Study Shows That Majority of Parents Restrict Who Can See Posts About Their Children

By Andrea Nelson
December 26, 2023
Family taking selfie together

The BrightCanary Breakdown series distills research about kids, the internet, and social media into essential takeaways.

A recent study by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital (C.S. Mott) surveyed parents of children ages 0-4 about how they use social media to discuss their children and share ideas related to parenting.

Many parents reported that social media is a useful parenting resource. However, the vast majority of parents (72%) also identified at least one aspect of social media sharing that worries them, including privacy issues. 

What strategies do parents use to mitigate the risks of posting about their kids on social media? And what can the rest of us learn from the results? 

Here’s what the study found. 

How was the study conducted?

In August 2023, C.S. Mott enlisted Ipsos Public Affairs, LLC (Ipsos) to conduct a nationally representative household survey. The survey was administered to a randomly selected group of parents with at least one child aged 0-18 living in their household. 

C.S. Mott then compiled a report based on responses from 614 parents with at least one child aged 0-4.

Limitations of the study

Because the study data was based on self-reporting, there’s a risk of response bias. It’s unclear from the report if any measures were taken to mitigate this risk. 

The results

The study found that a majority of parents (57%) use privacy settings to restrict who can see their posts. About 30% of respondents avoid posting photos or videos of their child altogether, while an additional 5% block out their child’s face. 

Other measures that parents report taking to address privacy concerns include only participating in closed groups (22%) and using their child’s initials instead of their name (5%). One-third (31%) of parents report not discussing their child at all on social media.

Why it matters

There are many compelling reasons for parents to limit social media sharing about their children. 

For one, the rapid rise of artificial intelligence brings with it the very real concern that images posted on social media can be used for nefarious purposes such as deepfakes. In addition, pictures of children may attract the attention of child predators

Another issue for parents to consider is their child’s autonomy. Posting pictures of children contributes to their digital footprint when they're still too young to make their own decisions about their online presence. 

Action items for parents

Here are some actions parents can take to address privacy concerns related to their child’s social media presence: 

  • Think before you post: Weight the benefits and the risks (both short- and long-term) before you discuss your child online or post pictures or videos of them. If you do post about your child, consider making your account private and using a Close Friends list. 
  • Ask permission: Consult your child before you post about them. The act of asking models the importance of carefully considering what you put online. It also demonstrates to them that you value their role in deciding how they’re portrayed online. Starting this simple act while your child is young will pay dividends when they’re old enough to have their own accounts. 
  • Discuss digital footprints: Talk to your child about their digital footprint and how what they do and say online can have a serious impact on their life, both now and in the future. Teach them to make smart, considered decisions about what they post. 
  • Explain deepfakes: Talk to your child about the risk of deepfakes and how to spot them. Emphasize the importance of being mindful of what they post and how limiting sharing to family and friends can reduce the risk of falling victim to deepfakes, scams, and predators. 
  • Make it private: In addition to examining your own privacy settings, teach your child to do the same. Show them how to make their accounts private and how to set up Close Friends lists. Talk to them about what kind of information is appropriate to share online and what’s better left off. Consider making private accounts a condition of allowing your child to have social media. 

The takeaway 

Research by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital reveals parents’ concerns over the privacy and safety of their children on social media. Parents can proactively address these concerns by teaching their children about the importance of carefully considering what they post and setting their own and their child’s accounts to private. 

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