Back-to-school time has always meant pictures. Part of the fun of looking through your parents' old albums has been trying to remember what year you wore which outfit on your first day of school. Somewhere along the way, though, parents got wise to the confusion and started making kiddos hold those "back to school" signs. With just a quick glance, you could easily figure out what year you took the picture, how much your kiddo had grown since they started, and even how much their interests had changed in just a single school year. Last year, Riley wanted to be a paleontologist. This year she wants to be a dancer. Another fun addition to the signs was adding what school your kid attends and who their teacher was that year. This was sure to add depth to future walks down memory lane. "Mrs. Flarida? I loved Mrs. Flarida. She was so kind to me after we moved."
Those pictures are fun to take, and the information on those signs is fun to look back on. But should you really share all that info on the internet? Well, some experts are warning against it. It's easy to understand why.
What dangerous information might you share?
A lot, actually. On one sign, you've given predators a lot of critical information about your kid and where to find them. Suddenly that "kinda weird" friend from high school no longer has to watch you live your life from a distance. They know you'll be at Colonial Elementary school dropping off Riley, and she'll be making her way towards the third-grade classes. And if the predator lives close enough to get there quickly, they'll even know what she's wearing. So, just from one picture, this vital information is available to people you may or may not know. (Or know but don't want to find you.)
- Your child's school
- Where you and your child are at certain times Monday-Friday
- Your child's grade
- Your child's teacher
This viral video by TikTok “Safety Queen” Cathy Pedrayes (@cathypedrayes) is a quick and easy overview:
How far can that information take predators?
As previously mentioned, just the basic facts on your first-day-of-school sign can lead to some pretty specific information being shared. With the information you share, a quick search can help a predator learn even more.
By sharing your child's school, a predator could look up the school online and find start and end times. This could backfire on you in two ways. First, they can use that information to find you and your child during drop-off or pick-up. They can also use that info to gather when you won't be home, leaving your home susceptible to break-ins.
Just because you "only shared" their school name in that post doesn't mean you haven't let more information out about your child in the past. Did you post Paw Patrol birthday party pictures or share memories from the hospital when you gave birth? Now a predator doesn't just know where Riley goes to school, but knows a vital fact about them that school secretaries and other desk clerks often ask to "verify" a person knows your child. If you catch a secretary on a bad day at a busy moment, it's not hard to imagine that suddenly that ex-boyfriend has gained access to your child with the information you've posted. "I'm here to pick up Riley Jones. She's in Mrs. Flarida's class. Yeah, her birthday is..."
“Child predators online are looking to build profiles for people to build relationships, and they can use that information at a later date to form a trusting relationship,” Scott Argio, assistant special agent leading the FBI’s Pittsburgh office, told Pittsburgh’s Action News 4. “The main thing about posting things on social media is, you’re posting it for the world to see.”
But "Riley" knows better.
Does she, though? Suddenly a friendly person is standing in front of her. They might be telling her that you, her mama, are sick, and they're going to take her to you: "Your mom has told me all about you. You love to dance and want to be a dancer. And you watch Paw Patrol all the time." Well, he knows a lot of information about her, so he must not be a stranger... right?
Does that mean we can't share those pictures?
Definitely not! A few safety tips to keep in mind, though:
- Blur out important information in the sign.
- Check the photo background for location references (house numbers, school logos on uniforms, etc.).
- Take additional pictures without the sign and share the sweeter, less useful information in your photo's caption.
- Be careful who you share the pictures with. Consider sending those adorable back-to-school pictures in messages. Or simply make sure your post settings are very limited — just like you do with your political posts. *wink*
- Make a family password. Even if this possible friend (likely stranger) knows all the other information about your child, ensure your child never leaves with someone who doesn't know the family password. It should be random, just like actual passwords, but more easily remembered. Ours was "purple" even after purple stopped being my favorite color.
Otherwise, share until your heart's content. So many of us live so, so far away from loved ones. Being able to follow along via those cute first-day pictures is just another way to try to keep your friends and family close. And we all want that! Just be extra careful with what you share.