Expert Advice

Aussie parents still sharing unsafe images of their children online despite knowing the risks

There's a disconnect between what we know, and what we do.

By Rebel Wylie

Social media has well and truly been established as a regular part of every life here in Australia. It's no longer new territory, so by now parents know that posting online comes with certain risks, particularly when the content of those posts involves our kids.

We're aware that we need to keep our children safe from online predators, stalkers and cyber bullies. But are we acting accordingly?

New research released on Wednesday from McAfee, the device-to-cloud cybersecurity company says no, we're certainly not.

While Australian parents appear to be aware of the risks associated with posting pictures of their kids on social media, they're doing it anyway.

The survey, which polled 1000 parents of children aged from one month to 16 years old, found 30 percent of Australian parents post a photo or video of their child at least once a week on their social media accounts, with 12 percent posting at least once a day.

This is despite most parents understanding the risks associated with sharing images of their children online.

Alex Merton-McCann, McAfee's Cybermum in Australia says we need to think hard about the choices we make online.

"As parents, we have educated ourselves about the risks of posting images of our children online, but for some reason we are choosing to ignore them. For many, the desire to show off our lives online is still more important. I strongly advise parents to consider what they are posting on social media and how it will impact their kids both now and in the long-term."

Many social networks will tag a user's location when a photo is uploaded.
Many social networks will tag a user's location when a photo is uploaded.

There is a definite disconnect. While most parents were aware that they should only be sharing on private networks, almost half of the parents surveyed admit that they have or would share a photo of their child in their school uniform despite the risk of giving away personally identifiable information, even knowing that private information doesn't always stay private.

What about consent?

Sure, it's great to document those milestones, but are parents worried about whether the kids want those photos up in the first place?

The survey found that less than 30 percent of parents are concerned that posting an image of their child online could lead to worry or anxiety for that child, and just over a quarter that their child might be embarrassed by images they have shared … but they post them anyway.

As kids gets older, that thinking begins to change. Parents in the survey indicated that parents should start asking their child for consent before posting images of them on social media at around 10 years of age.

So, what are the rules?

Even though it feels like social media has been around forever, we're all still learning how to navigate it safely and as such we should always proceed with caution.

Merton-McCann says it's worth thinking hard about how we use social media.

"Setting ground rules is important – don't be afraid to approach family and friends if they've posted pictures online of your children that you're uncomfortable with. It's more than reasonable for you to ask them to remove the photos if they are inappropriate or put their safety at risk," she says.

"With tweens and teens especially, it's always best to get their permission before posting pictures of them online. If they do say no, it's important to respect their decision, however cute the photo may be. Remember that everything you post about your child online will form part of their online reputation, so it's important to consider everything you're posting as it will have an impact on them later on.

"Once your kids are on social media themselves, encourage them to regularly check the images and posts they are being tagged in and remove any that may cause them embarrassment in the future, or give away any personal information."