WHITNEY: Share less than you want to keep kids safe
He held up a little chalkboard and posed beneath the maple in his front yard. "Charlie's first day of school!" the sign declared, along with the name of his school and who his teacher would be.
And after Charlie trotted off to his first day of preschool, his mom — an old friend of mine — had a social media freakout. Her Instagram and Facebook feeds were full of pictures of him boarding the bus and walking into school (she had followed the bus to school and watched from the parking lot to make sure he got inside), and each picture was accompanied by a comment on how emotional she was about sending her baby away to school.
It wasn't only raw emotion she was pouring out into cyberspace, though. Some of what she shared was pretty sensitive information — the name of her son's school, a photo of him getting on the bus in which his bus number and "character" (the blue octopus bus) were visible, a schedule for the times he needed to be at the bus stop, when he would arrive and depart from school, and when he'd be back at the bus stop again that afternoon.
Some of this information was masked in the language of her freakout, including lines like, "It's 4:18 and the bus was supposed to arrive at 4:13. OMG where is my kid?"
A little scary for me, a recovering crime reporter who's heard too many stories about social media situations gone wrong. But was I overthinking this, overreacting to some pretty innocent first day celebrations?
I called Big Rapids Department of Public Safety Det. Brian Miller, who's also a father of two adorable little boys. Is this kind of sharing revealing too much?
"It's a tough question," he said. "It boils down to pride in what they have. It's such a landmark — the first day of first grade or freshman year of high school — and you want people see that. ... Everybody is so proud and happy with the family they have, and you want to show family and friends you might not see on regular basis how much your kid is growing up and this is kinda the best way to do that."
For those reasons, Miller shares photos of his kids on Facebook, and I'm the same way. We both share with "Friends Only," and I'm prone to limit most of my family-related posts to my "Friends Except Acquaintances" group. (This only works if you actually designate some people as acquaintances, though.)
Before uploading, Miller suggests looking carefully at photos before you share them. Crop out your address if it's visible in the background, for example. Don't share too much about when and where your child can be found. No cute bath time nudity or anything similar, and no comments that would potentially come back to embarrass your family in the future.
I agree with him, and he agreed that my friend had probably shared too much, but noted we can all be more careful about what we share, himself included.
"I think we may have a lot of faith in human kind, and maybe we take our kids' safety and well being for granted," he said. "But you do have to be aware on social media that once it's out there, it's out there."