Parents with children under the age of 18 are the first to entirely raise their kids under the glow of social media applications. We are also the first to participate in “sharenting.” We gleefully humble brag, share cute (yet embarrassing) stories and/or about our kids and blast our family activities across the ether. We love illustrating our lives and telling our stories for a whole host of reasons.
But we are also telling the stories of our children to the world in a permanent, stealable, and sharable manner. Often, we do so without their permission.
Are they our stories to share online to the world?
Sharenting is parents, guardians, or other well-meaning adults in a child’s life publicizing content about minor children on internet platforms, usually without consent – be it that the kids may be too young to give consent or understand the full scope of what they’re consenting to.
The Wall Street Journal first time named this habit “sharenting” in 2012. The increased attention digital data piracy and manipulation has increased focus on the topic.
Leah Plunkett, an associate professor at the University of New Hampshire Law School and a faculty associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, at Harvard University, discusses how on a philosophical level, sharenting exposes children to the larger digital world without their consent, robbing them of a kind of privacy control. Parents do so without considering the long-term repercussions, while the possibilities for harm continue to change every day.
It’s safe to say likely most of us reading this do. In 2021 SecurityORG conducted a US based survey about the sharenting habits. This survey found that about 75% of parents shared the picture, stories, or videos of their children on social media, and more than 80% of parents used their kids’ real name. Approximately one quarter of parents have public settings where everyone (even unknown) is also allowed to see the posts.
80% of parents state that they do not know all their social media friends and they have never met many of them face to face.
Bottom line – the wonderful world of Facebook and Instagram has created a digital footprint situation where 80% of children are said to have an online presence by the age of two. And the average parent shares almost 1,500 images of their child online before their fifth birthday.
Reasons for Sharing
People share on social media for all sorts of reasons which span the good, bad and everything in-between: connection, bragging, advice, support, advocacy, promotion … the list goes on and on. Sometimes, the isolation of parenthood pulls someone deeper into the online world when one needs support. Sharing images or stories on social media connects you to a larger world at a time when the scales and contours of life may feel as though they are shrinking or just are downright confusing. Ask yourself (if you share on social media, why?).
Five Risks of Sharenting
Our sharing about our kids has some potentially dark sides, which parents do not mean to put onto their kids. Yet, it may happen every time you post about them:
1. Removes their Digital Privacy
Parents’ decisions around sharing accelerate their child’s entry into “digital life.” With the digital footprint you’re creating for your children, you’re taking away their privacy and choice to share about themselves. Personal data is one of the most valuable commodities in the new world economy. Every day, data miners harvest social media content in consequential ways and create comprehensive digital dossiers. It’s important to know that everything you share about your kids – from baby photos to personally identifiable information – can be collected and sold for a profit.
2. Potentially Exposes Them to Early Digital Fraud
Kids are a target for fraud since all their data is on the web. Every time we post on their birthday, share locations, show their first elementary school, etc … we risk their security. For example, think about all your online financial security questions – how much of that about your kids have you already unknowingly shared?
One study estimates that by the year 2030, parental sharing of their children’s data will result in over seven million incidents of identity fraud.
3. Can Pave the Way for Cyberbullying
By oversharing, you could be exposing your kid’s life to bullies on the internet. Other kids easily can view your social profiles and use – seemingly cute and proud moment you share – as fodder for bullying.
4. Lack of Personal Privacy
Sharenting may affect your children’s emotions about themselves and you. It raises the idea of violating your kid’s privacy as an ethical principle. Sharing stories, imagery, and parental perception of situations online partially shapes a child’s identity or self-image upon learning about it. Sharing information about your children may frustrate them, especially when they’re in the tween and teenage years. Some kids are embarrassed by what their parents post, while others wonder why they aren’t featured even more. A 2019 survey found that 42% of teens have a problem with their parents’ posting habits, and “many teens are troubled when their parents post about them on social media.”
5. Potentially Exposes their Content for Sexual Reasons
This is one of the darkest aspects. Pedophiles may be using your posts as sexual content, even if you’re only posting innocent pictures. Research by the Independent UK found that pedophile websites steal half their photos from social media, making it one of the prominent places that these photos are acquired and misused. Think about how posts of friends pop up in other feeds. You truly aren’t just sharing your posts with your trusted network.
Parenting in the digital age means making intentional decisions to protect our child’s online privacy. We are navigating something new and arguably one of the most challenging and important priorities for today’s parents.
What’s important is to be mindful of what your posts may be sharing and with whom.
Here are some questions to ask yourself before you sharent:
Where do I post this?
What are the privacy policies of that platform?
What are my settings?
Who’s able to see my content?
Am I taking my kids’ rights into account?
Does this respect my child’s long-term reputation or safety?
Also, we can talk to our kids about the importance of consent and digital data safety.
Parenthood is often such a blur that mindfulness seems impossible. Yet, it’s our job as adults to model good behavior … even if we often have no idea what we are doing.