Like it or not, social media is a part of life these days. And it’s a great way to communicate with those near and far. Most people I know have accounts on at least one—if not multiple—sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. As adults, we make our own decisions as to how we present ourselves on social media . . . some wise, some foolish (see: embarrassing photos from college). As parents, we are responsible for how our children are presented on social media until they are old enough to make those decisions for themselves. That tipping point is unique to every family. As a mama to a one year old, I’m not qualified to discuss that yet. But what I can speak to is my family’s decisions on this subject.
Our baby books and photo albums used to live in a shelf in the living room; now they live online. As parents, we should be sensitive to that. There are many things to consider here—safety, privacy, independence, and respect. I think the aspects of independence and respect of the child are often lacking from these discussions. This recent NPR article is fascinating and thought-provoking for sure.
I don’t know what the internet and social media will look like when my son is older, but he is as much his own person NOW as he will be as a middle school student, teenager, or college graduate looking for a job. Because of that, my one year old deserves my respect online.
It may sound a little ridiculous. But within reason, I want to do what I can now so he isn’t embarrassed as a high school freshman because of something I posted. At the same time, I want to keep his little, cute, chubby baby self safe NOW as well.
I initially started thinking about all this because of my blog. It is not popular enough that I am really worried about stranger danger or kidnapping or anything that extreme . . . but my friends and I have had more than a few random encounters with people who read my blog that I do know that it has a following. And let me just say—it’s weird to meet a stranger in a cookbook signing line who knows what you had for dinner the night before because they follow you on Instagram. #truestory
Ultimately, the limits you set to keep your family safe on social media are up to you. These limits can be very personal and can vary based on social media platform, so do what works for your family. Here is what my husband and I chose to do.
Names, Places, and Content
So many things to consider! They’re brief, I promise.
The Instagram name hashtags are adorable, and I’d LOVE to share my son’s name with everyone. It’s the best! But I refrain. I want to keep my son’s name out of strangers’ mouths. As he grows, I’ll teach him not to talk to strangers but this is a great start. I also don’t want it to be searchable from public social media or my blog (see: embarrassed high schooler above). So instead of a cute name hashtag, we use #BabyVolde. (Volde=Voldemort. My husband chose, and he has a thing for villains.)
Check-ins. Oh, check-ins. They’re fun and are a great way to engage with brands, local businesses, etc. But they can be creepy too. I don’t want to let strangers know where I am WHEN I’m there—especially now that my son is getting more mobile. I know I said I wasn’t super worried about kidnapping or stranger danger, but things can (and do) happen in just seconds.
Have you ever posted a photo on Instagram, complete with hashtags and a check-in and gotten six likes almost immediately? Fun, right? Yup.
But what if you are at a coffee shop, unintentionally twinning with your kiddos, and take and share a quick selfie on Instagram? If you add the coffee shop hashtag, a Nashville hashtag or three, and check-in… Then what happens? Maybe people in the coffee shop notice. Maybe they don’t. I, personally, don’t want to find out if a creeper does notice.
Anyway… Check-ins are not all bad, of course. But I do not do them all the time. I usually check-in to places after I’m already home and try to not check-in to places multiple times. This can give someone insight into your daily routine in a not-so-good way. Also, be careful of check-ins when you’re on vacation. You don’t want to advertise your empty house to the world!
Content could also be bodies, faces, shirts, and much more. This category is very open and can evolve based on the ages of your kids. For now, we’ve chosen to not post naked or diaper photos of our son. Do we have those photos? Sure! But posting them—even in a “safe” area—is a no-go for us. You don’t know who could save those photos or for what purposes.
I know some families who choose to not show their kids’ faces on social media, only posting photos from the side/behind, or blurring/covering faces. This is especially true with adoption or foster care situations but not exclusively.
In the future, I can see myself wanting to be careful about posting photos where my son is wearing a school shirt, a sports uniform, or any other easy-to-identify local gear. Paranoid, much? Well, maybe. But it’s scary how much you can find out on the internet with just a tiny bit of information. Google is a powerful tool!
Check Privacy Settings
Once you have some guidelines for what you will post online, be sure to address your privacy settings on your social media accounts themselves. These suggestions are for Facebook and Instagram (since that’s what I use), but they could be applied elsewhere.
For the most part, Facebook can be pretty private with the right settings. Things to watch out for include:
- Cover photos and any description/comments (always public; though past ones can be made private)
- Current profile pictures and any description/comments (always public; though past ones can be made private)
- Mobile uploads and any description/comments (sometimes default to public so check on that)
- Friends list: consider weeding this every so often to remove people you don’t really know or haven’t connected with in a long time (i.e. a high school acquaintance). Some may argue that having those sort of Facebook friends is the whole point of the site—and to an extent, it is. However, your account is only as secure as your friends’ accounts are. And if you’re “friends” with 943 of your closest pals from all stages of life like I am… Well, there may be a few odd ducks there. If you don’t know who is at the other end of that account, consider unfriending or setting up lists so you can control who sees what.
- Facebook groups: be it a moms group, buy/sell/trade, or support group, be aware of privacy settings! Many groups are closed, meaning only members see what you post. But there usually isn’t a strict vetting procedure for joining groups so be aware of what you are posting there.
Every so often, I like to check my privacy settings on Facebook by using the “view as” feature on a regular computer. If I go to my profile from a computer, I can click on the three dots found in the bottom right corner of my cover photo. There, you can “view as” the public or a specific person. You can also view some privacy information from your phone/tablet by going to your profile and then clicking “more” (located on the right line of the row under your name). View complete privacy details on Facebook here.
By default, anything you post on Instagram is public. You can make your account private, but many people do not. Private accounts cannot be used for the plethora of Instagram giveaways and do not allow for the full use of hashtags, check-ins, etc. I have personally chosen to keep a public Instagram account because of the benefits to my blog and the reality that I do not have time to manage both a blog and personal Instagram account. What I have done is be diligent about names, places, and content shared on Instagram (see above).
For more on Instagram privacy, click here.
If sharing photos on social media sites makes you feel uncomfortable, then by all means, don’t do it! Anytime we post a photo on social media, it is a risk. Fortunately, there are lots of photo sharing sites and apps that you can set up so you can control who sees photos of your kids. Communicate with your family and friends so they know your wishes for your family’s privacy.
What do you do to keep your family safe on social media?
I hope this post has inspired you to consider practicing safe social media. Even in writing this out, I’ve considered more areas I want to change in my own social media practices!