potential viewers!

I don’t think that many people can see your mom’s old photo albums, you know?

Posting Can Diminish or Skew Their Sense of Self

What we post on social media can negatively impact (and conversely, positively impact) our children’s self-esteem and how they view themselves, even as tiny little toddlers. 

Children first develop of sense of self around 18 months old. For example, a baby reaches for something that the parent has deemed a no-no, like touching something breakable. The baby looks for the parent’s reaction to her behavior. She is self-conscious.

This self-awareness only continues to develop as your baby grows into a toddler.

From ages 3 to 5, children begin to talk about themselves in concrete language, like “I am three years old,” or “I have a sister.” They learn to describe emotions too, like “I was happy at the park today.”

It’s around four years of age that children develop the belief-desire theory of mind. They begin to understand that a person’s actions can be caused by both belief and desire, though typically, children learn to express themselves–their desire–before they develop internal reasoning.

To tie all of this together, as our children continue to mature, they begin to internalize what others have said about them–and explicitly to them–and that can become a driving force in how they view their sense of self.

If Mom posts that her child is the rude or bratty one at daycare, the toddler doesn’t even have to read that post to feel its effects. The other moms that see it will probably do the talking during pickup time.

The child may start to think of herself as to how the adults around her described her. If your child is hearing continual negative talk about themself, that can build a poor foundation for self-esteem.

Again, this doesn’t mean don’t ask your trusted Mom Facebook group about your child’s latest doozy or stop posting entirely, but post with intention. Is this something my child will enjoy looking back upon as they are older? Am I sharing too much?

In the online group settings, keep the extraneous details minimal to get the answers you need.

Security Threat

I think there are more good people out there than bad, but the bad ones do still exist, and they can do some damage to your child’s photos and personal information.

People can always copy a photo they see online. Those photos can end up in the wrong places, like disturbing forums and websites that house child pornography.

These malicious people could steal your child’s identity and repurpose them. We see this in digital kidnapping cases, where people steal photos off of social media profiles and claim to be the parent. Scary!

Another disturbing trend is called baby role-playing, in which baby roleplayers create social media accounts using stolen photos, captioning posts with false information about the child pictured.

Though it seems pretty harmless in the act, what we post online can easily be out of our control, and when it comes to our children, that’s a terrifying possibility.

How To Approach Sharing To Social Media

While there is no 100% safe way to share on social media, here are some measures you can take to protect yourself and your baby before pressing that “Share” button.

Toggle your privacy settings, so only friends and family see your posts, not the public. Make your Instagram account private.

However, this won’t stop someone in your friend’s list from getting a screenshot and using the photo any way they want. So make sure that everyone on your Facebook account is people you know personally and people you trust. Would you willingly give that person a printed photo of your child and trust them with it? If not, don’t approve them in your account.

If you can’t be confident about everyone on your friend’s list, create a group of people who are the only ones who can see your posts about your child.

How about those cute photos of kids doing activities on social media?

Politely yet assertively ask any post-happy relative or friends to please refrain from posting about your child, or at least ask you for consent.

Ask your toddler what they feel comfortable with you posting or what they would like to share so they feel like they retain some ownership. These kinds of conversations can help prepare your child to grow up responsibly in this digital age. However, remember that at this age, they do not really understand what they are saying yes to.

Social media can be anywhere from good, bad, or crazy. Every time you post, realize that what you put out there endures – whether by memory or screenshot. That is a powerful thing.

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