The urge to share our lives with an online audience has become a phenomenon. From our weekly meal prep to the births of our babies, we are documenting everything, and sharing everything. Sharing provides us with various rewards, including likes and hearts, compliments, retweets, and growing lists of followers. But it also comes with significant risks and a multitude of potential repercussions—particularly when it comes to sharing images of our children.
The Age of Sharenting
Today, pictures of babies are popping up on social media platforms long before they are even born. An ultrasound image intended to be a pregnancy announcement quickly becomes the beginning of that baby’s digital footprint, opening the door to a vast array of complicated, unsettling dangers. Instead of simply sharing a special moment with your old college roommates, you’re suddenly building a digital record of your child that they have no control over.
A portmanteau of “share” and “parenting”; the trend of sharing information and images about our children online
The trend of sharing information and images about our children online is now known as sharenting, a portmanteau of “share” and “parenting.” While sharenting offers plenty of positives (feeling like you’re not alone in your parenting struggles, for example, or an easy way to stay in touch with old friends and distant family members), the negatives are far too serious to ignore.
Understanding the Risks
Studies show that the average parent shares almost 1,500 images of their child before their fifth birthday. Experts say that over-sharing photos of our children can pose serious risks ranging from embarrassment to identity theft. Yes, we deserve a space to share proud parenting moments. And yes, it’s comforting to know you have a support system, but at what cost?
Many social media platforms have clauses in their terms and conditions that give them rights over the content you share on their sites. Whenever you post a picture or video to a social media networking site, that platform gains ownership of the rights to use it however they want. Essentially, once you post it online, you give up control. It can be saved, printed, and altered by anyone.
Common Questions to Consider Before Posting
- Would we want this content posted about us?
- Is it embarrassing in any way?
- Who will view this content?
- Does it contain any identifying information (addresses, school names, activity schedule/location, etc)?
- Does your child consent to it being shared?
In addition to privacy concerns, it’s important to consider the impact of sharenting on our children—short-term and long-term. Your intent may be simply to share a silly moment of your little one, but the truth is, you may be putting them at risk of bullying and embarrassment—especially down the road. Again, you’re contributing to their digital footprint, so you should ask yourself, when they look back at these photos or videos one day, what will they feel? It’s also worth considering if you’d want the picture or video online if it were of you and not your child.
Child development and parenting expert Caron Irwin says, “I think that it’s important to make sure that what you’re sharing is positioning them in a good light and is something that if they were to look back on it, they would understand your intentions and have those same hopefully positive thoughts and feelings about it.”
If your children are old enough, you should be checking with them before posting. Irwin says that kids between the ages of three and six are able to grasp basic concepts of social media, so ask what types of photos they’re comfortable having shared, and get their permission to share them. Use these conversations as an opportunity to explain how social media works. Discuss the risks and safety measures they need to implement when they are old enough to share on their own. This allows your kids to think about how they’re presenting themselves, which can lead to all kinds of conversations and engages them in critical thinking. And if they request that you don’t share a particular photo or video—or any at all—you need to respect their decision. Posting despite their wishes threatens the parent-child trust and will likely have a negative effect on the relationship.
Laurel Cook, a social marketing and public policy researcher, says, “It’s very obvious that there’s no real consent going on with many of these children…the opinion my colleagues and I have is that if the child is not able to understand and give consent—whatever age that might be for that child—then all that information should probably be kept private.”
In 2019, Microsoft conducted an internet safety study and found that 42 percent of 12,500 teenagers surveyed across 25 countries said they were “troubled” about how much their parents shared of their lives. Eleven percent said it was a “big problem” in their lives as they grow up.
As parents, we are ultimately responsible for our children’s digital footprint until they are old enough to use social media themselves. We need to carefully consider what we are sharing, what message it sends, and how it could be misunderstood or misused. Once it’s out there, it’s out there, so it’s best to be mindful and cautious. After all, these are our babies, and it’s our job to protect them—above everything else.
Listen to More
The world of screens and social media can get very hairy especially for parents trying to figure out the best parameters for their family. Hear our honest takes on the subject and what we do with our kids as we look at screen time for every stage from babies to teens.
This is not meant to scare or to insinuate that we are dooming our children by posting their photos online. It’s merely a reminder that the internet is forever, and we need to be cautious. We need to be careful about what we’re sharing—about ourselves, our children, and others who we capture moments with.