According to the Child Rescue Coalition, the average parent will post more than 1,500 photos of their child before the child turns 5. And we completely understand why. After all, kids are irresistibly cute, especially (ahem) when they happen to be yours, right? The digital age allows us to keep far-flung family and friends apprised of our little ones' milestones — putting up with bath time, potty successes, first day at the beach — and eliminates having to print and mail photos to whiny grandparents. So, what's the harm in posting a few Instagram or Facebook photos of your toddler from time to time?
Well, as it turns out, there might just be more risk to our kids than we realize. As part of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, the Child Rescue Coalition — a nonprofit organization that enables law enforcement to hunt, arrest and prosecute child predators — has just launched a powerful campaign to educate parents about the very real risks of "sharenting," aka overexposing our kids on social media.
CRC is urging parents to reconsider their children's privacy online with the @KidsForPrivacy movement. The campaign will take more than 100 frequently used hashtags that overexpose children on Instagram (hashtags like #NakedKids, #KidsBathing and #PottyTraining) and replace them with photos of kids holding "Privacy Please" signs (over their faces, don't worry!). The CRC wants parents to know that hashtags like these can lead predators straight to naked or semi-naked photos of their kids.
Check out the CRC's sobering video about the dangers of too much kid-sharing online. The initiative is narrated poignantly by a child and tackles the issue of privacy from their point of view.
Though many parents see the occasional cute potty pic as harmless (and a definite like-getter), the sad fact is the internet has become a showcase for a ton of previously private family moments. Social media means users are garnering bigger audiences than they necessarily intended — making our kids' most personal moments extremely vulnerable to potential offenders.
Obviously, the decision to share or not to share family moments (and which moments to share) is highly personal choices for parents and not to be made lightly. The CRC is encouraging parents to consider more carefully what they're posting online, and then join the @KidsForPrivacy movement by making "Privacy Please" signs and posting them as part of a hashtag takeover on Instagram. The @KidsForPrivacy campaign will run through April 27.
This initiative isn't meant to shame anyone — only to teach and empower families. Carly Yoost, founder and CEO of Child Rescue Coalition, is well aware that the vast majority of parents mean absolutely zero harm in posting pics of their kids — which is why she hopes to educate the public about a disturbing, dangerous use of the internet that most families would far prefer not to think about.
"We know that this can be a sensitive issue for parents," Yoost told SheKnows. "Our campaign is not meant to shame or guilt parents into not sharing precious moments of their family. We are only trying to educate all parents to be mindful of what they post about their child."
Yoost said the sheer number of sexual predators online is staggering. "Unfortunately, many people do not know how prevalent sexual predators are in our community. At Child Rescue Coalition, we have tracked over 50 million computers in possession of illegal child abuse material," she says. "Our technology has led to the arrest of people we thought were safe: teachers, coaches, Boy Scout leaders and doctors just to name a few. Even if a parent has privacy settings turned on, it is still very possible someone they have trusted or are virtual friends could be interested in children sexually. When you share a picture of your child that may seem innocent to a normal person, unfortunately it might be viewed by a predator in a very different light."
“The potential harm in oversharing private moments far outweighs the benefits, as social media is now a digital playground for dangerous pedophiles to steal and turn innocent photos of children into exploitative content with irreversible and lasting damage,” said Yoost in an earlier statement. “The goal of this campaign is to raise awareness about the importance of protecting children and their privacy in the age of social media as we are finding that online predators are getting more aggressive in their pursuit of these images.”
@KidsForPrivacy is the CRC's educational hub on Instagram where parents can find out more about the risks that are inherent in sharing our kids' lives on social media and how to better protect our children's privacy online. And there's no disputing the CRC's expertise on this delicate topic. Over the last decade, the CRC has built the world’s most sophisticated technology to hunt predators online. And it's working too. In a statement released by CRC, the organization revealed that through its partnerships with law enforcement, its system has tracked 54 million offenders globally. The technology developed by CRC has also "aided in the arrest of more than 10,000 online predators and rescued over 2,300 abused children in the past four years," according to the organization.
CRC's Yoost also told SheKnows that she personally prefers Tinybeans, Qeepsake and Grom Social (for kids) for social media. "What I like about these apps is that nobody can view your profile or pictures unless they have been individually invited to view the pictures. Everything you share is private and not open to the public. These sites were specifically designed around the idea of sharing photos of your children."
Yoost continued, "However, our campaign is not trying to persuade parents to use one social media platform over another. We really just want all parents to 'think before you post' when it comes to images of their children. No matter what site you use, it is important to not overexpose nudity or personal details that could give away the location or identity of that child. It is also important to always check your privacy settings on any platform you share on."
So what do you think? Are you a locked-down privacy hound or an uncensored "sharent"? Regardless of where on the spectrum your social media habits fall, there are few things we can all agree to do: Check those social media privacy settings, change our passwords frequently (yes, we know, no fun), review our previous content and delete anything that might make our kids vulnerable. We know it's scary stuff, but it's our job as parents to make this world less scary — and safer — for our kids.
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