Why It’s Important to Be Cautious When Posting About Kids Online

mother and son taking a selfie together

Sviatlana Yankouskaya / EyeEm / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Sharing content and photos of kids in your life can have negative implications for your relationship with them and their mental health.
  • Understanding how to practice good digital citizenship can help make posting more comfortable.
  • Asking children for permission before posting can build trust.

Posting on social media can be fun, cathartic, or just a way to pass the time.

However, if you’re a parent, caretaker or someone who kids in your life look up to, your posts may affect them more than you think, and may even impact their mental health.

“Teens/children may feel embarrassed to see a post online that they did not expect to see from an adult they look up to or admire or even a post that is poorly or thoughtlessly constructed. This is especially the case if the teen/child is aware that their peers or others might see that post as
well,” says Don Grant, PhD, media psychologist and director of outpatient services at Newport Healthcare.

Posting thoughts, comments and photos online that make a child or teen feel uncomfortable could affect the trust you share, as well.

“Once trust is diminished, it can be difficult to rebuild,” says Grant.

Understand What “Sharenting” Means

While sharing posts about your own life can embarrass a child, sharing posts about the child can have negative implications, too.

Harvard University professor Leah Plunkett, JD, coined the term “sharenting,” which refers to the oversharing of children’s information in which parents, grandparents, educators, and other trusted adults engage in digital activities with private information about the children in their homes or otherwise in their care.

Don Grant, PhD

Teens/children may feel embarrassed to see a post online that they did not expect to see from an adult they look up to or admire or even a post that is poorly or thoughtlessly constructed.

— Don Grant, PhD

Deborah Serani, PsyD, psychologist and professor at Adelphi University, says the kinds of material adults share can frame a child's digital identity even before they can speak or share things for themselves.

“Other studies have shown that ‘sharented’ data on the internet has the potential to compromise how others view your child’s character. That it can negatively influence employment and college
decisions,” says Serani.

Oversharing, whether in the digital or real world, can have profound effects on children, she adds.

“First and foremost, it can interfere with child development because it undermines the unique development of self-identity and autonomy. Oversharing information that should remain private, or that is revealing or embarrassing for a child risks bullying by others, and damages the child-parent bond,” says Serani.

What to Ask Yourself Before Posting

Grant recommends asking yourself the following before you engage in any online communication, especially on social media platforms.

  • What affect/effect might your post have?
  • Did you edit your post?
  • What is your real motive/goal/need for posting, sharing, “likeing,” and/or “friending?”
  • Is this post kind?
  • Could this post possibly offend anyone?
  • How prepared am I for any backlash associated with this post?
  • What could be the consequences of this post for children in my life? 

“My experience has supported that resisting an impulsive action either to post or respond to the post of another, and reflecting upon those…questions before doing so, can help avoid any potential ‘Digital Walk of Shame’ as the result of a negative post response to your own,” says Grant.

Serani agrees, adding that when you become mindful about your motives for sharing pictures, stories or moments, you gain deeper insight into what your need to post online means.

“People generally aren’t posting so others simply see or know things about their children. It’s usually more complex. Generally, we are looking for a social reaction from others,” she says.

Deborah Serani, PsyD

People generally aren’t posting so others simply see or know things about their children. It’s usually more complex. Generally, we are looking for a social reaction from others.

— Deborah Serani, PsyD

The questions she suggests asking yourself before posting include: 

  • What personal gains might I get from sharing this?
  • Am I feeling insecure as a parent and need approval?
  • Why is it so important that I post my child’s kindergarten graduation? Why isn’t it something I want to keep private?

How to Practice Good Digital Citizenship

Grant says that “good digital citizenship” means practicing the same behaviors through your online engagement as you would in person.

“Take the time to carefully reflect upon how your online engagement might be perceived by others before posting. It’s important to remember who will be seeing the post and how it might impact your teen, family or even any organization with whom you or they claim affiliation,” he says.

He adds that even if a viewer does not respond to your post through liking, sharing, responding, or offering reaction symbols, this doesn’t mean they didn’t see it.

“Posting is permanent and once something is shared with the ‘digiverse,’ it is out there to an unlimited audience pool, even if you are not connected to them directly on a platform. Thus, be mindful that your post may receive a judgement about which you never are aware, before sharing any content,” says Grant.

Even if you delete a post, it’s possible it was screenshot by a viewer and even with privacy settings and filters, there’s no guaranteed that your posts won’t be accessed by the public. Because of this, Grant suggests thinking about if you want the post to part of your “digital autobiography.”

He recommends the following to help you achieve good digital citizenship.

  • Treating others on online platforms with respect
  • Keeping private information to yourself 
  • Being mindful of what you post and how it could affect others
  • Practicing overall healthy device management (knowing when to unplug, etc.) 

Serani also suggests considering the following:

  • Creating boundaries for sharing family information and photos
  • Making acceptable times for being online
  • Setting up your phone and social media to healthy privacy limits
  • Turning off notifications and being present
  • Learning to question authenticity in posts
  • Recognizing cyberbullying
  • Being mindful about your digital footprint and how it will follow you
  • Leading by example

Ask Kids for Permission to Post

Keep in mind that if you post content or images referencing or showcasing a child in your life without them knowing it, they may feel like their privacy has been invaded. For this reason, Serani says ask them for permission to post.

“It makes a child feel respected and deepens the trust between child and parent. Communication about what kinds of stories, moments and experiences can be shared helps to set healthy boundaries regarding social media. But bear in mind that younger children may not have the assertive comfort to say ‘no’ to their parents the way that adolescents and young adults do,” she says.

If posting content about a kid that isn’t your child, get permission before posting any content containing them.

“Remember that other parents may have very different viewpoints than yours about their child being digitally imprinted, and to not at least advise them of your plan to include their child in your post could generate an awkward conversation at best,” says Grant.

What This Means For You

While sharing content and photos of kids in your life online can be fun, doing so may make them uncomfortable. Thinking about your intentions and asking for permission before posting can build trust.

By Cathy Cassata
Cathy Cassata is a freelance writer who specializes in stories around health, mental health, medical news, and inspirational people.