'Sharenting': Can Parents Post Too Much About Their Kids Online?

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For many of us, posting on social media is a daily habit. For parents, that often means updates about what their young children are up to. (Robin Worrall/Unsplash)
(Robin Worrall/Unsplash)

For many of us, posting on social media is a daily habit. For parents, that often means updates about what their young children are up to. But can parents be guilty of sharing too much about their kids online?

The phenomenon is called "sharenting" — and now, some experts say parents ought to pay closer attention to what they're sharing.

Stacey Steinberg, associate director of the Center on Children and Families at the University of Florida's Levin College of Law, says sharenting represents a "cultural shift" in the way kids grow up.

"Social media has only been around for about a decade or so, and so as parents, we're first learning about social media at the same time that we're talking about our kids," Steinberg (@sgsteinberg) tells Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson. "And as our pride and joy, we want to share them."

As a mother of three kids, Steinberg recommends parents develop their own policies around sharing photos, videos and other life updates about their children on sites like Facebook. For some, the best method might be simply not posting at all. For others, it could be a matter of giving a child the right to say no before a post is published.

"I think our kids need to be able to come of age in a way that they have control over their digital footprint," she says. "So it's really important that before we press 'share' on our digital devices, so to speak, that we really think about who they might become, who they might want to become and how can we best give them an opportunity to control this new digital identity that they'll grow to be in charge of one day."

Interview Highlights

On best practices for parents to keep in mind

"I think that parents need to be familiar with the privacy policies on any websites that they're sharing. I think it's also important that parents give, especially older children, veto power over any online disclosures that they're planning on making. I think parents need to be aware that while they might see a picture to be an innocent picture of their adorable child, that there are people who might have sinister motives and might see that differently, and so parents should avoid posting any pictures of their kids in any state of undress.

"And then I think that parents need to consider their child's well-being — both their well-being now, if the child saw it or their child's friends saw it, but also their well-being years into the future if they were to one day stumble across the ... digital footprint that was left."

"Parents need to be aware that while they might see a picture to be an innocent picture of their adorable child, that there are people who might have sinister motives and might see that differently."

Stacey Steinberg

On the different approaches parents can take on sharenting

"For some parents, not posting at all is a great choice and I certainly encourage parents to think about it and make the best decisions for their families. I'm not telling parents to keep sharing or to not share. I just think that it's really important that when they do share, that they think about how their kids might be feeling about it and how they can best do it safely. So there's certain information that parents I think should never share about their kids, and I think that parents are really the best people to make those decisions. It's like any other aspect of parenting.

"There's many different sides to how one person might choose to raise their kids, how they might discipline them, how they might feed them. The problem with social media is that it's such a new environment that we don't have a lot of guidance to guide us as we go about living our lives and communicating with friends and family online. What I really advocate for is for parents to get that guidance so that they can make well-informed choices for their family."

On whether it's dangerous to post about a child's birthday

"I think that it's not necessarily dangerous to post a child's birthday. But it's something that parents should keep in mind, that there are people that might be out there wanting to harm your kids, there might be people out there who are collecting information or digital dossiers. And so if parents make the decision to disclose that, they need to do so with an understanding that that information might be interesting not just to their friends and family, but it might also be interesting to people they've never met or companies that they are not even aware of."

On keeping photo sharing restricted to a private Facebook group, instead of posting for all of your friends

"I think parents always need to be aware of who's going to be able to see or access their pictures. For many parents, that means limiting it to a private group. But we also nowadays have a lot of people who choose to share on public spaces or with very large audiences on Facebook. The problem is that there is a lot of benefit to sharing our stories and to building our communities. And for parents, when they're sharing about their lives and they're sharing about their kids, they're doing it both for themselves to gain something from it, but they're also doing it maybe to shift conversations about what it is to parent in America, or what it is to parent a special needs child. I don't think we need to silence that voice, but parents do need to recognize that if they are sharing publicly, that those pictures can be saved and used in many ways over the course of a child's life."

On a child realizing when they reach 12 or 13 years old that they have a social media presence they had nothing to do with creating

"I actually talk to my kids before I post pictures of them, and I'm very protective of what information is out there and who the audience might be for the pictures. I don't really think that my child would one day wake up and be surprised by it ... . Now of course, that conversation is very different with a 5-year-old versus with an 8-year-old or a soon-to-be 13-year-old. But I do have that conversation regularly, and I think that parents who don't have that conversation absolutely need to be prepared for one day, that their child may find this trail that's been left from all the years that they have been growing up."

On what the future could hold for sharenting

"I think that as we all get more comfortable with social media and online world that we're all living in, I do think that parents are going to be thinking a little bit more cautiously and a little bit more proactively about what it is that they're putting out there online. For parents who have 10-year-olds, 11-year-olds, their children have grown up while the parents have first gotten social media to begin with. And so as we have more information, as we have more studies that show us how kids are feeling about the information that's been out there, I think that parents are going to be better equipped to be able to make smarter sharenting decisions.

"Just a few years ago a study came out that said that 1 in 4 kids are embarrassed by the information that their parents are sharing at them. There's another study that says that by age 9, kids have really strong reactions to the digital data that their parents are putting forth on social media. There's also been studies that show that kids are twice as likely as adults to say that adults overshare, and that adults should not overshare. So I think as more of this information becomes part of child-rearing discourse, we'll see that parents probably will be sharing less, or at least will be sharing smarter."

Marcelle Hutchins produced this interview and edited it for broadcast with Peter O'Dowd. Jack Mitchell adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on January 28, 2019.


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Jeremy Hobson Former Co-Host, Here & Now
Before coming to WBUR to co-host Here & Now, Jeremy Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than six million.



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