SAN FRANCISCO — While posts regarding their children constitute a significant portion of many parents’ online identities, research presented at the 2016 AAP National Conference and Exhibition warns that this behavior could have unanticipated risks to children.
“Parents often consider how to best protect children while the child is using the internet,” Bahareh Keith, DO, MHSc, FAAP, professor of pediatrics at the University of Florida College of Medicine, said in the press release. “However, parents – including myself, initially – don’t always consider how their own use of social media may affect their children’s well-being.”
Prior studies have determined that 92% of U.S. children aged less than 2 years have an established online presence, and approximately one-third of children make their social media debut within their first 24 hours of life.
To examine whether children have a legal or moral right to control their own ‘digital footprint’, Keith and Stacey Steinberg, JD, from the University of Florida Levin College of Law, reviewed the legal precedent of this issue as well as potential legal solutions.
After studying current privacy laws, the researchers found that many did not provide substantial prohibition or remedial measures for children requiring privacy protection from parental disclosures on social media.
“We need to encourage responsible and thoughtful sharing and address a dearth of discussion on the topic that leaves even the most well-meaning parents with few resources to thoroughly appreciate the issue before pressing ‘share’ on their digital devices,” Steinberg said in the release.
The researchers encouraged pediatricians to help outline a legal framework based on the best interest of the children, which protects the child’s right to privacy while acknowledging the parent’s right to expression.
Based on their review, Keith and Steinberg recommended public health-based, best-practice guidelines to educate parents, teachers, pediatricians, policy makers and the media. These guidelines are expected to help parents to:
- Understand the privacy policies of the sites they use;
- Post anonymously when relating children’s behavioral struggles;
- Set up notifications to warn them when their child’s name shows up in a Google search result;
- Use caution before sharing their child’s location;
- Allow their child to “veto” any online disclosures they are uncomfortable with;
- Not post pictures of their children in any state of undress; and
- Consider the effect sharing can have on their child’s well-being.
These guidelines are advised because, as Steinberg cautions, information shared on social media can continue being shared without the parents’ knowledge, and can ultimately endanger their child’s safety or damage their child’s future digital identity.
“More likely, the child might one day want to have some privacy and control over his or her digital identity,” Steinberg said in the release, noting that millennials, the first generation who grew up with social media, are now entering adulthood and the job market. “Untangling the parent’s right to share his or her own story and the child's right to enter adulthood free to create his or her own digital footprint is a daunting task.”
Additionally, the researchers proposed that pediatricians advocate for increased awareness among parents to protect a child’s online identity and encourage responsible sharing in today’s common, but morally risky, parental sharing practices.
“The amount of information placed in the digital universe about our children in just a few short years is staggering,” Keith states in the release. “When we share on social media, we must all consider how our online actions affects our children’s well-being, both today and long into the future.” –by Savannah Demko
Keith B, et al. Abstract 319978. Presented at: AAP National Conference and Exhibition; Oct. 21-25, 2016; San Francisco.
Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures