As universities begin their fall semesters, local elementary, middle, and high schools will also start their school years. It's an exciting time for parents and students alike, as the kids get to show off their new school clothes, haircuts, and begin another year of academic excellence.

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However local police departments and school boards are warning against the popular practice of posting "back to school" pictures featuring children holding signs, usually with their name, school name, grade, and age.

Author's note: I could have embedded posts from Facebook demonstrating the practice, however "scouring the internet looking for pictures of kids" crosses my personal boundaries. So, this image will have to do:

Credit: Benny Edwin
Credit: Benny Edwin
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Again, purely for demonstrative purposes.

Why Is This Bad?

The accomplishments of kids is to be celebrated, don't get us wrong. These pictures are wonderful keepsakes that remind us of times back when. Social media has given us the gift of keeping track of our memories without having to fumble around with developing film and photo albums. Ahhhh...digital media.

Credit: Benny Edwin
Credit: Benny Edwin
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We're not totally against sharing pictures to social media. But "oversharing" means including personally identifiable information that not everyone needs to see.

The danger in posting these pictures to popular social media sites like Facebook and Instagram is that not everyone on social media has the best of intentions. Predators, pedophiles, and tin foil hat-wearing wackos on full send can see these pictures and not only locate potential victims, but use them as leverage against you and your family.

How To Protect Yourself And Your Kids

If you insist on posting pictures with personally identifiable information on social media, you can start by limiting your audience. One solution is to visit the "Post Audience" icon on Facebook before you post:

Credit: Facebook / Canva
Credit: Facebook / Canva
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Selecting "Friends" is a much better option as the picture is not accessible to anyone on Facebook unless they become your friend. This is one of Facebook's privacy measures (well, they really don't have much of a leg to stand on as far as taking your privacy seriously, but at least it's something) and you can also set your posting preferences to whatever setting you want.

I haven't posted anything public to my personal Facebook page in years. Don't waste your time trying to find me, it's a burner account.

Another option is to have something generic written on the chalkboard or whiteboard, demonstrated here:

Credit: Benny Edwin
Credit: Benny Edwin
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Anyone remember the "It Is Your Birthday" scene of The Office?

While it may seem boring, leaving out personally identifiable information such as the child's last name, name of the school, and interests makes it much harder for predators to find a child.

Other Safe Practices

  • don't use hashtags like #backtoschool, #nameofschool, #firstdayofschool
  • don't tag your kids in the photo
  • don't share your child's interests in the photo
  • turn off your phone's shared location settings (the "metadata" of the photo is stored and shared when you upload a picture to websites)

Parents are also urged to talk with their kids about safe practices online. We could all use a refresher course once in a while.

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