In the age of social media, sharing posts about kids, family, pets, food, and more has become a normalized practice. For some influencers, their entire online personalities revolve around sharing information about their kids. While not inherently bad, this practice can become problematic over time depending on what information is shared. This is known as sharenting.
What is Sharenting?
Sharenting happens when a parent overshares information about their child online. This can happen in different ways, and there are different levels of sharenting. Oftentimes, sharenting is a negative term and refers to what is considered private information being shared or too much information is being publicized.
Recently, sharenting has become a well-known topic as more and more millennial-aged parents take to Instagram and TikTok to share videos and photos of their children. Children, especially those under the age of about 5 years old, do not have the ability to consent to the sharing of information about them.
This can become an issue later in life when those children become teenagers, as the information about their childhood is publicized in a way that they had no control over. The funny video of a child crying over dropping their ice cream might seem harmless, but will the child be bullied for it later? Children’s digital identities have already been formed without their say in how they were presented.
Dangers of Sharenting
Consent has been a big buzzword and educational point in recent years, specifically surrounding teaching children about physical consent such as letting them choose if they want to hug someone. When parents post photos or information about their children on social media without their consent, it in essence violates their autonomy and ability to choose what is done with their personage. For some parents, they may see this as part of their right to do as a parent, but 10 years down the line the child may not see it that way.
When parents post photos or information about their children on social media without their consent, it in essence violates their autonomy and ability to choose what is done with their personage.
Bullying and self-esteem issues are two of the most common dangers of sharenting. That embarrassing photo posted when they were 4 years old can come back to haunt them as their peers might find it and use it to bully them. Additionally, children who struggle with self image could find hateful comments or feel exposed in photos of themselves posted without their knowledge or consent. This type of embarrassment and bullying can lead to more serious problems such as eating disorders and self harm.
On top of the embarrassment that can come along with sharenting, oversharing information online can cause a number of other issues. It’s normal for parents to mention their child’s name and birthdate in celebratory posts, which can put kids at risk of identity theft. Hackers are able to garner troves of information about a child because of the amount of information that has been online about them since birth. This can lead to security breaches and stolen data as serious as Social Security numbers being misused.
Oversharing photos can also lead to a child’s image being shared on predatory sites. Thankfully, the risks of child abduction based on sharenting is low. A 2017 study found that less than 10% of abductions were linked to social sharing. Regardless, it’s hard to know where photos of children might end up and whose computer they might be on.
With the rise of smartphones, laptops, and tablets in the hands of tweens and teens, it’s also important for parents to be aware of best practices surrounding social media use and their kids. Check out our Practical Guide to Tweens and Teens Social Media to learn more.
What Can You Share?
A general rule of thumb is that if the information being shared is something a parent would not want shared about themselves, they shouldn’t share it about their kids. Even if it’s not outwardly embarrassing, is it something that a child should have linked to them in their digital footprint? With open access to the internet, college admissions, romantic interests, and potential jobs can easily dig up information about someone’s childhood.
This isn’t to say parents should not share anything about their children online. Parents should be able to share their love and pride of their kids. The occasional photo of a family gathering or celebrating a birthday isn’t inherently problematic. The issues around sharenting arise when oversharing occurs or extremely embarrassing videos are sent out into the public sphere.
As parents, there’s always time to have a funny story told over the dinner table with a teen’s new partner about something they did as kids. Openly sending information into the world for everyone to see and laugh at is not the same. Always think before posting.