Is sharing caring? What parents should consider about children's online privacy

A mother takes a selfie with her child dressed as the Hindu deity Krishna
A mother takes a selfie with her child dressed as the Hindu deity Krishna.
Manjunath Kiran | AFP/Getty Images

The holidays are on the way, which can mean a flood of family photos filling up your social media feeds: kids smiling, crying and mugging for the camera.

The internet makes it easy — maybe too easy — to share these moments without even thinking. No more dropping off film to be developed or mailing photos to grandma. Just upload and wait for the likes to roll in.

But as sharing everything becomes second nature, it can spark privacy concerns and other issues. What should savvy parents consider when it comes to their children's digital footprint?

Two experts on family and tech joined MPR News host Tom Weber to talk about parenting in the age of social media, and the new conundrum: to share or not to share?

Susan Walker, director of Parent and Family Education at the University of Minnesota, and Linnette Attai, founder of PlayWell LLC, offered practical tips for parents to consider when it comes to posting about their children.

Check the privacy settings on your phone

If you have location services turned on on your phone, it's likely that location details will be embedded in the photograph, Attai said. Posting the photo can mean posting the exact time and location it was taken.

Before posting, ask yourself: Would this embarrass me?

The issue of "to post or not to post" goes beyond privacy. Both Walker and Attai agree it's about respect.

"Intentionality begins with that sense of respect for the other person and being very thoughtful about what's going on in this scene and what's going on out there," Walker said.

And remember: What goes on the internet stays on the internet. You may never be able to delete it entirely. Those photos and status updates can follow your child for the rest of their digital lives. If you look at the photo and grimace at the thought of seeing it online, then consider that when making the decision to post it or not.

Also, Walker said, remember: A naked body is a naked body.

Whether it's a bath tub shot or the social media trend that has parents painting their kids' bottoms like pumpkins, posting an image of your child in their skivvies or naked online could have unintended consequences, Walker said.

Ask your child for permission

No matter how young they are, Attai said, asking children for permission before you post something is important. We talk to children about physical safety — why not digital safety?

"We need to start to figure out how we have those conversations about the online world as early and as often as we have them about the offline world," she said.

Still going to post it? Great! Double check your privacy settings and read the fine print

When you post something to Facebook or Instagram, do you know who can see it? Just friends? Friends of friends? The public at large? Can other people share it? Familiarize yourself with our settings.

Also, read the terms of agreement on your social media sites. They're not the easiest reading to get through, Attai said, but it's important to understand issues of ownership and privacy when you use different platforms.

Check in with all your child's caregivers

If you don't want Junior's class pictures online, make sure grandma and grandpa know that too.

"Families have rules, boundaries. Every family is different but it's for them to choose how to do things," Walker said.

Check in with your child's school, daycare and health care practitioner as well about how they store your child's information, and how they protect it from others who would misuse it.

Attai said it might be easy to feel like you don't have control over your information or your child's, but "you still have control, you just need to be thoughtful about it."