Sharenting – when is it okay?

Parents are often concerned about their children's online privacy, wondering whether they might share too much information, whether they know what they can share and with whom, and so on. At the same time, parents are also social media users themselves and share important or fun things, including pictures of their children, a phenomenon known as “sharenting”. 

2021-01-05 Belgian Safer Internet Centre
A mother and her daughter, looking at a smartphone

In itself, there is nothing wrong with sharing information and fun moments. But parents should always keep their child's privacy in mind. The right to privacy is a human right and therefore also an important child's right. Children also have the right to (co-)decide for themselves on what material is shared about them. Ask your child's permission to share a photo. You might think young children might lack the necessary judgement to decide, but you would be surprised at how quickly they express an opinion. Children aged 7-8 are already able to do this. The older they get, the stronger their opinions about it. Always listen to this and keep it in mind. 

Below, you will find a step-by-step plan to help you check whether or not it is okay to post a certain picture of your child.

Question 1 – Is everyone able to see that picture?

And by that we really mean everyone. Because yes, you can share a picture with your friends on Facebook, but those friends can download it, tag it, forward it, share it... So you can assume that more people thank you think see your picture. 

What is your answer? 

  • “Mmm, maybe better not share it then” > Keep the picture for yourself.
  • “No problem if everyone is allowed to see it” > Go to question 2.

Question 2 – Is it fun now? And will it still be fun later?

Maybe the picture is cute or funny now – otherwise you wouldn't want to share it. But look a bit further into the future. Whether it is an image or video of your toddler getting outbursts of anger or pronouncing words the wrong way, do you think your future teenager would like to see themselves portrayed in such ways? 

What is your answer? 

  • “Ok, this could be embarrassing later” > Keep the picture for yourself.
  • “This will still be okay in the future” > Go to question 3.

Question 3 – Is there nudity? 

Cute bare baby bottoms, little girls on the beach in a bikini: we usually think that a stripe of nudity is innocent when children are still young. Of course, it's no problem to show those pictures in a family context, but online, you’d better watch out for them. Professionals from the field of online safety sometimes see that such innocent images can be taken out of context and end up on websites where sexual abuse images of children are shared or where children are sexualised. So it’s not because you mean it innocently that it’s always interpreted innocently.

What is your answer? 

  • “Ow, there is a naked penis, vagina or baby bottoms on the picture” > Keep the picture for yourself.
  • “No problem, there’s no nudity to be seen” > Go to question 4.

Question 4 – Are your privacy settings okay?

All studies show that parents generally know little about privacy settings. However, they are essential to help you shield pictures and videos, especially those of children.

What is your answer? 

  • "What? I don’t know anything about privacy settings” > Either don’t post the picture, or do post it but change your privacy settings beforehand.
  • “Ok, I checked or changed my privacy settings” > Well done, go to question 5. 

Question 5 – Are there other people on the picture? 

Maybe there were other children in the pool, the playground or at the birthday party, so there is a real chance that they will also be in the picture. Are other children recognisable? If yes, according to Belgian law, you first have to ask the parents for permission to take the picture, share it with others and tag it.

What is your answer? 

  • “Pfff, I don’t have any contact details of other parents” > We understand, but then don’t post the picture.
  • “My child is the only one showing on the picture” or “I checked with the other parents, they’re okay with it" > Almost there, go to question 6.

Question 6 – Did you ask your child’s permission?

Why, am I not the one deciding what I post on my page? In theory you do (if that's within the limits of what's decent), and as long as your child can barely speak, asking permission makes no sense. But if you don't want your child to lose their privacy later on the internet, don't do it yourself. By asking permission right now from the moment your child knows what social media are and what you're doing on it, you're introducing it as a normal course of action. 

What is your answer? 

  • "No, because my child is a couple of months old” > Then you can indeed not ask permission. Have you gone over all the previous questions? Then press the post button and enjoy the likes and nice comments!
  • “Yes, and my child doesn’t want to, too bad” > It’s too bad indeed, but don’t post the picture out of respect for their privacy.
  • “Yes, and my child said I can post it” > Alright, then press the post button and enjoy the likes and nice comments!

Find out more about the work of the Belgian Safer Internet Centre, including their awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services – or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.

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