Are You ‘Sharenting’ Your Children?

It is common to see parents posting pictures of their children on social media, as a way of sharing their parenting journey and memorable moments with their kids. However, given the perils associated to social media and the internet-of-things (IOT), should we be concerned?

This behaviour has been coined as ‘sharenting’ – where parents share their kids’ photos or videos on social media, such as Facebook, or blog about their daily life. Sharenting seems harmless and a reasonable thing to do as part of sharing your journey and experiences as parent. Parents can keep family and friends updated, share parenting advice, and receive emotional and practical support. It is also one way to preserve significant moments with their children such as the first steps, birthdays and heart-warming situations, or even funny ones.

Nevertheless, sharenting also raises concerns when parents share too much about their children or reveal their kids’ location or other sensitive information. Posting details of your kids online leaves a digital footprint that they may not appreciate, such as embarrassing moments for them that you find to be amusing. You also lose control over the data as anyone can copy, edit or use it without your discretion, and data collectors and advertisers may use the data for profiling customers. In a way, poor sharenting can be considered an invasion of your children’s rights to privacy and protection from future embarrassment.

When parents overshare, there can be real life consequences. Materials uploaded to social media may be repurposed for inappropriate or illegal means. For example, innocent everyday photos of children posted on social media were found on pornography sites accompanied by explicit inappropriate comments, as reported in a 2015 Australian survey. Other threats include identity theft and digital kidnapping (a stranger uses a child’s photos to make it look as if the child is theirs).

As mentioned, sharenting can be embarrassing to children, especially when their photos or videos – which may seem funny or amusing to parents, but not to them – are uploaded without their consent. This can make them feel self-conscious and less confident, or worse, lead to bullying by peers at school, affecting their overall mental health. Revealing certain information such as their location or daily routine also puts them at risk of being preyed upon, harmed or kidnapped by cyber predators. These unintended consequences may seem extreme for simply posting your kids’ photos online, but they can happen to anyone, including you!

To share or not?

It is natural for parents to want to share or record moments with their loved ones. But what are the limits when it comes to sharenting? Here are some guidelines.

  • Limit your audience. Scrutinise the privacy settings of your posts on different social media and impose appropriate controls. Where necessary, you may also set your social media profile to ‘private’ instead of ‘public’. Consider restricting posts about your kids only to family and close friends.
  • Use a nickname. This is one way to protect your kids’ privacy and identity. Use acronyms or other ambiguous names like ‘My munchkin’ or ‘Little one’. Consider blurring their faces if you are sharing about their struggles.
  • Opt for private photo-sharing sites. Sites like Google Photos or Dropbox are more secure and private, and it is easier to control your audience. Do not use social media sites as your one-stop photo archive, especially for photos with your kids and family.

  • Avoid personally identifiable information. This includes home addresses, school or childcare signboards or other details that can be used to track your kids. Turn off the geo-tagging feature on your social media!

  • Respect other children’s privacy. Try not to include your kids’ friends in photos that you post. If not possible, you can blur their faces or ask for their parents’ permission.
  • Ask for their consent. You can start when they are old enough to understand the concept of privacy, consent and social media (around 6 to 8 years old). Explain why you want to share their photos and respect their decision if they do not agree.

Most children are usually receptive to parents occasionally sharing their photos or stories, but it is still a tough act to balance between parents’ rights to share their experiences and their children’s rights to privacy. Of paramount importance however is for parents to consider their child’s perspective and the consequences whenever they share anything online.

An educational contribution by Malaysian Society of Clinical Psychology.

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