Many parents worry about whether their children are using the internet safely. But some experts suggest that parents should think harder about their own online habits — especially when it comes to their children’s privacy.
“Media literacy is crucial, for kids and parents,” says Mary Alvord, PhD, a psychologist in Rockville, Maryland, and past president of APA Div. 46 (Society for Media Psychology and Technology).
More than 90 percent of children in the United States have a digital presence before their second birthday, according to a 2010 study by internet security firm AVG. Such posts run the gamut from birth announcements on Facebook to detailed descriptions of children’s behavior problems on parenting blogs.
While most posts are probably harmless, psychologists point out, others have the potential for harm. Posting personal details could put a child at risk of identity theft or make it possible such information could wind up in the hands of someone with unscrupulous motives, says Alvord.
Less clear, but still concerning, is how parental oversharing might interfere with a child’s sense of privacy and trust. “It can come back for kids to really be resentful of what their parents posted,” Alvord notes.
So far, there’s little research to suggest how a parent’s Facebook updates or Twitter posts might affect a child’s well-being, says Sarita Schoenebeck, PhD, an assistant professor in the School of Information at the University of Michigan. But her work suggests kids are wary of parental posting. She and her colleagues surveyed 10- to 17-year-olds and their families and found twice as many children as parents expressed concern about parents’ sharing personal information about them on social media (Association for Computing Machinery, 2016).
“Kids would like parents to ask permission more often than parents think they should,” Schoenebeck says.
In a follow-up study to be presented later this year at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Schoenebeck found kids were uncomfortable with parents sharing embarrassing stories or photos, personal information or details about friends and significant others. In general, children were less bothered when parents posted about children’s achievements, sports and hobbies and special occasions such as holiday or vacation photos. “Kids want more agency over what kind of content is shared,” she says.
With that in mind, clinicians can share some common-sense rules of thumb to help their clients think before they post.