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Whose Life Is It, Anyway?

Congratulations on the new baby! Would you like some tips for getting along with your eventual teenager? What you do as the parent of a newborn will determine the relationship you have with the adolescent version of that bundle of joy.
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Congratulations on the new baby! Would you like some tips for getting along with your eventual teenager? What you do as the parent of a newborn will determine the relationship you have with the adolescent version of that bundle of joy.

Before sharing those online baby books -- on Instagram or Facebook, for example -- consider this. How would you feel if your parents were in charge of your online presence and you had no say in the matter?

I doubt you'd be in favor of it. So while it appears everyone is doing it, everyone isn't. "With good reason," says the ePolicy Institute's Nancy Flynn, who's been helping people navigate the web version of the Wild West for most of her career. Here's what she had to say on a recent edition of Doing What Works...

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The average parent will post almost a thousand photos of a child before that child turns five. Eighty-one percent of the world's children have an online presence on social media before they turn two. Ninety-two percent of children in the United States have a presence on social media before age two.

There's a disconnect between what many parents feel is their right to share versus what children -- as they get older -- view as their right to privacy. A University of Michigan survey found that 74% of parents have doubts about posting baby photos and they do it anyway.

Many families are starting to have rules about this. Everyone sits down together and decides what's appropriate. Everyone agrees that no one posts anything until everyone's okay with it. But really young children can't give their permission.

That bathtub photo might be adorable, but it's dangerous to post. What's cute to a parent or an aunt might be labeled child porn by someone else.

A University of Washington study showed kids don't want their parents posting anything about them without their permission. Three times more children than their parents wish they had family rules governing what can be posted. Children know that the photo or video their mom or dad posted might come back to haunt them someday.

The University of Michigan and the University of Washington partnered up on a survey showing that between the ages of ten and seventeen, kids are very concerned about the way their parents share information. Oddly, their parents are less concerned.

Europe is much more protective of individual privacy online than we are in the US. France, for example, has passed a law that makes it possible for kids to sue their parents for a breach of privacy if their parents have posted images of them on Facebook. If the parent is found liable in court, the parent could be looking at a year in prison and a fine of $70,000.

The information being harvested about you never ends. It's easy for someone to pinpoint your location these days. If you've shared your child's name and photos and likes and dislikes? It would take someone approximately 30 minutes to find that child.

Nothing disappears. People think Snapchat content disappears. It doesn't.

Let's say you post something and you imagine having people like it. But you've been online. You know what happens. The comments can be mean: "You're fat. You're ugly. Your hair looks awful." Why serve up your child to strangers?

Are you exploiting your children for likes on Facebook or shares on Instagram? Do you take issue with it being described that way? What about the stress involved in getting that perfect video to shoot? Did you miss the recital because you put a screen between your face and the child up on stage? Children complain about that. They say, "My parents aren't here to watch the game. They're here to shoot the video."

The sharing parents do online may be therapeutic for them, but it may drive their kids into real therapy later if they feel as if their privacy was violated.

A child is not a prop. But if the adults in your life have always used you as one, is it really such a stretch to think sexting will occur to you as a teenager?

Anything you share online -- including eMail and text messages -- is the electronic equivalent of DNA evidence. It's always out there. It can always be retrieved. It can embarrass you. It can trigger lawsuits and inspire suicides. I'm not kidding. This is serious.

If the worst that happens is a child who's embarrassed, are you okay with that? Being a teenager is difficult enough. Parenting that teenager is difficult enough. Why create problems?

If you insist on sharing your children's lives online, I hope you'll consider these safety tips...

Don't post photos of your child in the tub, on the potty chair, partially or totally undressed. There are people who look online for those things, who do not -- to say the least -- have your child's interests at heart.

Don't post photos of your child if that child is sick or injured or hospitalized. It becomes part of an online digital footprint that can create problems if your child plays sports and gets a question from a recruiting coach she wasn't expecting and doesn't know how to answer.

Watch out for group photos. Your child might be okay with a photo being online but the other children or their parents might not be. School officials still need written permission from a parent to allow the newspaper to publish a photograph of a child. You should extend the same courtesy.

Take advantage of those privacy settings on Facebook and other sites. It doesn't guarantee the information won't get into the wrong hands, but it'll help. And keep checking your settings. Nearly one-fifth of parents who post don't bother with them!

Protect your child from identity theft. All an identity thief needs is a name, a date of birth, an address, a social security number -- and maybe not even all of those. So be careful. Sharing random bits of information -- a name in one post, a birthday in another -- is a bad move.

Make sure you're using secure passwords. Don't use your child's name or date of birth. Everything you reveal online creates more of a trail for someone who might one day use it against your child. Employers, even. Employers search social media to learn about job candidates. We know that. As a parent, do you want to have provided anything that will be used to screen them out? And if you're looking for work, do you want potential employers to see how careless you've been with the privacy of your children? What does that say about you?

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Nancy Flynn is the founder of The ePolicy Institute™, which is dedicated to helping employers limit electronic risks, including litigation and regulatory violations, through policy, training, and compliance management programs. Nancy Flynn is the author of 13 books published in six languages. Her titles include The Social Media Handbook, The ePolicy Toolkit, and Writing Effective E-Mail. A professional trainer with clients worldwide, she also serves as an expert witness in internet-related litigation.

You can follow Nancy Flynn on Twitter @ePolicyInstitut.