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Parents have been sharing pictures and updates of their children for a long time. However, since the creation of social media, this parental activity has become something entirely different: sharenting.
What is sharenting, and should you stop doing it? In this article, we look at the meaning of sharenting and the main concerns around the practice to help you decide.
What is Sharenting?
Sharenting is the practice of parents sharing pictures, videos, updates and digital representations of their children online and on social media.
Sharenting has become popular with the rise of social media which has made sharing content, thoughts, and opinions instant and global.
Although parents sharing information and updates about their children with friends and family is nothing new, sharenting has taken this innocuous activity to a whole new level.
Research shows that the average child would have around 1,500 pictures posted of them by their parents by the time they reach 5 years old. Additionally, parents share an average of 300 photos of their children online each year.
Parents oversharing aspects of their children’s lives online is very common. Data have shown that 77% of parents admit to sharing pictures, videos and stories of their children online. Twenty-four per cent of those parents have public profiles where images and videos of their children can be seen by anyone.
The data also reveal that 8 in 10 parents have friends or followers they have never met in real life.
This is particularly concerning as anyone can access the vast amount of information that parents share about their children, and some of these people may use this information maliciously.
Sharenting: Dangers and Concerns
As you read this article, you might be thinking about your sharenting habits and wondering if you should stop doing it. Here are some of the main concerns that might influence your decision about how much of your children you should or shouldn’t share online.
1. Privacy Concerns
There is a general consensus among child rights and digital safety experts about children’s privacy when it comes to parental oversharing online. Parents have a role in protecting their children’s privacy and reputation whether that be on or offline.
However, parents often share personal and identifiable information about their children online without thought or full knowledge of how these habits can result in the loss of their children’s privacy, compromise their safety, and leave an undesirable digital footprint.
In fact, research has shown that 80% of parents use their children’s real names when sharing information about them. Meanwhile, only 10% of parents say they are confident in managing the privacy setting on social networking sites.
Lack of precaution in sharing such sensitive information can lead to more serious threats to their children’s privacy and online safety, such as digital kidnapping and identity theft.
Data from the USA showed that fourteen per cent of American parents said their children’s identities had been stolen. Meanwhile, 53% of parents said social media was the biggest risk to children’s identity.
2. Artificial Intelligence and Your Child’s Future
Along with privacy concerns and children’s immediate safety online, you need to consider the future impact of oversharing your children online.
With the vast data of videos, photos, audio, stories and identifiable information shared of your children, there is a growing danger of what that might mean for your children in the age of artificial intelligence.
As fears about the impact of AI technology on our lives and the future dangers to our existence persists, many children’s rights and protection experts are looking at the near and future danger that AI pose to our children.
They are sounding the alarm that AI technology could be used to manipulate children’s data and misrepresent them online or be used maliciously to harm children and their parents.
This recent advert about the potential dangers that lie ahead paints a chilling picture.
3. Child Exploitation Concerns
Sharenting may have started out at the beginning of social media as just parents wanting to keep distant family members and friends up-to-date with their children. Indeed, for many parents, that still remains the case.
However, parents sharing videos and images of their children online has evolved into big business with many family blogs, vlogs and parenting accounts of ordinary parents making money online off their children who are now considered “content”.
Experts are now concerned about the blurred lines between the parent and boss in the parent-child relationship.
Children working and having their parents as managers is nothing new; think of child entertainers, models and actors, but family vlogs, blogs, and online parent content creators have added a new dynamic to the mix.
One of the major concerns of sharenting as a business model for families is the issue of child exploitation.
Unlike other forms of child work in the past, children of social media influencers or who are kidfluencers never seem to go home after work because work is always at home.
Nobody knows for sure how many hours in a day children are made to work for, the real economic beneficiaries, and the potential consequences for children’s development and wellbeing.
The law doesn’t seem to be keeping up with this era in child development to dictate how many hours children should be filmed for social media and how much they should be compensated.
Often, children have been working for their families since the day they were born with every moment of their lives documented and shared on their family’s YouTube page or Instagram accounts which are monetized.
Some countries have, however, taken up the issue of online child exploitation with the European Union, for example, passing ‘the right to be forgotten’ law which allows anyone to request that their personal data be erased.
The state of Illinois in the USA recently drafted legislation to give children the right to be compensated by their parents for money earned through their social media presence.
France has also passed a law to protect kidfluencers by giving them rights to the money they earn which is to be placed in a special bank account until they are 16 years, requiring permission from local authorities for children to work as kidfluencers, and giving them to right to be forgotten.
The French law is more than just protecting kidfluencers economically, it also concerns other forms of child exploitation, such as child sex abuse.
The politician behind the law, Bruno Studer, highlighted that 50% of children’s photos that are shared online by their parents end up on child sex abuse forums. [MM10] The new French law is the first to address these issues and protect children from online harm.
4. Child Abuse Concerns
There is a growing trend of parents disciplining or shaming their children online as a way to hold themselves up as good parents.
These parents employ violent disciplinary tactics which embarrass, hurt and harm their children with the long-term potential of psychological trauma and rupture to the parent-child relationship.
Harsh discipline in itself accounts for a number of adverse outcomes for children, including, juvenile delinquency and suicidality, coupled with this type of discipline broadcasted to the world, the implications for children’s mental health and well-being are far-reaching.
Additionally, there’s an aspect of some family blogs to prank their children, these pranks seem harmless and just for laughs, but some have bordered on child abuse with many calling for the practice to stop.
While a prank on a child may seem harmless, parents need to know that they are inviting the world to laugh at the children.
Often, the children don’t find these pranks funny and are visibly distressed which could lead to serious emotional harm. The latest example of this is the “egg challenge” on TikTok.
Furthermore, for older children, these can be embarrassing episodes seen by their friends that could lead to bullying in schools and cyberbullying.
5. Cyberbullying Concerns
Cyberbullying is a major concern for children and parents. Cyberbullying has a damaging and lasting impact on children’s mental health, including, depression, anxiety, suicidality and death.
Research shows that the rate of cyberbullying is higher for children who are on social media. Oversharing children’s information, images and videos on social media can lead to them being the targets of cyberbullying, particularly from embarrassing information, photos and videos.
A study in the UK found that children were often embarrassed, annoyed and frustrated by their parents’ public sharing habit. It further noted that 71.3% of children aged 12-16 reported that their parents did not respect their online privacy and 39.8% had experienced their parents sharing embarrassing photos of them (Siibak & Traks, 2019).
In the USA, data show that only 24% of parents asked their children for permission before sharing information about them on social media. Even when parents sought consent from children to post about them on social media, 32% of children reported that their parents still posted about them after they had declined their parents’ requests to post.
Anyone who has spent enough time on social media knows how merciless people can be with their thoughts and opinions and children are not exempt from this type of trolling.
Many adults have spoken about the toll that negativity from social media has taken on them, just imagine the type of damage this is doing to your child.
Sharing information, images and videos of your children online can be a way to keep distant family and friends updated on your children’s growth and development. However, you need to consider the risks of doing so. Before you share, think about the potential dangers, your children’s privacy and the future consequences of each post.
Siibak, A., & Traks, K. (2019). The dark sides of sharenting. doi: 10.1386/cjcs.11.1.115_1