Posting Your Kids on Social Media

If you’re on social media, chances are a baby picture or two has come across your newsfeed. You may even be seeing photos of some toddlers, tweens, and teens posted by parents, maybe even without the consent of their child.

But there aren’t really any specific rules or legislature about doing this. In 2014, Europe’s highest court ruled that internet providers must give users the “right to be forgotten,” where citizens can petition for information to be hidden from Google search results. In France, privacy laws enable children to sue their own parents for publishing intimate or private details of their lives without their consent. In the United States, however, children and young adults aren’t offered such protections. According to The Atlantic, this lack of protection means American children must “walk on eggshells.”

In the absence of these types of laws, the act of posting content about your children online is solely left to the discretion of the parent. So we asked 1,001 people in the U.S. – 700 parents and 301 nonparents – what they thought. We got into everything from how likely they were to post pictures of their own children to how harshly people judged certain online parenting behaviors. Read on to see what they had to share.

Digital Family Albums

According to our study, most parents post photos of their children online. Seventy-nine percent of parents included in the survey said they uploaded pictures of their children to a social media account at some point. Most often, this was a repeated behavior: 42.2% of parents said they posted pictures of their child at least a few times per month, while 21% did so more often than that.

Consent was also fairly rare, as only 34.2% of parents asked for it before posting a picture of their child. Moreover, 1 in 4 parents had been explicitly asked by their child not to post their photos online. Children may have been right to make this request, as 33.6% of parents neglected to keep their accounts private. This means that pictures of their children were available for consumption not only by friends and acquaintances but by the internet at large.

The most common safety precautions parents took were relatively minimal: only letting friends and family follow their accounts (75.9%) and making accounts private (66.4%). This is concerning for two reasons. First, many child abusers are described as having been “normal” or friendly with parents in the neighborhood, and could easily be on these friend lists. Second, Facebook and other social media accounts don’t operate with a simple private or public switch – there are levels to each setting and specific features that need to be accounted for to make your account as private as possible.

Child Social Media Presence

Many parents took posts for their children one gigantic step further. More than a quarter of parents created a new Facebook account for their child and ran it entirely for them. Nearly 22% of parents did the same thing on Instagram. Snapchat, Twitter, and TikTok were less common, but far from unheard of among the 553 parents we surveyed who reported posting their child’s photo on social media. In other words, an account with their child’s name, face, and personal details was created and shared with the world, perhaps, without the child having the desire or the ability to start an account like this on their own, depending on their age. Of all respondents, both parents and nonparents, 50.9% agreed that this behavior was simply wrong.

Asking for Permission vs. Forgiveness

Turning back to the topic of consent, it would appear that nonparents were more likely to find it unacceptable to post a picture of a child without explicit consent. Parents were nearly 4 percentage points more likely to feel OK with posting a child’s picture sans permission. That said, it may be easier for nonparents to judge or condemn a certain behavior that they themselves couldn’t have possibly yet committed.

Both parents and nonparents were in agreement as to which ages were most and least acceptable to post pictures without consent. Most agreed that it was acceptable to post pictures of infants, or children under age 1. Levels of acceptability continued to decline as the child got older. Perhaps having a child is such big news that people feel it is acceptable to share the news online while the child is still very young. Moreover, consent is a moot point in this age range.

Social Safety

Again, nonparents were quicker to judge when it came to whose safety was most at risk on social media: People without children were two times as likely as parents to believe that posting pictures of children online was extremely dangerous. All respondents found the behavior most risky when the child was aged 10 to 14. Generally speaking, children between ages 11 and 14 are starting to go through puberty and may distance themselves from their parents to start enjoying their friendships more. Both of these developmental milestones could put the child at a larger risk, which may be reflected in the opinions of our respondents. As one 39-year-old man echoed, “We don’t personally post pictures of our kids online to public social media accounts. [There are] too many strangers – we don’t feel comfortable having them look at our family.”

One respondent also took the time to explain how the use of a social network could be an opportunity for a lesson in media usage. As she articulated, “I feel it should be a family issue and discussed with kids at all ages. It could be an early lesson for children about social media and privacy.”

Parenting on Social

Ultimately, the data revealed parents generally feel unconcerned with posting their child’s face online. Many were doing so several times a month, often without consent, and deeming the behavior acceptable the majority of the time. Many ran full-blown accounts on behalf of their children, as well. Most respondents, however, were cognizant of the risks and took at least some safety precautions.

While respondents did share judgments about certain behaviors, Pango is here to help mitigate risks and enable children, parents, and families to enjoy a safer world online. With a world-class subscription service, we can help protect your security online so you and your child can go about your life with peace of mind.

Methodology

To collect the data shown above, we conducted a survey of 1,001 respondents. To qualify for this survey, respondents were required to either be Gen Xers, born between 1965 and 1980, or millennials, born between 1981 and 1997. Of the respondents, 641 were millennials and 360 were Gen Xers. Respondents were asked if they were parents. 700 respondents reported having children and 301 reported being childless. Of the 700 parents, 553 reported posting photos of their children on social media. The respondent pool was 54.4% female, 45.5% male, and less than 1% nonbinary.

Data were calculated to exclude outliers. We did this by finding initial averages and standard deviations for the data. Then, the standard deviation was multiplied by two and added to the initial average. Any data point above the calculated number was then excluded from the data.

Limitations

Because the survey relies on self-reporting, issues such as telescoping and exaggeration may have influenced responses. An attention-check question was included in the survey to help make sure respondents did not answer randomly.

Fair Use Statement

Do you know a parent who is having a tough time considering their own approach to social media in parenting? Please share this data with them, but be sure it is for noncommercial purposes and you link back to this page.