In today’s post-and-share culture, how much is too much? As parent, we’re fans of personalized backpacks and “proud parent” bumper stickers. But are we revealing too much information about our children to strangers?
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It’s probably a good idea to limit the type of personal information we provide, says Cleveland Clinic Children’s pediatrician Daniela Isakov, MD.
“Our kids are what we want to protect the most,” Dr. Isakov says. “So it’s important to do what you can as a parent to protect their personal information.”
What’s in a name?
Someone wanting to take advantage could use knowledge a child’s name to imply that he or she is not a stranger or knows the child’s parents. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children recommends not labeling personal items such backpacks, lunchboxes, clothing and bicycles with a child’s name. Dr. Isakov suggests labeling kids’ belongings in a less obvious spot. Try the inside of a backpack, instead of large and centered on the outside. Monograms are another option for kids to easily spot their stuff without revealing a name.
Safeguard personal info
We unintentionally share more than we realize with strangers. It’s common for adults to strike up conversation at the park, and one to ask where the other lives.
“Think about how you answer, you just met this person,” Dr, Isakov advises. She suggests keeping it friendly and perhaps providing the city but not a specific neighborhood. You don’t want to go overboard, but be mindful, she says.
Ask older kids not to mention upcoming vacations on social media. Your whole family ought to carefully weigh what information might be revealed about identity and location through both written and photo posts. Encourage children not to divulge phone numbers, addresses and details about their routine.
Set sharing limits
It’s important that parents think conservatively about sharing information, but also help set boundaries for babysitters, grandparents and other caretakers. Consider asking them not to disclose where you live, for instance. Dr. Isakov also suggests that parents think about whether they should ask babysitters not to take photos of their children, given the far reaches of social media.
Talk to your kids
Dr. Isakov recommends talking to kids early about what to do if a stranger approaches them; 4 or 5 years old is not too young when introduced in an age-appropriate way. Giving kids ground rules for particular scenarios and role playing is often effective.
“Ask ‘What would you do if somebody came up to you and said that your mommy told him to pick you up?’ It helps them to process it, so that if they were ever in that situation, hopefully they would remember,” Dr. Isakov suggests.
Invite kids to tell you if they are ever afraid. Encourage them to trust their intuition. Continued open communication, including regularly asking about what happened during the day, increases the likelihood that your child will disclose suspicious activity to you.