Whether or not you are close to your friend’s children, if you spend time on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok (you’re cooler than us!), chances are you know a fair bit about them. You know what their little ones looked like on the first day of the school term, that they got a new bike for their birthday, and that they don’t like Brussels sprouts.
While parents have always shared stories and photos about their beloved offspring, social media has caused a huge rise in “sharenting”. This combination of the words “sharing” and “parenting” was first coined in 2012 in the Wall Street Journal and refers to the practice of parents, often on social media, sharing information, photos, and other content about their children. As we continue to live our lives online, the amount of details we’re receiving on issues that in previous decades remained private, are now a public matter.
“Sharenting can include anything from baby pictures and milestone updates to more personal anecdotes,” explains Emmanuelle Mollet O’Grady, Principal Clinical Psychologist (Child & Adolescent) at International Medical Clinic (imc-healthcare.com). “While sharenting may not be a new phenomenon in the sense that parents have always divulged information about their children with others, the scale and ease of sharing has expanded significantly. Parents on social media can now instantly reach a wide audience, which has positive and negative consequences on everyone involved.”
As such, the concept of parental sharenting has sparked divisive discussions about responsible sharing, digital privacy, and the potential online sharing has on a child’s future. While a very personal and tricky subject, Emmanuelle can see a case for both sides. “Many parents engage in sharenting for reasons that can benefit both them and their children, as well as their friends and family. Regular parent-themed posting helps you to stay connected with loved ones, exchange parenting tips, and document a child’s growth and development,” she says.
Indeed, parents are often super-proud of their child’s toilet training development, ability to remove all their clothing in supermarket aisles, and the remarkable way that they can recite all the words of Frozen’s Let It Go. Sharing tidbits also creates a sense of community – there’s a lot to be said for relatable content pertaining to the challenges and joys of parenthood that can build a bond and foster feelings of support with others. Let’s face it, there’s solace in discovering you’re not the only one who has to deal with a five-year-old throwing a Sisyphean-sized tantrum in the middle of Tanglin Mall.
Lifelong digital footprint
But is sharenting just another form of Too Much Information (TMI)?
Concerns relating to privacy, consent, and potential long-term consequences for the children cannot be ignored. Some parents may unknowingly impart sensitive or personally identifying information about their children, which could be misused. Warns Emmanuelle, “Sharing personal details, including a child’s full name, birthdate, school, and location, can make them more vulnerable to identity theft, cyberbullying, and online predators.”
Sharenting can infringe on a child’s privacy and consent. Children may not have a say in what their parents say about them, and this can lead to a violation of their personal boundaries as they grow older and become more aware of their digital presence. What’s also key to consider is the impact that the social postings now may have on the child in the future: no teen wants their mates referring to the time when aged seven, they won the ‘Best Harry Styles Lookalike Competition’.
Giving regular insights into a child’s world gives them an online reputation before they have a chance to develop it themselves. “Inaccurate or unflattering content and images can affect a child’s perception in the online world,” says Emmanuelle. “Constant posting creates a lifelong digital footprint which can be challenging to remove or control. While extreme, it may impact a child’s reputation, education, or employment prospects in the future.”
To mitigate these dangers, Emmanuelle says that it’s important for parents to engage in responsible sharenting which includes being mindful of privacy and consent issues, as well as potential long-term consequences for their children. “Striking a balance between sharing and respecting a child’s boundaries is key to making sharenting a positive experience,” she says.
Of course, the lines around respectful boundaries can be a little murky when children are very young. Only when they are older can you consult them about online behaviour. “As your child matures, respect their wishes regarding what you post about them. It’s essential to seek their consent before uploading images or personal stories that involve them. Make sure they feel empowered to speak up about their online presence,” Emmanuelle says. Likewise, it’s imperative that you teach your kids social media etiquette including responsible posting and how to respect the privacy and consent of others. Discuss the potential risks and benefits of spreading personal information online and encourage your child to think critically about what they see and share themselves. Ask them to pause before they post and to be aware of the potential impact of their online actions.
- Preschool age (3-5 years)
Start introducing the concept of online safety and privacy. Use age-appropriate language to explain that some things are private, like their name, address, and family details. Explain that they should not share this information online or with strangers.
- Elementary School Age (6-10 years)
As your child becomes more tech-savvy and begins using the internet or social media (if age-appropriate), continue discussing the importance of privacy and responsible online behaviour. Tell them that you may share some photos and stories about them, but that you will always respect their feelings about what you post. Encourage them to ask questions if they’re curious about your online activities.
- Pre-Teen and Teen Years (11+ years)
Engage in more in-depth conversations about digital privacy and consent. Discuss the potential long-term consequences of what you share about them. Urge them to express their preferences and concerns about their online presence, including what they’re comfortable with you sharing and what they’d like you to avoid. While respecting their autonomy, Emmanuelle recommends continuing to monitor your child’s online activities, friends, and connections to ensure their safety. The importance of privacy settings and maintaining a positive online reputation can never be underrated.
“Parents on social media can instantly reach a wide audience, providing both positive and negative consequences”
Communication is key
While you can be in control of the parenting content you put out to the world, you cannot manage the nature of your friends or family’s output. If someone else is revealing details about your child, it’s essential to address this issue asap. “Reach out and express your concerns privately,” suggests Emmanuelle. “Approach the conversation with empathy and a desire to maintain a positive relationship and express your feelings using “I” statements to convey your thoughts about the situation. For example, say, ‘I feel uncomfortable with the photos you’ve been sharing of my child without my consent’.”
Asking for your friend or relative’s side of the story will give them the opportunity to explain their actions – in many cases they may not be aware of your feelings or may have had different intentions with their post. Be open to hearing their side of the story and willing to engage in a constructive dialogue, after all, they may have reasons for their actions that you haven’t considered. If this is the case, clearly communicate your boundaries and expectations – let them know what is acceptable and what is not. Work together to find a resolution that respects your concerns and maintains your friendship.
If you can’t reach a compromise, ask them to remove the photos or adjust their privacy settings to limit the audience who can see them. Now is also the time to reflect on your own comfort level regarding sharing photos on social media, and to make sure that your practices align with your expectations for others. If you’re posting images of your child’s play date with Nico, you can’t expect Nico’s parents to keep schtum about it.
As always, communication is key to striking a balance. However, if your friend doesn’t appear to respect your boundaries or continues to share photos against your wishes, you may need to consider taking further steps to protect your child’s privacy, such as adjusting your own social media privacy settings or seeking legal advice if necessary.
Sharenting: A Don’t Go There Guide
- Personally identifiable information
Avoid sharing information like your child’s full name, birthdate, home address, school name, and other details that could be used to identify or locate them
- Nude or bathing photos
Don’t share photos of your child in a state of undress or while bathing. These could be inappropriate or exploitative
- Embarrassing or invasive stories
Refrain from sharing stories that may embarrass or invade your child’s privacy as they grow older. What might be cute at a young age could be mortifying for them in their teenage years
- Medical or health info
Keep medical conditions, medications, or health-related information about your child private. Such information could be used against them in the future
- Sensitive family conflicts
Keep family matters, issues, or confidential matters out of the public eye. Sharing personal family conflicts online can be damaging and distressing to children
- School details
Do not disclose your child’s school name, class schedule, or other information that could compromise their safety
Avoid sharing photos or posts that reveal your child’s exact location in real-time. Geotagging can potentially compromise their safety
- Negative opinions
While it may feel amusing and relatable at the time, avoid criticising, ridiculing, or expressing negative opinions or comments about one of your child’s accomplishments