Being deep in the trenches of parenthood can be incredibly isolating, especially in the early years of parenthood. Being home all day with little ones who need constant attention and show little to no gratitude for your efforts is hard. It just is. Combine the monotony of parenthood with the insatiable energy of social media in the last decade or so, and we’re seeing a bizarre and fascinating phenomenon. Sharenting.
Sharenting, a noun, is the merging of the words “sharing” and “parenting.” And it’s related to the concept of “too much information.” It’s a relatively new phenomenon that parents, particularly mothers, are compelled to share stories and photos of their children online. There is an ongoing debate about a parent’s right to share information and post photos of children online and how that can affect a child’s safety and well-being. We know there are risks to sharing photos and information about our children online. But we also know there are benefits. So how can you find a balance that works for your family? And what are some steps you can do to keep your kids safe?
The Risks of Sharenting
In her new book Sharenthood: Why We Should Think Before We Talk About Our Kids Online, Leah Plunkett says that “sharenting happens any time an adult in charge of a child’s well-being, such as a parent or a teacher, transmits private details about a child via digital channels.” Digital channels, she goes on to explain, isn’t only referring to social media, but also any smart device that gathers data (think Amazon Echo Dot, a Nest cam, or an iPad.) Although these devices aren’t necessarily exploiting your family, they do bring your child into “digital life” at a much earlier age than parents might intend.
At its base, the concern over sharenting is that parents are exposing their children to a digital world they might not wish to be a part of. It takes away your child’s choice to not participate in a social media platform, and arguably even goes so far as to take away their choice to participate in social media at all. The parent has already made that choice for them.
Risks for Children
Additionally, Plunkett points out that sharenting is creating a risk for children that adults before them have opted into. The decision to put specific data online in exchange for using certain platforms, despite the risks involved, is a choice most adults in the US and Canada choose to make in one way or another. But things like sharing your child’s name online, tagging locations, and revealing other information about them, along with the risks associated with posting photos of children online, takes away the child’s decision to take on those risks as they enter adulthood themselves.
Even sharing stories of our children, especially if it puts them in less than ideal light, could potentially have ramifications. Could we be causing problems for our children in the future when they’re applying for college, going through job interviews, or running for public office?
The Positive Side of Sharenting
After reviewing some of the risks, you might wonder if there is a positive aspect to sharenting. Are we destined to ruin our children’s futures if we continue to share pictures and stories of them online? As an active social media user, and perhaps an “over-sharenter” if you will, I would argue no. I think sharing your life online, within reason, this can benefit both parents and children.
Sharing stories and photos online can help people to feel more connected in an increasingly fragmented world. And it can help people find and lend support to others in situations similar to their own.
Sophie Walker’s Experience
In an article in The Guardian back in 2013, the author shared the story of how blogging became a lifeline for Sophie Walker and her daughter Grace, who had recently been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. “Feeling isolated, she started blogging to make sense of what was happening to [them], to give [her] daughter a voice and to find out if anyone else could offer advice or at least a sense of solidarity.” As it turns out, there were a lot of other parents in similar situations.
Sophie’s daughter Grace, who was 11 at the time, got very involved in the blog as well, reading each article before her mom published it, and even writing some of her own. Sophie said “I don’t ever write anything she’s not comfortable with and I self-censor a lot of our experiences. But I wanted to tell people how fabulous she is and show her too in the process. Dealing with a diagnosis such as autism can be very lonely. You get pushed out of the normal parenting groups and social situations. Blogging kept us in touch with people like us and gave us the support and confidence that helped us cope.”
—You might also be interested in this article: “Computer Repair, Calgary, & Autism.”—
Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Post Photos of Children
Here are a few questions you might consider asking yourself to check that what you’re posting is appropriate.
1. Who is Going to See This?
Is there anyone in the world that I wouldn’t want to see this, now or in the future? If the answer is yes, don’t post it. If what you’re posting could be embarrassing (think baby in the bathtub type photos), or could be damaging to their future prospects (think cyber-shaming type discipline), then keep it to yourself.
2. Would I Want this Shared?
Would you want someone sharing this about you? If you wouldn’t want the photo, story or information that you’re posting to be about you, then don’t do it to your kid!
3. Are You Comfortable with the Image?
Are you comfortable with this being part of your child’s digital footprint? A post and photo about how my daughter faced her fears and tried out for the school play? I’m good with that being part of her image. A post and photo about how my son got in a fight at school and got suspended? Not so much.
4. Why am I Posting?
Are you posting that photo to make yourself look good? Or to document your children in an authentic way for the people you love and trust to experience?
5. Is This Too Private to Share?
Are you at a funeral and your child is grieving? If your child only partially clothed? Was the experience one that your child might not care to discuss with strangers in the future. Might be better to keep those memories to yourself and not put them online.
As author Leah Plunkett put it: “Make value based decisions and think…Are the benefits from that outweighing the potential privacy risks and the potential downstream risks to children’s current and future opportunities?” It’s reasonable for parents to say: My Instagram is set to private, and I trust the people who do follow me not to take a screenshot and re-share my images. It’s worth the risk for me to stay connected with my family out of state. I am also comfortable with our home assistance tech (think the Amazon Echo Dot or the Google Home) using our information to provide a better experience for us.
Remember, this upcoming generation is going to be the first to “inherit” a social media presence. With that comes risks, but you can also help your child shape a positive and beautiful social media presence with which to send them into adulthood. Talk with your partner and your children about how your family chooses to navigate the online world. And keep talking about it. Your kids deserve a say in their digital footprint.