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More parents taking babies online with websites, social media accounts

Tribune News Service • Nov 9, 2015 at 12:00 AM

Becoming a parent includes a long list of to-dos: stockpiling diapers, building a crib, picking a name.

Now some parents are adding a variety of online-only tasks to sweep up digital real estate under their baby’s name — before they even hold the birth certificate.

In the digital age, parents are weighing whether to snap up a domain name for their baby, post photos that family members can click through or stow for later or create a slot for their child on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter.

Media and parenting experts say that securing digital space is becoming more common as millennials become parents.

“I see it all the time,” said Dr. Yalda Uhls, a child psychologist and author of “Media Moms and Digital Dads: A Fact-Not-Fear Approach to Parenting in the Digital Age.” Uhls said many parents combine their familiarity with technology and excitement around a new baby.

A 2010 report from online security company AVG Technologies shows that 92 percent of U.S. children under age 2 have some type of digital footprint. A third have information and photos online within weeks of being born, the study found. A similar report from AVG in 2014 showed 6 percent of parents had created a social network profile for a child under 2, and 8 percent made an email address for a baby or toddler, a slight increase from 2010.

Although a seemingly natural extension of posting pre-baby food or vacation snaps, parents might not think through the long-term implications.

“We always caution that whenever you’re posting images, (look) at the settings to make sure you’re sharing it with the right people you intended to,” said Julia Wang, site director at The Bump.

Securing a digital birthright: When his twins were born three years ago, Shereem Herndon-Brown had plenty to plan. But one thing he made time for was reserving the twins’ domain names. He can’t help but think ahead to a time when his children’s online presence will be a factor in their lives.

“I think it’s very, very common these days that parents do it, but I do recognize that we need to be responsible with it,” said Herndon-Brown, founder of Strategic Admissions Advice, a website offering college admissions assistance. “We will make sure there’s nothing up there that wouldn’t be something that could help them, not hinder them.”

Experts say many parents choose to reserve a domain name, perhaps adding photos or a blog. Others might nab the name but do nothing with it, holding it, for example, for a possible future portfolio. Most platforms regulate that a child needs to be at least 13 to be on social media, said Augusta Nissly, program coordinator for the Washington, D.C.-based Family Online Safety Institute.

How this affects a child later varies and is a bit unpredictable, experts agree. After all, no one knows what the digital world will look like in 18 years.

Another thing many parents consider? Email. Parents often set up an account to avoid the inconvenience, for their child, of having to add a jumble of numbers at the end of the email address.

“They’re kind of thinking ahead and trying to lock that in,” Wang said.

It’s a millennial thing: Young parents, especially millennials (ages 18 to 34 in 2015), are jumping on this trend.

“Millennial parents are on social media, and they’re on their digital devices and smartphones all the time,” Wang said. “This is very much a part of their lifestyle.”

A 2014 BabyCenter report on millennial moms showed that 79 percent use social media at least daily. And in this year’s BabyCenter “State of Modern Motherhood” report, 63 percent of respondents reported using their smartphone more since pregnancy or birth.

Most millennial moms and dads have Facebook and Instagram accounts, and they might use them more after baby. According to BabyCenter, since becoming pregnant or a mother, 24 percent reported using Facebook more than before, and 33 percent had bumped up logging onto Instagram.

“Instagram is really made for the millennial parent, because it’s just all about photo sharing,” Wang said. “You see many moms who are the power Instagram users, who love posting photos of their child and styling them.”

For sites like Facebook or Twitter, some simply store a name. Others might use a handle to tweet humorous things from baby’s voice — “I tried carrots today!”

Having a Facebook site for a baby can be excellent etiquette, Wang noted. If a parent feels she is posting too often on her own page, she can create a page just for baby and her fans. Then, “all those 102 pictures of the baby are really dedicated for the family and close friends that are really interested about all of your baby’s development,” she said.

Pause before posting: Wang said Bump message boards often discuss privacy and whether to post infant photos. Indeed, discussing digital expectations and decisions is a great first step for new parents, who are especially vulnerable to the temptation of posting.

First, parents need to become fluent in privacy settings. FOSI provides videos on navigating the sometimes-confusing world of Facebook privacy settings and removing your location from Twitter.

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit media advocacy group for families, warns of children’s photos falling into the wrong hands, whether through identity theft or showing up on unintended websites. In May, a Utah mother found that photos of her daughter and 9-month-old son had been used on social media with hashtags connected to porn sites.

The organization notes that having a password-protected account on photo-sharing sites like Flickr or Photobucket is an option. They also suggest apps that are designed to be privately shared, like Notabli, 23snaps and eFamily.

When baby grows up: Also, think ahead to when your 13-year-old asks why you posted that bathtub photo when he was a baby.

“They’re probably not going to think that’s very funny to have on social media,” Nissly said.

Uhls, who also works with Common Sense Media on the digital intersection of parents and children, added that it’s hard to later tell teens to be careful online if you didn’t model the same caution.

And, she pointed out, it’s nearly impossible to know what your brand-new baby would think.

“They don’t even know who their child is. … Are they going to be shy? What are they going to be?” Uhls said. “And by making this choice for them early on, are they cramming them into a box that they may not want to be in?”

– By Alison Bowen, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

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