Digital Tattoos: Your Child May Already Have One


digital screen with hand touching the touchscreen

I haven’t put my child online yet. I don’t want my husband to post photos of him, or our relatives, no one.  I am ambivalent because I miss out in sharing his milestones with others and because I passively partake in others’ postings of their children. I love seeing former classmates and old friends post to their life stories with their kids’ happenings. It’s so fun to see and follow! I feel like I’m being a stick in the mud. My stubborn resoluteness comes from good intentions, perhaps overprotection, and personal experience with identity theft.

In 2013, I watched a few videos (done by Alessandro Acquisti and Digital Natives) that made me wonder if I was putting too much information online. One of their premises was that facial recognition software could predict the identities of just about anyone, find “compromising” pictures that show one’s freer/private side of life, and glean certain aspects of our identify from this information: full name, birthdate, and ultimately partial social security numbers, which could lead to identify theft.

A few months later, my identity was stolen. That was it for me. This person had my name, information to crack my security questions, and my social security number. I’m not sure how they hacked me, but I ended up abandoning most social media profiles, and those that I do have, I use sparingly today.

Fast forward to 2019:  Pertinent information about ourselves (and just about everything else under the sun) is stored in the cloud: medical records, DNA, financial information, identification numbers, our likes/dislikes. Moreover, our children’s birth dates, weight, and metrics are digitized and archived beginning in utero, even on social media in the form of black and white sonograms. Having all this information readily accessible makes it easier to connect and share with others. It also lends us an air of immortality. Our digital footprints (now commonly referred to as “tattoos”) are with us forever (unless things change regarding scrubbing information from the internet). Our digital identities, which span much of our adult life and are continually in the making, are just a Google search, (and for the most part) a click and password away.

And our children’s identities? According to a 2010 survey, many of us, unintentionally, have initiated their online presence, with more than 80% of them on social media, either through internet debuts, photos posted in order to get advice and support, or as a means of sharing with friends and family to maintain a sense of closeness despite geographical distance.  

Recently, there was an article in The Atlantic about kids discovering that aspects of their lives have been on display, without their knowledge or permission, as a result of Googling themselves. While some kids are fine with it, and even proud, others are uncomfortable, being that they were “out there” in this way. They were making an online impression of themselves, whether they wanted to or not.  

It makes me think of social influencers who market their children’s identity as a means of promoting goods online. For example, one of my colleague’s friends posts photos of her child with different name brand items on Instagram, tagging the company/items in her post. Soon, companies began sending her clothing, furniture, accessories, etc. All she had to do in return was post her child with said items, plus tag the business, on Instagram. While this is a way to make a living and save goo-gobs of money while making out with super-cool stuff, personally, it’s too much.

So how do I share my son’s milestones and happenings with family and friends? I text them photos and videos. What happens after I send those texts, however, is completely out of my control.  For example, my son is on his grandfather’s Facebook page, and my mom forwards photos to her friends. There is always the appeal of private groups to create and share with on Instagram or Facebook, but I am still hesitant to stick my toe in the water.  Maybe I’m being over dramatic, but I feel that protection and caution are needed.

I’m not saying not to share information, as there are many, many valid reasons to share, post, and communicate about our children online. It’s fun, validating, and above all, can serve as a much-needed pillar of support. My point is, be careful what you post online. In this day and age being anonymous is a luxury, as our personal information and online behaviors are digitized and at the hands of marketers, society, and hackers alike.  

So, to sum up, consider this before you post about yourself or your child online.

  • Be mindful of what you post and with whom you share
  • Remember, your child’s photos might end up anywhere, even if you are sharing in private groups.
  • Consider what you post about your children on social media. It’ll be there in perpetuity unless our laws change about what might be scrubbed from the internet.
  • Consider what your children are posting on social media. Teach them about their digital tattoo, and how to make it work for them.  
  • Don’t post your child’s personal information, like their birthdate and full name.
  • Check and recheck your privacy settings.
  • Check and recheck your child’s privacy settings on their accounts.
  • If kids are recording and posting videos of themselves on  Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and other apps, be aware. Teach them how to protect their privacy.

If you’d like more information on this topic, check out the following resources and articles:

The Perils of Sharenting

Common Sense Media:  Privacy and Internet Safety

Digital Tattoos and Why They Matter



  1. This is a great article and had several good things to think about. I do want to say that most of the time it isn’t social media that baf people are getting your info from. They may use it to check things out but most likely they have the info from somewhere else already.


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