To sharent or not. This is the question perplexing many parents.
Documenting our kids’ lives online has become a social norm for many parents. But is it okay to post photos or videos of your children on social media, or blog posts? If you do post online, what are the risks and how can you do so in a way that minimises any potential pitfalls?
Navigating this ‘digital dilemma’ is uncharted territory for modern parents. There’s no blueprint as to how to ‘sharent’, but there are plenty of blog posts highlighting the dangers and adverse consequences for our kids. Sharing images on the Internet is vastly different from the yellowed photograph albums of our own childhoods.
Yet many parents sharent. It is reported that 92% of kids have an online presence before their 2nd birthday.
What are the Sharenting Pitfalls?
// Privacy concerns– there are very real risks that children’s images can be harvested from parents’ social media accounts, digitally doctored and/or catalogued on pedophiles’ websites or used in other inappropriate ways. The Internet is often described as Vegas- what you post on the Internet stays on the Internet. The Internet never forgets. We loose full control of where our child’s image or video may end up when we share it online and where and when it may resurface or how it can be possibly manipulated.
Aric Sigman agrees that we should also be concerned about compromising our kids’ and teens’ privacy in childhood: “Part of the way a child forms their identity involves having private information about themselves that remains private. That is being eroded by social media. I think the idea of not differentiating between public and private is a very dangerous one.”
// Your photos can be repurposed by social media platforms (& it’s not illegal)– in the Terms and Conditions on social media platforms (that we all read through very carefully) it stipulates that the social media site has the right to copy and use your photos and videos without requesting your consent.
// Safety risks- There are valid concerns that social media and blog postings could be used to identify a child’s private information. It’s possible to ascertain from parents’ social media posts their home address, childcare/school or play location. In particular circumstances, such as child custody disputes or domestic violence cases, disclosure of identifying information can pose a significant risk to a child’s wellbeing, or compromise the validity of a case.
// You’re curating your child’s digital DNA– That cute beach photo, or the toddler babble may seem cute to you now, but your child may not feel that way when their teenage peers, or a prospective employer is viewing the content. Adults have a responsibility and a moral obligation to think carefully about their child’s digital footprint.
// Cyber-bullying risks- parenting is a topic that is very contentious at times and people often have very different philosophical views and approaches (just think about the whole vaccination debate and breastfeeding topics to name just a few). Sharing your parenting decisions and approaches online can leave you open to (sometimes unkind) public scrutiny.
There are also possible risks to your child being cyber-bullied if you’ve disclosed personal or embarrassing posts on social media. A mother once shared a photo of her sons’ photocopied bottoms on Facebook (it was a wet, long weekend and they had discovered the photocopier in the home office). When she picked the boys up from school after the weekend, all three boys were in tears as they had been ridiculed all day from their peers whose mothers had shown them the photo on Facebook. Whilst this mother never set out to embarrass or upset her sons, this is what inadvertently happened.
// Source of conflict– there are anecdotal reports of children and teens reporting images and videos that their parents have posted of them online. I’ve had children telling me, firsthand, of some of the embarrassing things that their parents have posted on them online.
// Inaccurate, unsafe or unhelpful advice– one of the main benefits of sharenting is that parents can have access to just-in-time advice and tips from other parents. Sharenting can allow us to have a virtual village that we all crave as parents (this is particularly the case as many families now lack the community network they once had). However, this can also be a problem if inaccurate, unsafe or unhelpful advice is shared. This is particularly the case for parents crowd-sourcing medical or psychological advice via their sharenting posts.
Looking for more simple strategies to sharent without shame? Access my mini-masterclass here.
Essential Tips to Sharent Respectfully & Responsibly
“Manage your family’s digital disclosure by having firm boundaries that are communicated to all stakeholders.”
If sharenting is something you elect to do (and that is a question each family must determine themselves based on their values and evaluation of the concerns), there are simple steps you can take to do so in safe and responsible ways.
// Manage your digital disclosure- determine your parental disclosure parameters (think of it as an informal family social media policy). What is okay to share about your children online? Is it okay to tag you or your children in posts (this will become harder to enforce with facial recognition software)? Do you feel okay that their faces are shared? Do you share photos in swimming costumes or school/sport uniforms? Negotiate your posting preferences with your partner and other active care-givers (such as grandparents or babysitters) in your children’s lives. Ensure you don’t succumb to ‘boundary turbulence’ by having explicit rules about social media sharing and communicate these rules with other family members, or people who care for your children. If you do this upfront, it can prevent the chances that you’ll need to have a difficult conversation later on.
// Police your privacy settings– Many parents try to employ privacy settings on social media to limit who can see their posts. However, the privacy policies of social media platforms can change from time to time, which may re-classify certain types of posts, so what is shared privately today isn’t always guaranteed to be private in the future. Ongoing vigilance monitoring your privacy settings is vital. TIP- set a reminder on your phone to check your social media privacy settings each month.
// Pause before you post- Kids can certainly be frustrating and embarrassing as times, but recording and then sharing those moments invades their privacy. I’m not suggesting that posting one funny picture of your child on Facebook will psychologically damage them, but what’s the cumulative effect when they look back at their childhood and realise what was curated and shared and commented on by others. Glennon Doyle in her book Love Warrior suggested that we “share from your scars not your open wounds.” When we post from our wounds we often regret it later on. Also, ask yourself does this moment really need to be catalogued? What are the sacred, personal and private moments that you want to savour? Does the online world really need to know about every one of your child’s milestones?
“Post from your scars not your wounds”- Glennon Doyle
// Permission to post? If your child is old enough to understand, always ask them if it’s okay to post an image before you post it on social media or share it online. Involve your child/teen in taking and sharing images can help them to learn about online etiquette and respectful and responsible online behaviour. Clearly articulate why you’re taking the photo/video and where and with whom you’d like to share it.
// Permission to post your peers’ kids– We also need to develop the habit of asking permission to post pictures of other people’s children. Many parents feel defeated or even angry when they find images or videos of their children on social media, when they’ve made a concerted effort to not share images of their children. So always ask permission if you’re posting images of other people’s children. In some instances, there may be a court order in place that prohibits the publication of children’s photos online.
// Respect their privacy- if your child/teen asks you to remove a social media or blog post, do so immediately and apologise. Ask them to clarify why they didn’t want it shared and assure them that you won’t post without their permission again.
// Talk to kids about their digital DNA early- have conversations about what kids post online from a young age. Encourage kids to differentiate between posting ‘personal’ and ‘private’ information online. (See the “Sharenting Resource Sheet’ for some a suggested video that explains this in more detail.)
// Plan to problem-solve- know who to contact and the steps to follow if you want to remove YOUR children’s images/videos from social media. Firstly, ask the person who posted it to remove it. If they don’t, or you don’t know the person who posted it, go to the eSafety website.
// Be careful of what you disclose– be mindful of your meta-data and geolocation data from your photos and videos. Most digital photos have time, date and GPS coordinates of where the photo was taken attached to the photo in the meta-data.Whilst most social media platforms automatically hide or remove this data be mindful that this is not always the case. Check your location settings on your device to know which apps utilise the geo-location data and turn them off or restrict their functionality if you don’t want this data being shared.
// Look for other sharing alternatives- Do you necessarily need to use social media to share your children’s photos? There are other ways of sharing your photos of your kids without relying on social media. For example, Tiny Beans allows parents to share digital photos easily and privately via an app.
Looking for more simple strategies to sharent without shame? Access my mini-masterclass here or find this as one of many mini-masterclasses already inside the Switched on Parents’ Portal (an online library where you can access a range of digital resources about raising kids and teens in a digital world).