Fact checked by Marley Hall
First day of school pictures are a tradition for many parents. Whether it’s the first day of Kindergarten, Fifth grade, or Junior Year, cementing such a huge moment in children's lives and sharing it with an online community has become a commonplace ritual.
Melissa Ramage, a mom of two says, “I do take first day of school pics. I think it’s an exciting day to remember! It’s fun to look back and see the different ways they changed each year. This year is the first time ever I’m using a chalkboard since the youngest starts Pre-K. I thought it’s cute to have to know what grade they were going into when u look back at the pics.”
With these pictures comes not only smiling faces but those chalkboard signs that often include anything from a child's name, age, and grade to more detailed information like the name of the school, teacher, and favorite activity. That type of information could potentially put your family at risk. Here's what you may want to leave out of those social media posts so you can continue the tradition safely.
The Devil is in the Details
Sharing favorite facts about children's first day of school often doesn't give parents a second thought, but these details can be the difference between putting their children in danger and not.
In a now-viral video with over 2 million views, TikToker Cathy Pedreyes, who is also a cyber security expert, says "if it just says the first day, that's not terrible, but some of them have the child's name, teacher's name, school, favorite sports or activities and maybe you don't want a bunch of strangers knowing that."
There may be detailed information you’re sharing that you don’t realize can put your family at risk. From your house number and street, to license plate and detailed information about your child, these can all be used by predators.
How Criminals Could Use Your Child's Information
While these details may seem trivial, criminals can use this information in numerous ways. They can use personal information to guess passwords and steal data, but also predators can use this information to track down children.
Hank Schless, senior manager of security solutions and cybersecurity expert at Lookout, says criminals could use personal information they gather online to try and guess the password to a person's accounts.
“Many people use passwords that are associated with publicly available information posted on their personal social media profiles, for instance, the name of their family members. Attackers can easily scrape this information from social media posts and use them to attempt to log in to accounts,” says Schless.
“Last year, data breaches reached an all-time high of 1,862, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) 2021 Annual Data Breach Report, which is more than 68% increase over 2020,” Schless adds.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reports in 2020 there were 365,348 reports of missing children in the United States. According to the Child Crime Prevention & Safety Center, there are an estimated 500,000 online child predators active each day.
By putting your children's detailed school information online, anyone can pose as someone close to your family, and lure them with information that would be assumed as unknown by a stranger. Being mindful of what information you’re sharing is key.
Parents Feel the Social Media Pressure
Since the inception of social media, parents have shared pictures of their families and important moments in their lives with an online community of their friends and family. The first day of school pictures are no different and have gained tremendous popularity, with numerous possibilities for different chalk signs and over 3 million photos on the first day of school hashtag there can be preconceived pressure to share the first day of school photos because everyone else is.
"Picking up our phones, snapping a spontaneous photo, and uploading or sharing it has become so habitual that we perhaps aren't taking enough time to reflect on the implications of our actions"
Kimberley Bennett, PsyD
Kimberley Bennett, PsyD, a child psychologist and creator of The Psychologist's Child, says sharing images of children has become a normalized part of modern culture. “Picking up our phones, snapping a spontaneous photo, and uploading or sharing it has become so habitual that we perhaps aren't taking enough time to reflect on the implications of our actions," says Bennett.
With the added isolation brought on by the pandemic, sharing pictures has made many feel closer to people and allows those they aren’t able to see to share in joyous and important moments. “Parents are parenting without a village. Modern living means that families and friends are becoming increasingly dispersed," says Bennett.
She adds, “Sharing intimate moments of our day-to-day lives, and the lives of our children have become so normalized that we don't think about the fact that our children's digital footprint often started even before they were born with scan photos, and newborn announcements hitting the internet.” Being conscious of sharing certain information about your children is imperative.
The Safer Way to Share Photos
You can still keep up the tradition of taking the first day of school pictures without putting your family at risk by being conscious of what information you share and who is able to see these photos. What parents feel comfortable sharing online can vary from person to person, it's always a good idea to take precautions to protect your personal information.
According to Schless, “As a first step, parents should customize the settings of their online accounts to ensure they are only sharing their posts with the audiences they wish to see their information (vs setting their profile to be viewed by all of the public). Parents should also create strong and unique passwords for their online accounts, and refrain from including any personal information in their password that could be found online."
Additionally, be sure not to share information in these pictures that can be used by criminals to track down your children.
"I made sure to get one [chalkboard sign] that didn’t have a lot of info on it on purpose," Melissa Rampage says. "Kept it simple with just name, grade, age, what they want to be when they grow up, and what’s something they love. I did not want one with school or teacher's name on it." She says she's mindful of how much information she shares and other parents should as well.