Talking about your children and showing photos of them is totally normal. But let us just imagine. What happens if a parent spends too much time with the world showing how happy and fulfilled they are with their children, rather than spending time with their children and parenting them.
Well, this is known as “sharenting”.
This word, also known as oversharenting, was initially created by the Wall Street Journal as a combination of over-sharing and parenting. It is defined as the overuse of social media by parents who share way too much information about their kids.
A new craze or something that is ongoing
Sharents, a common name given to parents who blog and post pictures about their children, were found to be early adopters of social media and were comfortable sharing pictures with strangers. Here, social media was used as an element of proud boasting. Being awarded “likes” and comments encourage more and more people to post on social media.
Families tend to post on social media in many unique ways. A study conducted by the University of Michigan found that a majority of the parents shared information about five different things: putting a child to sleep, eating habits, discipline, preschool and behavioural issues. But in all cases, information about the child is being disclosed.
Caregivers unconsciously become distributors of information of their children to the mass audience. There could be positive intentions behind sharing all this – for connecting with relatives and friends far away geographically, but this could pose a threat to the child’s safety and security. Even posting a picture on a protected Instagram account or private Facebook page is not without risk.
The debate about whether parents can share information about their children online is ongoing. Parents play a dual role where they are both gatekeepers of their children as well as narrators of their personal stories. Thus, a conflict of interest exists.
As per a 2018 survey by McAfee, 40.5 per cent of parents in India (with most of them reportedly being from Mumbai) post a photo or video of their child at least once a day on social media while 36 per cent post their child’s picture once a week.
In a campaign held against sharenting in the US, a child complained that his mother had posted thousands of photos of him on Facebook since the day of his birth until he turned 15, without his permission. Another teenager said that her entire life was exposed to the world thanks to her parents’ spontaneous habit of posting everything about her online.
In France, this wasn’t limited to just campaigns or sharing opinions about this issue. This behaviour was monitored legally such that a law was created that allows children to sue their parents for posting pictures online. Under the law, parents could be penalised for hundreds of euros, and even imprisoned for a year.
In extreme cases….
Sharing children’s information has led to a phenomenon called “digital kidnapping” where others modify these photos and details to portray them as their own children. Studies show that millions of such pictures end up in paedophilic and hebophilic websites. Something that parents do to gain attention can end up pretty badly if it ends up in the hands of the predators.
By tracing a parent’s social media account, a child’s personal details can be inferred such as name, age, location, birthday and so on.
As a result, researchers, paediatricians and other child advocates are holding public campaigns to draw attention about a child’s right to privacy and its conflict with parents’ right to publish.
Studies estimate that by 2030 nearly two-thirds of identity-fraud cases affecting today’s children will have resulted from sharenting.
So, this wraps us up to some important points that a parent should note before the child’s picture is posted online:
1) First of all, this information belongs to the child, not the parents
A quick Google search can bring up all sorts of information about a person. Posting information about oneself can be accepted as you are consciously aware of what you are doing. But it is critical to think about it when you are posting about others, firstly when it is your children and secondly when the content is embarrassing or even worse. So always before posting something, tell yourself that your child has the right to privacy.
2) Sharing information about your child isn’t a big deal, but sometimes it can be
Before you post, ask yourself, what is the purpose of the post? You should have a good reason to share your child’s information to the entire world. Think about all the consequences. Does your post bring up any personal details of the child? Is there a way where information can be shared anonymously?
3) Information on social media isn’t completely private
You may take it down in the future, but nothing is completely gone. Traces of it may be left behind.
So, analyze your actions and think about the following:
- Do you still own the content?
- Who has access to what you are sharing?
- Are you giving away more than you realize?
A quick way to answer these questions is to check your privacy settings. Being familiarized with the privacy settings of the site is essential. Some social sharing sites give users the option of setting passwords and having their online content hidden from Google’s search algorithm.
4) Your children at a young age may not know now but may regret in the future
A picture of your child wetting the bed when he is four may be cute, but wouldn’t he be bullied when his peers find out later in life? What may seem appropriate now may not be appropriate ten years later. Your child never chose this in the first place. What you do accelerates the child’s entry into the “digital life” earlier than you think. They can’t “opt-out” of it in the later stages of their life.
5) Is there a hindrance to your child’s development due to your actions?
Research has shown that over 90% of American children’s social media presence develops by age 2. It is really shocking to think that more than 80% of babies younger than that are already on the internet
Practically speaking, the child is being groomed in an online presence than in real life. As they progress through childhood, their self-esteem gets affected and they have trouble forming their self-identity.
Children develop their sense of self by the age of four. This is the time when they start to build friendships, get the ability to reason and interacting actively in their environment. Therefore, parents have to be mindful of what implications they actions would have in their child’s present and future wellbeing.
Ultimately the three important values that parents should remember are
- Be kind to your children
- Be thoughtful and
- Be careful
Steinberg, Stacey, Sharenting: Children’s Privacy in the Age of Social Media (March 8, 2016). 66 Emory L.J. 839 (2017), University of Florida Levin College of Law Research Paper No. 16-41, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2711442