Should 'sharents' get their child's consent before posting pictures of them online?

Should parents be asking their children’s consent before posting pictures online? [Photo: Getty]

The subject of online security has been clocking up headlines of late, particularly concerning how much, and what, children and teenagers should be sharing online.

But what happens when it’s parents doing the sharing?

A quick scroll of most parents’ social media feeds will likely reveal countless snaps of their kids. First day of school, dressed up for World Book Day… or simply ‘because they look cute’. 

Recent research by McAfee found that a fifth (20%) of UK parents share at least one video or photo of their children on social media a day.

That results in approximately 1.3 billion images of children under the age of 16 floating around on social media every single year.

Obviously children can’t give their consent to mum and dad sharing videos and images of their childhood milestones online, but what happens when they grow up and they’re not so keen about that video of them taking their first poop on the potty being viewed the world over?

Just ask Gwyneth Paltrow‘s daughter Apple.

When Gwyneth posted a mother-daughter selfie with Apple on Instagram during the week, the 14-year-old was less than impressed.

“Mom we have discussed this,” she commented under the snap. “You may not post anything without my consent.”

“You can’t even see your face!” Paltrow fired back.

Although some of Gwyneth’s followers described Apple’s response as “disrespectful” and “entitled,” does she actually have a point?

Should parents be asking their children’s permission about posting videos and images online? It’s a topic that has people divided.

The rise of the ‘sharent’

A recent survey by McAfee found that 40% of parents do not believe their child has the right to consent to their image being shared online that’s despite over half (51%) feeling concerned about paedophiles accessing images.

It’s not that so-called ‘sharents’ don’t consider the future fallout, but over a quarter post images that could embarrass their child, thinking their child won’t care or will just get over it.

No doubt, Apple will get over her mum’s social media faux-pas, but should she have to? Is asking for consent so unreasonable?

Parenting coach Alexandra Kremer doesn’t think so. 

“Consent is hugely important in building trust in our relationships with our children as well as in order for them to learn to keep themselves safe,” she says.

“Whether it’s consent over posting photos or bodily autonomy, it’s very much the same. By asking and respecting you’re establishing a self confidence within the child and breeding respect and understanding, which they will then be more inclined to use towards others.”

Alexandra says the potential fall-out of not asking permission to post is worth consideration. 

“When it comes down to a parenting choice, the negatives of posting without consent can be an emotional wound to the child when they do discover their most intimate moments, a breakdown in trust and embarrassment.

“Asking for consent, while frustrating for a parent who just wants to share their pride over their children, serves the emotional well being of the child in the long run,” she adds.

“You are teaching them that they are in charge of their bodies, that they have a voice and are allowed to put personal boundaries down as well as keeping them safe online.”

Parenting expert Jane Evans believes that in posting the image of her daughter Gwyneth risks breaking the parent/child bond of trust because Apple specifically asked her mum not to share pictures.

Jane says a good guide for parents to follow when it comes to consent is if the child is too young to agree to “their picture being shared with everyone”, then don’t do it!

“Respect your child’s right to decide who sees them and what they see. They may resent you for it later in life as we are in such a image driven world these things really matter now, especially to young people,” she says.

“And never criticise their response if it is a clear ‘no’,” she adds. “Respect it rather than try to talk them round as this is a powerful message (which Gwyneth ignored), of how much they have a right to decide who sees and has access to their body, also that their feelings and opinion matter.”

Should children have a right to stop their parents posting images of them to social media? [Photo: Getty]

Teaching children about consent

According to Alexandra there’s another very important reason we should be asking for children’s consent before littering our feeds with fan pics.

“Very often we find that the qualities we struggle with when they are young, are exactly what we want to foster when they are older,” she explains.

“Consent is one way of ensuring that your child grows up able to say no to the situations they don’t feel comfortable in, able to have self confidence that many are missing today, and the trust in their relationship with you that they can come and talk to you about anything.”

But what if proud parents really don’t want to give up their online bragging rights?

“Parents need to consider the emotional and security risks of posting on our children’s behalf,” says John Fokker, Head of Cyber Investigations at McAfee.

“Posting images of our children online without their consent not only creates an unwarranted digital footprint for them, but also exposes our children to other online risks as the images can be used to gather personal information like birth dates, school or a child’s full name. This can paint a picture of who they are, which could have serious repercussions ranging from identity theft to cyberbullying or much worse.”

Though there’s no totally safe way to be a sharent, there are some precautions parents can take if they’re going to make like Gwyneth and pepper their feed with family pics.

Watch out for geo-tagging

“Many social networks will tag a user’s location when a photo is uploaded,” explains John Fokker. “Parents should ensure this feature is turned off to avoid disclosing their location. This is especially important when posting photos away from home.”

Lock down privacy settings

According to Fokker parents should only share photos and other social media posts with their intended audience. “Services like Facebook and Instagram have features that allow posts to be shared only with confirmed connections, but everything posted on a social network should be treated as if it’s public. Deleted never means disappeared forever,” he says.

Set ground rules with friends, family and children

Be clear with friends and family about guidelines when posting images, says Fokker. “These rules can help avoid awkward situations where a family member has shared photos without explicit permission. Don’t forget that these ground rules should also apply to protect the children in the images from embarrassment, anxiety or even cyberbullying.”