Of all the jobs I have ever had, by far the most difficult, confusing, exhausting AND rewarding is as parent. Since it is often all consuming, it helps to be able to share the daily challenges and victories with others who can sympathize and who appreciate your pain or your pride.
The term “sharenting” was created to describe the burgeoning trend of parents online sharing the minutiae of their kids lives. We are not talking about major milestones like graduations and birthdays, but everyday images of kids eating, playing and sleeping. The ups and downs, but mostly ups, of a parent’s life. Studies show that 85% of online moms and 70% of online dads share pieces of their kids’ lives. You can find these photos and daily outtakes littering Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and personal blogs.
Is there a harm?
From a psychology perspective, there are many studies about the effects of comparison between parents. On one hand, the constant stream of images and statuses describing other kids’ accomplishments may make you feel badly about your own child’s successes. On the other hand, Tumblr posts like Why My Kid is Crying (which is now a website) that describes the “reasons” why toddlers cry is hysterical and make us all feel normal about our 3 yr old who wants the blue balloon…. but cries because it is not green. So pros and cons.
I’d like to focus on my expertise, the technology perspective. Every time you add a photo, story or status about your child, your adding to their permanent online identity, or their binary tattoo. The latest reports say parents of kids under 16 are uploading an average of 208 photos per year! Judging by my Facebook feed I’d guess that’s a whole lot more for the infants and toddlers and less for the tweens/teens. By the time these kids are old enough to manage their own identities (currently 13 for most social networks) they are already dealing with an existing 2000+ photos that define them.
Then there are safety issues. A friend emailed me recently to ask about a blog she wanted to create. She asked me what I thought about her posting pictures of her kids to a public page. I told her this:
Best case scenario – only friends and family see your site. They admire your pictures and move on.
Worst case scenario – like really worst, some pedophile downloads your kids’ photos and reposts them to a kiddie porn site. Unlikely? Yes! But it has happened and so parents should at least be aware of risk.
5 Tips to ‘Sharent’ safely
1. Check your privacy settings
Privacy settings are a way to make sure you are only sharing with the people you trust. Most people I meet think their settings are set higher than they actually are. Facebook has the most complicated set. If you use Facebook, go through the privacy tool at least once. It is worth your time.
2. Carefully consider profile photos
Profile and cover photos are always public, no matter how many privacy settings you have. By putting your children in your profile photos, anyone in the world has access to them. You are also allowing public photo crawlers to record your child’s image along side your name thus publicly identifying them. This can be coupled with facial recognition, which many companies have started to use.
3. Know your network
Are you really ‘friends’ with all the people you are connected with? Anyone in your circle can download and distribute photos and information about your children. Find a personal picture of your child and then review your friend list with that picture in mind. If you wouldn’t share it with them in real life then they should not be on your list.
4. Be considerate of others
Not every parent wants their kids to be online. Before posting pictures of your child’s birthday party or Christmas concert, look for other children in that photo. If you are unsure about posting or sharing it, it is always best to ask the other parent. This also goes for schools, clubs and camps.
5. Think of the future
Even with all the privacy in place, you are building your child’s online identity for them. Everything should be considered permanent and, technically, public since anyone in your network has the ability to share those posts outside your circle. Before you post, ask yourself if the 10 yr old, 15 yr old or 20 yr old version of this child may be embarrassed by this post.
I feel grateful to live in a time where it is easy to share moments of my kids’ lives with the people who care about them. The technology gives us the power to do so. We need to make sure we are using it thoughtfully.