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With Facebook a fact of modern day life, where childhood memories are effectively shared amongst hundreds, and in some cases thousands of people, are children being put at risk?

Most of us who have used social media would have either published something and then deleted it or have untagged ourselves from an embarrassing picture at some point, but we are consenting adults and our mishaps online are ours to make. For children, that same safety net and choice is simply not there. 

Research from The Parent Zone shows the average parent will post almost 1,000 photos of their child before they turn five. With one fifth of the 2,000 parents who responded reporting they have never checked their privacy settings, it’s certainly an area for concern. 

How many of us know parents who have posted their child’s full name, date and time of birth whilst they were still in the delivery suite? Many also post pictures of their children, tag them and their friends. This kind of information could be used by a predator to lure a child, using the child’s name and the names of their relatives and friends to build trust and convince them that they are not really a stranger. Since it’s a footprint that’s left for many years to come, the threat is not always immediate either. 

Future impact

What happens in about 10-15 years time when that child makes that all important transition into adulthood? By that time, a significant amount of personal data and images of them could be easily accessible. 

There’s bullying to consider too. Will a picture or film of them having a melt-down come back to haunt them? It’s an interesting question, although not all images are problematic, as Professor Sonia Livingstone, says in The Guardian:

“I think we should start with the question of cost – if you post a picture of your child with the mark of the devil on their arm, or in a temper tantrum, perhaps that will have a future cost. It’s not all pictures, but certain pictures that are problematic”

Of course, it’s impossible to know what social media platforms will look like in the future, but by the time today’s toddlers are entering their teenage years, online algorithms would have changed significantly. Potentially, a profile could follow a child for the rest of their lives. 

Positives of using social media

Social media sites most certainly act as a crucial source of information for parents though. In a Facebook IQ survey analysing the Facebook and Instagram data from 8,300 parents, 70% said they feel more informed about parenting than their parents were. 

The reasons for this are clear; parents can obtain opinions on a purchase before they buy, share parenting tips, and for some, feel less isolated. This almost certainly suggests there’s unlikely to be a slowdown in the number of pictures shared.

Whatever the future holds though, it is highly likely that the ‘digital footprint’ of today’s children will look very different from our own. Ten years from now the majority of teenagers will have their baby photos on Facebook. Whether that’s a good thing will largely be dependent on the nature of the pictures, the relationship with their parents, and how much personal information is revealed. 

It’s an interesting point for discussion. Let us know your thoughts – we would like to know what you think...

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