Updated: Cute But Dangerous – Posting Back to School Pictures

This post was originally published in 2015, on DigiKids, a webzine created by Stacey Vee & I, that encouraged parents towards guiding their children through the digital world in a safe, secure, and educational way. This post was the most popular item, and has led to much debate in online circles since. Since then, more and more online personalities, bloggers, and parents like you, have added their voice to this important online safety tip. I have updated the post, and am republishing it here, for further discussion in 2019. 


This issue has come to the fore over the past few weeks, as children returned to school across South Africa. At DigiKids, we worked to help parents and children have a healthy, balanced relationship with the digital world. We hope this article assists you in making decisions around whether or not to post pictures of your children in their school uniforms online, while providing you with some reasonable alternatives:

I get it, I really do. The excitement that surrounds the very first day your kid puts on their uniform with the shiny new shoes and heads off into their classroom is palpable. It’s only natural that you’d want to share that excitement with the world, but is it really sensible?

The short answer is no.

Stranger Danger
We spend hours, if not days, of our lives, trying to enforce the rules around stranger danger into our children’s brainwaves. In fact, if anything, parents will probably admit to living with a strange undercurrent of fear around stranger danger that we try so very hard not to pass on to our kids, while angling these important talks towards them in a kind but firm manner. Keeping our kids safe is our primary motive for talking about it with our babies yet, what we’re doing online isn’t necessarily translating that into action.

Why Freak Out About The Pictures On Facebook?
Yes, you’ve got your privacy settings set to max and no, you’re not worried about how someone might screenshot something you share online. Heck, you’ll even happily check-in on Facebook when you pop in to school for that parent’s evening. Here’s the problem though, and I’m sorry, but this one is rough to read:

When you post a picture of your child in their school uniform on to a social network or platform, you are immediately informing the world that your child is at a particular place, at a particular time, and you’re not there to protect them. In fact, place those images into the wrong type of hands, and suddenly, someone you don’t know knows exactly where your kid is every day, what their name is (it’s easy to figure out) and, quite possibly, who their teacher is too. All this, while you’re happily off to work, and trusting that your kid is in safe hands at school. Notably too, images of children are often used to create rather dubious content, with image modification and similar tools brought into play. 

Privacy Settings
I’m sorry, but your privacy settings mean nothing, the second a friend of yours likes that cute pic of your kid on Day One of Big School, shares it or comments on it. Why? Because it’s highly likely that it’s now appearing in their friends’ newsfeeds. Do you know every friend of every person you are friends with on Facebook? And of that friend, of that friend, do you know their full listing of friends too? Nah, I didn’t think so.

Other Social Networks
Yes, I’m freaking out about Facebook but it’s worse on other social networks. Pop a pic of your kid in their school uniform on your public Twitter timeline and hey presto, anyone on the planet can see it – no, not just your followers, but anyone. Don’t believe me? Cool. Log out of Twitter and go to your Twitter profile. There you go – all your tweets are live and public, for anyone to see, pictures included. It’s the same for Instagram and other networks too (unless you have your account set to private, which most users do not do). You can read here about other circumstances where its inadvisable to share pictures of your children online.

Nothing infuriates me more about this whole Back to School pictures debacle than companies asking you to share your kids’ Back to School photos with their online communities.  Heck, now it’s all up in the public domain and – do you know everyone who likes that retailer’s Facebook page? Are you totally cool with that shop retweeting your tweet that lists your kid’s name, age and school in it, alongside that sweet image of your grinning first-dayer? You’re not? Oh. Right.

Dear marketing agencies, advertisers, companies, retailers and whoever does this – stop it. Right now. First off, be aware that by asking your fans to share their personal pictures, you are putting their kids in direct or indirect danger. Secondly, you’re being lazy. Get creative with those back-to-school competitions and ask your fans to post their first-day-back lunchbox or their kids’ first artwork of the year. You don’t need their face and personal information to pick a winner, I promise you. For some guidelines on using images of children, see here and here.

Bucking Up At School
It’s obvious too, that schools themselves want to share images of the happy kids in their classrooms on their website or Facebook page. Did you know that they should be asking you for express permission to do so? It’s true. To use a child’s image for advertising or marketing purposes, parents need to give express, written permission – just ask any advertising agency or casting group and they’ll tell you – there’s a waiver that has to be signed before they can use a child’s face in an advert. Sure, you could argue that the permission is implicit but, really, it’s not. And yes, social media platforms are to be considered as advertising mechanisms. Your school should have, by now, a social media policy and have given you the option, as a parent, to opt out of having your child’s image shared online through their social platforms.

But How Do We Share Safely?
Okay, okay, I’ve yelled enough. Here’s how you can share those cute memories safely and only with people you know:

  • Set up a family Whatsapp or Telegram group for the big day back at school, and send those images directly to the small selection of people you really want to have seen them. Best part of doing this? You can snap that big day and share it with your loved ones as it happens;
  • Set up a family and close friends email list so you can, as safely as possible, transmit those smile-filled pictures to the people you care about or,
  • Make those memories into special gifts by turning your digital image into a print, plopping it into a frame and bingo, you’ve got the best gift for grandma, right there! You can also use services like PrintWild to turn those first-day-backs into mounted memories for your family picture wall.
  • You can try a service like 23Snaps.
  • If you do want to share your Back to School pride online, get creative with it. Share a pic of your first-dayers shiny new shoes, or cover their badges with an emoji. Even better, create a black and white image too, and don’t be shy with your artistic bends here – the more you can obscure your kid’s school, the better.

A Final Thought
When it comes to sharing your family’s daily routines, location and lives online, it’s better to be on the safe side.

One thought on “Updated: Cute But Dangerous – Posting Back to School Pictures”

  1. Just curious what your thoughts are, on schools that force parents to have a “school logo” sticker placed on their windscreens..as a security measure to access the school when kids need to be collected. Is this Not the greater threat as the sticker is on your car 24/7 , no matter where you go..to the mall, the garage. .just driving on the street.
    Even just stopping a robot…the sticker of your child’s school is clearly visible. Do you have a legal right to refuse the schools request to keep the sticker on your windscreen. Thx.

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