Tanika Ray is active on Instagram for the community. She uses the platform to keep in touch with loved ones, and to connect with like-minded people. She also posts advice and relatable stories, always making an effort to share examples from her own life to humanize the "hardest job in the world" with the most demanding boss: single-parenting her daughter.
Ray's daughter doesn't feature in every picture or video she posts on Instagram, but she's a big part of Ray's life, and her feed reflects that. And while she's never gotten any direct backlash, there's a growing movement and community online that's criticizing parents' choice to post pictures of their children on social media, especially when those parents have large followings.
These criticisms hinge on a few key themes: that kids typically don't, or can't, consent to their photos being posted online. That predators may collect the images, or even use the information posted online to contact the kids. That kids might resent parents when they're older for over-sharing embarrassing or personal content with followers.
All valid concerns, but the conversations that take place about the issue online can feel more like a witch hunt than a constructive exchange of feedback. Take TikTok-famous Maia Knight, for instance. Knight has over 8 million followers, and went viral for posting about her life as a single mom to twin girls. Her twins featured heavily in her early content, but as her kids have gotten older, social media users have accused her of exploiting them for views and money, and putting them at risk of sexual predators. One Reddit thread, which has amassed almost 20,000 members within a year, is purely devoted to "discussing the TikTok mom Maia Knight: the good, the bad, the ugly."
At first, Knight seemed to mostly ignore the concerns. Then, she addressed them, assuring her followers she was aware of the risk. Finally, within the last month, Knight completely stopped showing her kids faces to protect their privacy — something she said she'd always planned to do as they got older. But rather than satisfying her critics, it opened the floodgates to other comments: that she should take down earlier content that does show her children; that she's blurring their faces for the wrong reasons; that she shouldn't be showing them at all, even with their faces blurred. Since taking her twins' faces offline, she's lost thousands of followers. (POPSUGAR reached out to Maia for comment, but as of press time had not heard back.)
The Years-Long Debate Over "Sharenting"
This isn't the first time sharenting — a mash-up of "overshare" and "parenting" — has come under fire. In the early 2000s, first-gen "mommy bloggers" racked up their own share of judgement when documenting motherhood and the raw reality of parenting. Heather Armstrong (@dooce), for example, who was once the crowned "queen of mommy bloggers" by the New York Times Magazine, was viciously criticized for how much of her children's lives she chose to post about online on the forums of sites such as GOMI (get off my internet).
As social media entered the scene, the conversations didn't stop. And now, with platforms like Instagram and TikTok giving rise to a greater number of micro-influencers, the debate over how much sharing is too much has reached a new fever pitch.
Research shows over three-quarters of parents post their children. But, of course, many of those parents are posting to private accounts with very few followers. While some argue that posting your kids online at all is dangerous, regardless of follower count and security settings, for the most part, the criticisms about sharenting are being levied against those with massive, public followings — the Maia Knights and Tanika Rays of the internet.
Is Posting About Your Kids Online Safe?
There are risks involved with showing your kids faces online. One of the biggest risks parents take by posting pictures of their children is over-sharing private information, which includes photos of places such as your home or school, names of friends, family, coaches, teachers, and birthdays, says Caroline Wong, the Chief Strategy Officer at cyber security company Cobalt.
"The more information attackers can find about you and your kids online, the more they can use it to social engineer you, your friends, your family, and members of your community," Wong explains. "If someone knows what your kids look like, what school they attend, your name, and the names of any other caregivers, it can escalate to be a dangerous situation." In other words, if you're freely posting personal details about your life, it's easier for someone to deceive, manipulate, or divulge (a.k.a social engineer) that information for fraud, phishing attacks, identity theft, and even stalking.
Even if you have a private account, Wong suggests erring on the side of caution — you never know who might repost without your knowledge, and it can be surprising what kind of info people can glean from seemingly innocuous pics.
"If a child wears a school uniform and parents take an annual first day of school picture in front of the house with the address number shown, people online instantly know what school they attend and your house number," notes Wong. "Although those kinds of pictures have sentimental value, they can result in unintended consequences if posted publicly online, and those details in the pictures can reveal more information than originally considered."
It might feel like you're being over the top, Wong acknowledges. "It's not always pleasant to be suspicious or paranoid about posting pictures online, but we need to be smart in today's digital age," she says. "It's important to take a moment to thoughtfully consider what details people could learn in a snapshot and use social media accounts wisely."
But it's worth remembering: most parents are doing their best, and the comments section isn't necessarily the best place to hash out your concerns over someone else's posting habits. If your close friend is posting their kids in a way that seems reckless, it may be appropriate to call them and gently raise your thoughts — they may not have thought of it, and will appreciate the information. But accusing an influencer you've never met of being a bad parent because of how they handle showing their family online is unproductive at best, and harmful at worst. Unless someone is posting clear evidence of abuse or neglect, it's best to focus on your own habits.
How Real Parents Handle Online Safety
"At some point, it'll become more of [my kids'] choice, but I just feel there is such a presence of online predators in general, that I don't need to make their job easier," says Jonathan Hampton, a father of two who does not post his children. "Bottom line is it's for their safety."
Some parents also refrain from posting due to privacy concerns and a lack of consent from the child. Stephanie O'Dea, author of How To Live Slowly, started mommy blogging in 2008 and quickly amassed a large following for her authentic and relatable parenting content. However, she always kept her three kids anonymous. "I never once used their names or photos, because the internet is forever and [my kids] need to live their own life and make their own name for themselves," she says. "I would never want my own kids or any of their friends to Google themselves and find something cringe-worthy that I posted when they were 3."
O'Dea has no regrets about keeping her children private, but she did receive some negative feedback. "I was getting emails from people not believing I had children and that I was making it all up," she explains. "But I never wanted to put [my kids'] information out there when they're either not old enough to consent or something could potentially embarrass them down the road."
Carrie Colbert, a mom-influencer with over 84k Instagram followers and the founder of Curate Capital, does post about her kids online. But she says she constantly reevaluates her social media presence to make sure she's putting the safety of her kids first.
"When it comes to social media, I think of it through the lens of what stories are my stories to tell, and I share my kids with a perspective of activities we do together, family trips and memories, and how I'm grateful for them," she says. "On the flip side, I never share anything that could be construed as embarrassing [to my children], super private or shaming, or really anything negative, because I try to post what is mine to tell."
Colbert wouldn't rule out her feelings about posting changing in the future — and notes she's already changed how she involves her kids in her social media channels. "There was one point where we were doing a photo shoot for a brand and I realised how it wasn't natural," she explains. "I was trying to direct [my daughter] and ask her to do something, and it just felt a little uncomfortable for me as a mother." As a result, Colbert no longer features her children in sponsored content and has moved away from using her platform as a source of income.
Instead, she uses her account in the hopes of bettering her community. "My [Instagram] has become a place to reflect on things that I'm grateful for, things that are going well, and things that are bringing me happiness in the hope that maybe they'll bring others a bit of happiness, a smile, or a moment of joy in their day."
Ultimately, it's essential to educate yourself, especially about the risks of relatively new forms of technology. But you also can trust that you know what's best for your family and your child. If social media becomes a toxic place for you as a parent, or you feel your child is being negatively impacted, it's time to reevaluate your relationship to it.
How To Stay Safe While Sharing
The safest thing you could do is to not post online at all — you or your child. But that's not always realistic. Many people use social media as an easy way to stay in touch with far-flung family, for instance. If going totally off-line isn't possible, there are ways to find a balance. Follow these expert-backed best practices to minimize the risk to you and your kids.
1. Keep your accounts private.
If you have a private social media account where you approve all your followers, the risk of predators and identity theft is fairly low, Wong says. "As a general rule, I don't post recent photos of my kids in public on social media platforms like Twitter or LinkedIn, but I do enjoy sharing pictures and videos of them with close family and friends from a private social account." You're still not totally safe-guarded, but your risk is reduced.
2. Refrain from sharing your location.
Whether it's Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or TikTok, it's best to never tag your location, says Amy Alamar, EdD, an educator and parenting consultant at Peace At Home Parenting and the author of Parenting for the Genius: Developing Confidence in Your Parenting through Reflective Practice. "Sharing location names can be dangerous, so keeping private when possible is always a best practice," she says. But be aware that your location can be shared automatically, without you realising it. So turn off geotagging in your camera settings, stop location sharing on specific apps, and never tag your location when you post because it can be easy for someone to track you.
3. Avoid posting photos of other kids.
If you want to post a photo of your child with other kids, always ask the other parents' permission, says Joaniko Kohchi, the director of the Institute For Parenting at Adelphi University. In other words, make sure you consider the privacy of everyone in the photo. If a parent doesn't want their child on social media or doesn't give explicit permission, err on the side of caution, respect their privacy, and do not post. If you do get permission, refrain from using other children's full names and be mindful of who you are "tagging."
4. Think twice before posting embarrassing photos.
You might think your child throwing a tantrum or using the toilet for the first time is funny or cute but remember everything has a digital trail. Think if your child would be embarrassed that this snippet of their life is posted for anyone to see and comment.
One good litmus test: if you wouldn't want your child's friends to see the picture, it's better to not post at all. After all, you never know what other parents are showing their children. "Anything shared privately could be construed and taken out of context by somebody who can see it, so private things should be kept private," says Alamar. Before you post, think about the context of the photo, and ask yourself, "if this photo was of me, would I want it shared online?"
5. Keep bathing suit or underwear pictures private.
Once a photo is online, you essentially release control since it's relatively easy for others to save, screenshot, and alter, so it's best to keep any pictures of children in underwear or bathing suits private to reduce the risk of sexual predators, Kohchi says. Even if you immediately delete the photo, there is a chance someone has already seen it. "Remember that online is probably forever, and that privacy is limited when you post," she says. "People can share or do what they want with [your content] and we may or may not be aware."
6. Don't disclose private information or routines.
Just like you shouldn't share your exact location, you should also be mindful of what you're sharing in the posts, Kohchi says. Never post a photo of your child's school, teacher, or sports team. If it's the first day of school, take the picture at home or outside, instead of in front of the school sign. If they won their home football tournament, don't post the team's name and the field they play at. If you always go to the same park after school, don't share which park or disclose that this is a typical routine.
7. Ask permission.
If your child is old enough to understand social media, it's important to ask for their permission and/or consent before posting, says Alamar — it's something less than a quarter of parents do. "By talking to your kid and asking their permission to post, you're showing them respect, but even more so, you're modelling for them the idea that you think through what you put online." Talk with them about the risks and safety precautions, and explain who will see the pictures and what the caption will say. If the child understands who the picture is for and why you want to share it, they'll have the tools to decide.
"Have discussions with them about what you're posting and why you're posting it," suggests Stephanie Rosenfield, a parenting and life coach at Fresh Start Registry. "Ask them if they're okay with it to really get their opinion, and take their opinion seriously, because they're people and they have their own thoughts and ideas," she explains. Give them the opportunity to open the conversation and explain you're going to navigate it together. "You want to all feel comfortable within the family as to what's being shared online and have everyone in agreement with each other."