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Creating social media accounts for kids? Be mindful of what you post, experts say

Bhargavi Varma poses with her 16-month-old son, Aditya, in Toronto on Feb. 5, 2014. The Toronto blogger has created a Twitter account on her son's behalf. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Bhargavi Varma

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Bhargavi Varma poses with her 16-month-old son, Aditya, in Toronto on Feb. 5, 2014. The Toronto blogger has created a Twitter account on her son's behalf. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Bhargavi Varma

TORONTO - Bhargavi Varma is doing her part to help her son define his digital footprint by establishing a Twitter account in his name — even if he isn't old enough to type the posts.

The Toronto mom is an avid social media user, with her own Twitter and Instagram accounts and a Tumblr blog devoted to documenting personal interests and life as a new parent. While there was an initial chuckle when she told pals that she'd created a Twitter handle for her toddler, Aditya, they weren't entirely surprised.

"Friends know that I'm social media engaged. It felt like a natural extension to them," said Varma, co-founder of Fly See Stay, a travel photography and international travel site.

Until he's old enough to tweet himself, Varma has started to use the account as a logbook for Aditya's experiences and travels to share with loved ones. As a safeguard, the account is currently private.

"Maybe when he's ... seven, eight, 10, 15, I don't want him looking back and saying: 'Oh God, what are these tweets?'" said Varma, whose son is 16 months old.

"One of the things I won't be doing is posting embarrassing pictures of him on there because we always do have to remember with social media, what you put on there, you can delete a tweet, but it's easy for it to be captured and it's there for eternity. So I'm definitely cognizant of that."

Whether they're created to generate laughs or as a modern way to chronicle a child's development, some parents have embraced the idea of creating social media accounts for youngsters — both real and imagined.

Canadian blogger Bunmi Laditan is behind Honest Toddler, a Twitter feed which features humorous observations from a fictional baby. South of the border, NBC anchor and correspondent Jenna Wolfe manages the handle devoted to daughter Harper Estelle, complete with photos of the tot and posts written in her assumed voice. The account has nearly 8,800 followers.

"I just felt like opening a Twitter account for her would give her a little voice in the loud world of social media," Wolfe told Today.com last year, later adding that it would remain up and running until Harper was old enough to manage it herself.

There is no age requirement for Twitter. Facebook requires users to be at least 13 to sign up, but it hasn't stopped youngsters from using the social networking site.

Facebook's manager of privacy and safety last fall said that they had "thought a lot about" opening the site up to those under 13. A spokesman for Canada's privacy commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, said in a statement that consultation would be important if Facebook planned to begin accepting younger users.

The nature of the content and how it reflects on the child are key considerations when posting items on a social networking site on their behalf, said Matthew Johnson, director of education for MediaSmarts, a Canadian not-for-profit charitable organization for digital and media literacy.

Johnson said it's also worth noting that digital images can have a long life span.

"What may be cute at age two or age five may be acutely embarrassing at age 13," he said. "So parents really do have to think about the possible consequences down the line, and how their children are going to feel about this content possibly coming back to haunt them.

"And they have to think as well about the example they're setting in terms of showing concern for privacy."

Johnson said MediaSmarts conducted a series of focus groups with young people and parents in 2012 where they heard of adults actively engaging with their kids on social networks. While they didn't hear about parents creating social media accounts for their kids, he isn't surprised to see such a development given the current climate.

"We know that adults really are using social networks at rates similar to young people, and there's definitely a pressure to share content when you're on a social network. And for parents, that's definitely a part of it.

"When we move away from social networks, there's a lot of people that blog about their families. There are a number of quite successful viral videos that involve people filming their children. So there's definitely a sense that this is — if not normal — considered to be acceptable behaviour."

Parenting blogger and writer Samantha Kemp-Jackson is partnering with Canadian company KnowledgeFlow to provide workshops and seminars on teaching adults and kids about online safety. The mother of four said it's important for parents to have a solid understanding of how social media and online privacy works prior to setting up accounts for kids, which includes the implications of basic functions like tagging users in a photo.

"Even if you have the most stringent of privacy settings on those images or your status update, people have screen captures, people can take a picture of or embed a tweet," said Kemp-Jackson, who blogs at Multiple Mayhem Mamma. "The minute you upload it, it can be taken down and shared on numerous channels. The genie is never put back in the bottle.

"I always have to say to people if you want to have a photograph shared, assume that it's shared for good in perpetuity and that it's not coming back. There are ways of being private online, but for the most part, the nature of social media is sharing, and I think that's what people forget."

— With files from Michael Oliveira.

Follow @lauren_larose on Twitter.

———

Online:

www.flyseestay.com

www.knowledgeflow.ca

www.mediasmarts.ca

www.multiplemayhemmamma.com

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