John Cowan - Should You Share Your Children?

Publish Date
Friday, 10 June 2016, 12:03PM
By John Cowan

As an inveterate show-off, I love social media. I Tweet, I Instagram, and I am an embarrassingly profligate Facebooker. But if I was a parent with young children, I would pause a little before posting pictures on social media. Posting is as permanent as a tattoo and whatever you post about your children will be available to the world for the whole of their lives.

It is now normal for every moment of a child’s life to be logged on social media from birth. According to internet security company AVG, a quarter of all children in the western world debut on Facebook when a parent up-loads their pre-birth scans. In 2010 (and 2010 is a long time ago on the internet) 81% of two-year-olds had a digital footprint. In 2015, the online safety site The Parent Zone claimed British parents posted on average 973 photos before their children turn five.

Does that matter? The big worry is that somehow paedophiles would get to our children but, in actual fact, that probably is not a realistic worry. According to Stephen Balkam of the Family Online Safety Institute, “Research shows that there is virtually no risk of paedophiles coming to get kids because they found them online”. There are predators, but their prey is usually young teenagers that will respond through their own social media, not via their parents’ activities.

The real risk is to our children’s privacy – something that will become vanishingly small and increasingly precious as they get further into this digital century.  I don’t know you or your children but, if I wanted to, I could find out a staggering amount just by doing some digging on the internet.  Each week I research a different person for a radio show interview; my guests are frequently amazed at the details I have been able to dredge up, even with my minimal skills and by delving into legitimate sources. How many of your child’s future security questions (first pet, mother’s maiden name etc.) are already available? And what personal information could cyber-criminals obtain?

Young people might be ahead of us in this area. 76% of teenagers are concerned about their online footprint and may resent the fact that we put up embarrassing pictures of them before they could give consent. 

My advice: use Instagram. You can share just as easily as Facebook, but only to the specific people you want like friends and family. Facebook’s privacy is too complicated and changing to guarantee that.  And the Family Online Safety Institute ( has some very sensible tips:

  • Is it a respectful picture?
  • Are there other people in the picture?  
  • Did you ask their permission to post their picture?
  • Is there anything over-exposed in this picture that you may regret later?
  • If you are tagging people, did you ask their permission?
  • Do you have your location turned off?
  • Limit who sees your children.

I have been a speaker on family matters for 20 years but I do not tell embarrassing stories about my kids or show pictures of them, apart from ones they themselves have approved. (People sometimes tease my kids, “I’ve heard all about you at your father’s talks!” but they know: I do not talk about them). One day our children will get to decide how much of their life they display on social media and, of course, we hope they are wise. Until then, we are custodians of their permanent, online privacy.  Let us be cautious and wise.

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