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Children and Media

Home » Articles »

Do We Reveal Too Much About Our Kids Online?

By Bethany Hardy


Woman with laptop computerEven cartoon parents blab about their kids. The mother of Greg Heffley, unlikely hero of the popular "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" books, writes a parenting column for the local newspaper. In it, she shares life lessons based on anecdotes from her own family. The column has given Susan Heffley “a sense of celebrity which she enjoys,” says Jeff Kinney, author of the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series. “In her articles, she refers to her kids by their names, which adds to the humor,” Kinney says. But you can imagine her son’s dismay when Mrs. Heffley writes an article called “Puberty Is a Difficult Time.”

What Compels Parents to "Tell All"?

Although fictional, Susan Heffley’s tendency to spill the beans about her kids mirrors the habits of a significant majority of parents—that is, if their online activity is any indication. According to a 2010 study by Internet security firm AVG, 81 percent of children around the world have an online presence before the age of two. In the United States, that figure jumps to 92 percent. Such an astounding number of young children with parents blogging, Facebooking, or tweeting about them is surely a cultural milestone.

Is blogging about one’s child simply the modern-day version of pulling out the wallet photos, or does the "tell-all" nature of social media put the phenomenon in a league of its own?

Brooke Miller, a San Francisco-based advice columnist, believes social media have triggered an onslaught of parental insecurities. “Even if [parents] are fairly secure with their parenting and their children’s successes,” she says, “social media has become the official second opinion: ‘I think I’m doing a good job raising my kids … but let me find out for certain [by sharing on] Facebook.'"

Some parents are simply savvy enough to capitalize on the growing demand for solutions to typical parenting challenges, argues Pamela Savoy-Weaver, a Detroit psychologist. “More people are reading about parenting in order to reduce their anxiety by seeking a ‘recipe’ to follow,” she says. “As more parents seek the information, the supply—via blogs and posts—has boomed.”

Still other experts believe the “proud parent” behavior is tied to evolution. “In many ways, we're biologically wired to promote our children, and the Internet and social media provides a convenient and effective way to do this,” explains Nathan Gehlert, a Washington, DC-based psychotherapist. “Parents really [want] to do anything in their power to promote the well-being of their children.”

Advocating for Their Children

A mother who advocated for her child via the most public of forums believes that parents who share are motivated by three basic ideals. “We all want to feel as if we are a part of something, as if we are loved and understood, as if we are doing the right thing,” says Sarah Manley, who gained worldwide celebrity after posting “My son is gay” in response to nosy mothers at her son’s preschool who questioned his desire to dress up as Daphne from Scooby Doo for Halloween.

After her post went viral, Manley was both praised and vilified for sparking discussion about gender, bullying and acceptance. However, she says the response was “overwhelmingly positive.”

Seeking Support from Other Parents

“Charlotte” (real name withheld), a photographer and writer in Washington, DC, found comfort in blogging about her daughter’s recent bipolar diagnosis. “I am not generally a ‘mom blogger,’ but [in this case] I told all, hoping it would help other parents,” she says, explaining that she was compelled to share the personal and painful experience in a post on her work-related blog because “others out there may be battling the same issues and not realize they may need to get their child help, rather than constantly questioning if they're just horrible, ineffective parents.”

Today, Charlotte says she doesn’t regret it, since the post was therapeutic and helped her create an additional support system. But she does sometimes worry about her daughter’s privacy. “I only have concerns that as my daughter gets older, teachers, future employers, or others don't put two and two together and figure out it's her,” she says.

Is Too Much Sharing Dangerous?

Many bloggers admit that parents who blog or post their children’s pictures online walk a fine line between sharing the news of Junior’s latest accomplishment and encroaching upon his privacy and safety.

Heather Mann, a mother from Portland, OR, and founder of DollarStoreCrafts.com, tries to limit stories about her children on her blog. “As parents, we're the custodians of our children's personal privacy until they are old enough to take over,” she says. “Just because I am interested in sharing personal details of my life online doesn't mean my child will be.”

Tracy Gibb, a mom from East Haddam, CT, who blogs at Lessthanperfectparents.com, notes, “I think the mom blogging community is so friendly and supportive that it's easy to forget that people with less than innocent motives could be looking at your blog and getting information on your child.”

But in some situations, a lack of privacy can be a good thing, says Nichole Santoro, a mother in Elmhurst, IL. “Now that my husband and I are adopting a sibling for our son, we've accepted the fact that being open about our family is a necessity … in order to reach out to potential birth parents who may be considering adoption,” she explains.

5 Tips for Keeping Kids Safe

If you do choose to blog or post photos of your children online, remember to follow these guidelines:

  1. Take advantage of privacy settings. By using the privacy settings offered on Facebook or other social media sites, you decrease the chances that online predators can view photos you post for family and friends, says Vivian Shic, spokesperson for Trend Micro, an Internet security firm.
  2. Protect your child from identity theft. “A thief could piece together what might appear to be random bits of disparate information and use it to impersonate your child—opening bank accounts, taking out loans, even committing crimes—all in the child's name,” says Jacqueline Beauchere, a director with Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing Group.
  3. Don't give strangers an "in" with your child. Beauchere advises against posting other kinds of information that could put your child at risk. “This includes not only facts … but also photos and feelings,” she says. “An appearance of vulnerability—sadness, loneliness or anger—could invite unwanted contact from strangers.”
  4. Be judicious about the photos you post online. “Consider that cameras made after a certain year tag the photos with an identifier that tells you the location the photo was taken,” notes Shic.
  5. Choose hack-proof passwords. Elizabeth Stanula, spokesperson for Geek Squad Agents, warns not to use personal information like birthdays or children’s names in your passwords. Nor should you use complete words, she says: “One of the most basic hacker tactics is known as a ‘dictionary attack,’ where an automated program will attempt the words of the dictionary.”

When in doubt about how much to share about your children in blogs or on social media sites, remember that scaling back is safest. It might even score you points with your friends, says Marty Chester, a father from Minneapolis: “Facebook is one of my few grown-up zones, and I also suspect everyone isn't interested in my kids' latest bowel movements.”


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Bethany Hardy is a Washington, DC-based mom, writer and communications consultant.
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