fbpx

PEP Blog

02|29

Sharenting – When Parents Over-Share Their Kids’ Lives

By Lynne Ticknor

For many parents raising children in the 21st Century, the most common way to share news – or any information worthy of telling others – is using technology. With the proliferation of smartphones that allow instantaneous posting of photos and videos to Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), Instagram and other social media networks, parents can digitally record every moment of their child’s life and share it without a second thought.

 

It is so common that the term “sharenting,” a combination of the words sharing and parenting, came into the vernacular in 2010. It is not just parents who are posting about children’s lives. Siblings, grandparents, caregivers, teachers, daycare workers, aunts, uncles, etc. are all in on the posting craze. Everyone feels the need or has the desire to be involved with social media and everyone needs something worthy (or not) to post! And children are willing subjects most of the time. Even toddlers and preschoolers are striking a pose at the bottom of the slide for Mom’s iPhone rather than enjoying the luxury of uninterrupted play. Research by Parent Zone found that the average parent posts almost 1,000 photos of their child before the child’s fifth birthday.

Potential risks

While it can be a fun way to connect with other people, posting photos and videos online, especially when they contain personally identifying information and/or location data, can be problematic. Research shows that child predators, hackers and scammers use social media posts to target children. Identity theft, scams, stalking and cyberbullying can all stem from prolific posters who put their information online for everyone to see.

Recent advancements in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to manipulate digital imagery have created new and emerging risks. These photos can now be enhanced using AI technology to produce fake digital content that appears real (i.e., deepfakes), including manipulating a child’s voice to say whatever the person wants. A new German ad called A Message from Ella – Without Consent informs parents how AI can manipulate publicly posted data and cause significant trauma, including child pornography, identity fraud and scams.

Taking a more critical look at how parents use social media to post information about their children could avoid such dangers. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) examined parents who engage in mindful sharenting. Parents who practice mindful sharing on social media strive to minimize the potential risks of sharing online while still enjoying the benefits of sharing with friends and loved ones. In the NIH study, researchers also asked those parents how they protect their child’s identity and personal information. Strategies included blurring the child’s face, never posting recognizable information and taking photos from a distance so that the child cannot be identified.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself before sharing online:

What are you sharing?

Avoid images that may pique the curiosity of maladjusted individuals. Subjects like children in bathtubs, kids wearing bathing suits and tweens enjoying a pool party are more dangerous than they innocently appear. Research by Child Rescue Coalition found that hashtags such as #bathtime, #potty, #kidsbedroom, help predators find pictures of children. Find the full list here: Avoid These Predator Attracting Hashtags – Child Rescue Coalition

Why are you sharing?

If the intent is to portray an idealized view of family life or brag about a child’s accomplishments, reconsider. Social media’s portrayal of parenting, kids and family life is so skewed that it leaves most people wondering, “Is that what my life should look like?” Stacey Steinberg, author of How You Can Keep Your Family Safe in a No-Privacy World, says “We’ve been so focused on social media’s role in how kids relate to one another, but we’ve spent little time really exploring how social media and technology has redefined what growing up looks like and feels like.”

How much information are you revealing?

If your picture or caption shows a location in the background like a street sign, the name of a school or your house, you are telling everyone where to find your child. Turn off geotagging on your phone and remove all metadata from your photos within the camera settings. Check your phone’s manual or Google privacy settings for iPhone (or whichever phone you have) to get a quick tutorial on how to make your phone safer. If your child has a phone, make sure you do the same thing on their phone!

Are you using protective settings?

Be sure to use the privacy settings that all platforms provide. If your goal is to share information with family members and friends, limit the people who can view your posts to just those people. Every social media network has a landing page that instructs users how to set up privacy controls (hint: they always default to the least private settings, so if you don’t change them, they aren’t private).

Would your child want you to share that?

Devorah Heitner, author of Growing Up in Public – Coming of Age in the Digital World, says “Always ask your children for their permission before posting a picture or anything about them.” Her interviews with hundreds of kids reveal that they usually don’t want parents to post pictures of them on social media. After you ask, respect their answer. Never compromise your child’s trust or right to privacy.

Is there a safer way to share?

Consider creating a private family blog or using private apps to post photos securely so that only family members or friends can access. WhatsApp, Tiny Beans and Flickr have security measures built in so that only certain people who you approve can view your photos.

Will sharing affect a child’s mental health?

What you chose to share says a lot about what you value and can adversely affect a child’s self-esteem. Receiving a like on social media triggers the reward cycle to produce dopamine causing feelings of pleasure. Additionally, posts about high grades or prestigious awards can put pressure on a teen, causing them to think they are loved for what they achieve and not who they are. Heitner isn’t convinced that social media causes depression or anxiety. She says, “Social media may exacerbate a child’s struggle with mental health, but it’s not the whole story. Parents need to look at the entire situation.”

Will sharenting affect my mental health?

While much of the concern around sharenting involves how the children feel, there is a psychological impact of sharenting on parents as well. Imagine, your child came home from school sobbing after being cut from the varsity high school team. Two hours later, you see the proud parent next door posting a picture captioned, “So proud of them for making varsity as a freshman!”

Are you worried about narcissistic tendencies?

Kids who see their parent’s social media networks may start thinking, “Hey, my mom and dad’s entire world revolves around me, my activities and my life!” This is a sad way for children to grow up. The phrase “digital narcissistic” refers to the inflated sense of self-importance from social media posts making one feel grandiose or “larger than life.”

Benefits of responsible sharing

Certainly, there are times when we benefit from technology’s ability to capture meaningful moments and post them to social media. Relatives who live far away can enjoy seeing a picture or watching a short video of major events. Such uses of the digital world can strengthen relationships that otherwise may atrophy.

Posting pictures and videos provides a digital record of your life. It’s fun to go back and look at your digital history, reminiscing about old times and cherishing the moments you spent with loved ones.

Social media also helps to build a community. Sharing your stories can help other parents who are experiencing similar phases. This is especially true for new parents who often feel alone and isolated if they are at home with a newborn.

Fortunately, the lifespan of the true oversharing parent appears to be relatively short-lived. By the time toddlers and preschoolers hit high school, the inner workings of even the best iPhone won’t be fast enough to avoid the child’s hand held up as a stop sign, a universal signal to well-meaning parents that “enough is enough.”

This article appears in the March 2024 issue of Washington Parent magazine.

TOPICS


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Sign Up for PEPTalk

Subscribe to our mailing list

Powered by Robly

Archives

Parent Encouragement Program
10100 Connecticut Ave.
Kensington, MD 20895
301-929-8824
office@PEPparent.org

Apart from the free survey software, we also have access to QuestionPro's free survey templates . We've found many of them useful and powerful to collect insights from various stakeholders of our organization.

© COPYRIGHT 2024 PEP. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.