TORONTO (CTV Network) — When sharing photos and videos of children on social media, experts say it is important for parents to keep the best interests of their kids in mind so as not to overshare and protect their right to privacy, avoiding potential worst-case scenarios such as identity fraud in the future.

The practice is known as “sharenting” and happens when parents publicize sensitive content about their young children on internet platforms, often without consent as the kids may be too young to give it or understand the full scope of what they’re consenting to.

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According to a 2020 U.K. study, the average parent will post 1,500 pictures of their child online before the age of five. The study also noted that almost a third of parents surveyed said they had never thought to seek a child’s permission before posting with 55 per cent saying they weren’t concerned about repercussions.

While parents posts may seem harmless enough, studies estimate “sharenting” will play a role in two-thirds of identity fraud cases facing young people by 2030. Experts say parents also unintentionally put their children at risk of hacking, facial recognition tracking, pedophilia and other online threats to privacy and security when oversharing on social media.

Child development and parenting expert Caron Irwin told CTVNews.ca in telephone interview on Wednesday it is important for parents to use their “best judgement” when posting photos and videos of their kids online.

If the photos document early childhood developments, such as first steps or first words, and are only available to certain family members through one’s social media channels, she said that likely aligns with the best interest of the child.

However, if it’s a photo or video that the child may find embarrassing when they are older, or if the parent is sharing content “just to share,” she said that probably is not.

“I think that it’s important to make sure that what you’re sharing is positioning them in a good light and is something that if they were to look back on it, they would understand your intentions and have those same hopefully positive thoughts and feelings about it,” Irwin said.

She added that this is especially significant when it comes to sharing photos and videos of younger children who may not be asked about consent.

However, Irwin said parents should start talking to their children about consent in relation to online content early on. She said kids between the ages of three and six are able to grasp some of the basic parameters of social media.

Irwin suggests parents show their children what they want to post online first and ask them if they’re OK with it. She adds that it is important to “be transparent” and explain to the child the reasoning behind wanting to publicly share such content. Irwin said this is something she does with her own children before posting photos or videos of them on her social channels.

“Kids need to understand their role in it,” she said.

As kids enter school age and gain further media literacy, Irwin said it is important for parents to “model” how to properly use social media.

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“If we’re modelling appropriate use, as well as appropriate content that’s shared, how we share and getting consent to share things, I think that’s going to… help children make that a part of their best practices when they’re using social media,” she said.

Julie Romanowski, an early childhood consultant and parenting coach at Miss Behaviour, says parents should use “heavy discretion and caution” when sharing content of their children online.

Romanowski told CTVNews.ca in a telephone interview on Wednesday that the photos parents share will “100 per cent” affect children as they grow up.

“What happens in our childhood is going to be deeply impacting us and adults, good or bad, and what our parents choose — for themselves, for the family, for the children — will have a long lasting impact,” she said.

A 2019 internet safety study from Microsoft found that 42 per cent of 12,500 teenagers surveyed across 25 countries said they were troubled about how much their parents “sharented” online, with 11 per cent saying it was a “big problem” in their lives as they grow up.

Depending on what type of content parents post online of their children, Romanowski said it could have a negative impact on their future prospects, such as getting into university or landing a job. She said a photo or video the parent finds funny now, may not be funny to a potential employer 15 years later.

“There potentially could be pictures that paint a very different story to others, and a child isn’t in control of that,” she said.

While privacy settings can help limit who sees such content, Romanowski noted there are always ways around them, such as screen shots, and even when a person takes something down, she said that doesn’t mean the content is completely erased from the internet.

“Once it’s out there, it’s out there… so use your judgment and ease into it with caution,” she said.

Romanowski said parents are “ultimately responsible” for their children’s digital footprint – how large or small, or if any at all – until they are old enough to use social media for themselves.

“Most parents are proud of their children, that’s why they do post. But we have to keep in mind, what is this going to look like for the child when they’re older? In my experience, most parents don’t think that way,” she said.

“Whatever you’re posting… have the thought cross your mind: Will this be a positive or negative impact on my children and their future?”

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