"Our social media networks serve as a parent's modern-day baby book." Stacy Steinberg
On July 21, 2008, I posted my first Facebook picture. Of course, it was a picture of my children. If you do a quick scroll of my social media, you will mostly find pictures of my children. Like many parents, I especially like to post on holidays, birthdays, and special events.
Honestly, I love sharing pictures of my children with friends and family on social media. I find great joy in discovering snapshots of my friends and families' life experiences. Social media allows me to participate in their lives in ways I would not be able to without the online presence. And don't even get me started about the memory function. I adore seeing photo memories from years gone by. It's like a scrapbook without all the work.
The fairly new phenomenon of parents sharing images and information about their children online is called "sharenting." Because "sharenting" is new, we don't fully understand the long term consequences of sharing our children's stories online. Our children are literally growing up on social media.
A child's digital footprint often starts before they are born with ultrasound photos and gender reveals. A report commissioned by the UK Children's Commissioner estimates that by the time a child is 13, parents have posted about 1300 photos and videos of their children. While there are benefits to "sharenting", there are also risks associated with the very public documenting of a child's life. The UK report mentioned above estimates that by the year 2030 "sharenting" will account for 2/3 of identity fraud costing millions of dollars.
Here are some important questions for parents to consider before they hit the "post" button.
- What are your motives for sharing? Make sure you have a good reason before you put information out into the world. Are you trying to put forth the image that you have it all together? Most social media is a highlight reel and not reality. Is your motive for posting to vent frustration with your child's behavior, a teacher, or coach? Social media is not a healthy place to vent. It's a better option to talk to your child or your child's teacher directly. Are you just trying to be funny? Let's be real, things happen in parenting that are unbelievably funny, but will your child be mortified when they read the post in ten years? Do you want to post to express pride in an accomplishment or encourage a child for a job well done? Are you posting with the goal of connecting to other parents? The desire to connect in community is healthy and helps us be better parents. You might simply be posting to share the joy of the moment with your community. Check your motives before sharing.
- Are you putting your child at risk? Is there anyone who shouldn't see this information about your child? Even with privacy set to the highest security, there are still risks. Once images or information are put out there, you do not have control. Screenshots are easy to record and phones are easily misplaced. There is not a good system setup to protect our children from online predators or identity theft. Think about all the identifying information that can be obtained from a simple post---birth dates, addresses, schools, names, daily routines, friends. Never post photos of a child unless they are fully dressed. Unfortunately, child pornographers re-purpose images. We also want to teach our children appropriate body boundaries. If you are posting the picture of your toddler in a diaper, are you communicating it is okay for your 13 year old to post the photo in the bathing suite on the beach as well? Best practice for all ages is if they are not fully dressed don't post it.
- Is this something you want to be part of your child's digital footprint? Would the post be embarrassing or put your child in a negative light? Everything posted online is permanent. It is becoming common practice for schools, employers, and even future love interests to review social media to glean information about a person. Online data is already being used in advertising to profile preferences and to predict behavior. As our children grow up, the impact of this profiling will expand. Consider the permanency of the post before you publish.
If used responsibly, social media can be a healthy medium for connection and community. I am not advising a complete boycott of all online sharing, but I do recommend parents think about what they are posting. As your children get older, make it a point to discuss family rules around posting. All family members should have the right to say no to a post. Set clear boundaries with grandparents, friends, and babysitters as well.
When it comes to social media, your children are watching. Give them a kind and considerate example to follow. After all, you might not want your children to share that unflattering photo of you on family vacation. At the same time, they might not want you to share about the misadventure that landed them in the principal's office for detention.
Want to learn more about sharenting?
I recommend Stacy Steinberg's book Growing Up Shared or her Washington Post article "Four Things to Keep in Mind When Posting About Your Kids Online".