Many parents may think of sharing as an innocent way to connect with their friends and family and keep them up to date about what’s going on in their lives. After all, parents have always taken photos and shared updates about their kids. However, that practice used to happen in relative privacy.
How Much Info Is Too Much?
If you’ve spent any time on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok, you’ve probably noticed it: parents sharing news, photos, and other information about their children. This phenomenon is called “sharenting,” a combination of the words “sharing” and “parenting.” The term can be traced back to a 2012 article in the Wall Street Journal about “oversharenting,” although even before that, many parents had started posting information about their kids on social media.
Given how new it is, the research on sharenting is still in its infancy, with the children whose parents have posted about them on social media since before they were born just now reaching adulthood.
Parents’ Motivations for Sharing
Much of the research on sharenting focuses on why parents choose to share online. One study found that for parents of infants, sharenting can help alleviate the social isolation that comes with this period in their children’s lives, and that a desire for interpersonal connection also makes parents especially likely to overshare during this period.
Similarly, another study found that when new mothers receive likes and positive comments in response to the photos they share of their babies via social media, it validates them as good mothers and makes them feel supported.
While sharenting is often associated with the copious number of pictures posted of babies and toddlers, parents of adolescents also share information about their kids on social media. Research has shown their motivations include communicating their pride in their children’s accomplishments and informing friends and family about their kids’ lives.
Why Is There Concern About Sharenting?
Nonetheless, there are many reasons to be concerned about sharenting, especially when parents overshare or share with too many people. Here are some of the potential pitfalls and dangers of sharenting:
Oversharing and Violating Children’s Privacy
Studies have shown that 74% of parents know at least one other parent who overshares information about their kids on social media and that one out of 10 parents share information about their children’s health issues.
Dr. Kirby notes that disclosing inappropriate or revealing information can become a problem in the parent-child relationship, especially as the child matures.
Yet, oversharing has the potential to do even more damage. For example, if a parent reveals identifying information about their child on social media, such as their full name, home address, or birthdate, and a hacker has also managed to obtain their social security number, they could steal the child’s identity and use it to apply for credit and other services. This could cause problems before the child is old enough to start a credit history of their own.
Additionally, the cute photos or funny observations parents share online about their children could become a problem when their kids get older. In particular, colleges and employers are increasingly checking applicants’ online activity, and as a result, information posted by parents could become a source of embarrassment or affect a potential college’s or employer’s assessment of their child.
Shaping Children’s Digital Identities and Impacting Identity Development
By the age of 2, 92% of American children have an online presence due to their parents’ activity on the internet. That means parents are shaping their children’s digital identities well before children have started to think about who or what they want to be on social media or otherwise.
While scholars haven’t yet determined exactly how this impacts children long-term, there is speculation that this could play a role in the development of their sense of self. For example, if parents share embarrassing or inappropriate information online, and their peers learn about, it could put them at risk for bullying.
Research has shown that adolescents tend to approve of sharenting as long as what their parents post is positive. Still, sharenting can be a source of friction between parents and their adolescent children.
Children develop their identities during adolescence and also use this time to experiment with self-presentation, including on social media. Consequently, if parents have already established an online identity for their child that’s led people to form specific perceptions of them, it may impact their sense of individuality and feelings of independence.
This may be especially true if the online image a child’s parents create for them contradicts the online image, they’re trying to create for themselves. As a result, if parents share information that’s embarrassing or that adolescents don’t want disclosed, it may lead them to withhold information about their lives from their parents so they can better control what can and can’t be posted about them.
Tips for Better Sharenting
Posting anything on social media comes with risks, and there are drawbacks and dangers that are specific to sharenting. However, it’s also possible to share information about your kids on social media while mostly avoiding these issues. Some things parents can do to ensure they’re sharenting responsibly include the following.
Think before sharing
In fact, according to child clinical psychologist Laura Anderson Kirby, PhD, of Lauren Turner Brown, Ph.D., PLLC, and author of the children’s book Henrietta’s Thistleberry Boots, the ability to connect and stay in touch with friends and family in a world where people increasingly live far apart from one another is one of the positives that can come from sharenting.
Dr. Kirby recommends always asking yourself a few key questions before you post that photo or silly anecdote about your child including: What is your goal in sharing? Who will see the post? Would you worry if the post is seen by the wrong person?
If any of those questions raises a red flag, don’t share the post, or alternatively, share it with a smaller group of trusted people, such as a text chain that only includes your closest friends or a social media account that only includes members of your immediate family.
Don’t post negative, critical, or revealing information
Dr. Kirby notes that while it’s perfectly fine to sharing a photo of your child with their birthday cake or something from another positive occasion, as a general rule you shouldn’t post anything negative about your child, including health concerns, frustrations about their behavior, or their struggles at school. This is a violation of your child’s privacy.
If you’re in need of social support because of the challenges you’re facing as a parent but would have to post negative or sensitive information to do so, Dr. Kirby suggests finding a parental support group through Facebook or another online platform where you can post anonymously.
This will enable you to get the support you need, often from other parents who will be able to relate to what you’re going through, while protecting your and your child’s identity.
Get consent from your child
As soon as your child is old enough to understand what it means when their parents post about them online, parents should make sure to ask for their permission before they do so. Dr. Kirby urges parents to explain to kids what they plan to share and who will see it before clicking the share button, and to respect their children’s wishes if they say “no.”
If your child doesn’t want you to share something on social media but you really want a close friend or family member to see it, ask if they would be comfortable if you texted the image or information to that individual.
Apologize if what you share frustrates or upsets your child
If something you shared upsets your child, either because of the nature of the content or because you didn’t ask their permission, apologize. Dr. Kirby says parents should see these instances as an opportunity to model good behavior to their children while also rebuilding the trust between you.
Have open conversations about sharing on social media
Have conversations with your child about what you post on social media and why it’s important to think critically before posting. Dr. Kirby recommends having conversations that are appropriate to your child’s level of development.
For example, you might tell younger kids that the internet is accessible to a lot of people so we want to make sure that whatever we share doesn’t compromise our privacy and safety. Meanwhile, conversations with older children can get into specifics about sexual predators or other dangers that might come with sharing too much information on social media.
This is a rule parents should follow throughout their children’s lives. However, especially as children reach adolescence and start to form their own identities both online and off, parents should do their best to increasingly restrict what they post about their kids.
Never use your child’s full name
Make sure never to share sensitive information on social media like your child’s full name, their address, or anything else that hackers or criminals could use.
Use privacy settings
While they aren’t foolproof, take advantage of the privacy settings on social media sites to limit who sees your posts.