Did you know the average parent shares around 1 500 photos of their child online before their fifth birthday and that more than 80% of children have an online presence by the age of two?
The term sharenting was coined by the University of Michigan CS Mott Children’s Hospital in 2015. “By the time children are old enough to use social media themselves many already have a digital identity created for them by their parents,” shared Sarah J Clark, associate director of the University of Michigan CS Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health. “Sharing the joys and challenges of parenthood and documenting children’s lives publicly has become a social norm, so we wanted to understand the benefits and cons of these experiences. On one hand, social media offers today’s parents an outlet they find incredibly useful. On the other hand, some are concerned that oversharing may pose safety and privacy risks for their children.”
The poll surveyed parents of children from birth to four years of age with 70% of parents saying they use social media channels to get advice from other parents, while 62% said this helped them worry less about their parenting skills. More often than not, parents turn to social media for advice on sleep, eating habits, discipline, day care, and behavioural concerns, the poll reported.
According to researchers, parents are concerned about oversharing on social media – in particular, 68% of those surveyed were worried about their baby’s privacy, 67% worried about someone reposting the photos, and 74% were concerned about geolocating and inadvertently sharing information that identifies their child’s location.
However, as much as you want to share those fun memories and first moments – there is a fine line. Clark says, “Parents may share information their child finds embarrassing or too personal when they’re older, but once it’s out there, it’s hard to undo. The child won’t have much control over where it ends up or who sees it.”
A recent report for the London School of Economics (LSE), Preparing for a Digital Future, revealed that three-quarters of parents who use the internet share photographs or videos of their child online at least once a month. Just over 50% share only with close family and friends.
Sonia Livingstone, professor of social psychology in the Department of Media and Communications at LSE, and one of the report’s researchers, was quoted as saying they interviewed a number of families where even small children said they wished their parents would share fewer photos and stories about them, and rather consult them more. “It’s a matter of respect and consent, and protecting that is important, more than the actual fact of sharing itself.”
The stories and images shared on social media become your child’s digital footprint – one that is next to impossible to delete or remove. Your child also models your online behaviours, so are you leading with a respectful and appropriate example? You don’t want your child to grow up believing the number of likes on social media validates who they are.
The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) did a research project, Parents, Privacy, and Technology Use, which looked at (among other things) how parents view their own digital role modeling. Around 19% of those surveyed admitted they have posted something online that they believe their child may find embarrassing in the future.
Dr Veronica Barassi, anthropologist and Faculty Member in the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths University of London, is leading the Child Data Citizen project, which is funded by the British Academy and has an advisory board of international experts. She talks of the complexity of social media presence and, in particular, social media memories and emotion of creating digital diaries and the role they play. “Many parents mentioned they wanted their children to have a record of how the people they loved interacted with those childhood memories,” says Barassi. “A vast majority of the parents that shared a lot of information discussed how their sharing practices were directly linked to the fact that they lived far away from grandparents and relatives. In this framework, social media became ‘participative’ diaries and are valued precisely for that level of participation and interaction.”
Ultimately, the experts say, when you are posting – think about your baby as a future teenager or adult, and whether that future version of your child would approve of what’s being posted about her online.
Kim Bell is a wife, mother of two teenagers and a lover of research and the way words flow and meld together. She has been in the media industry for over 20 years, and yet still learns more about life from her children everyday.