Parents share one universal trait. They’re very good at embarrassing their children.
They loudly and publicly boast, complain and share mortifying and intimate details about them. Then those kids grow up, procreate and proceed to engage in the same oversharing behavior regarding their own offspring.
This has probably been going on since the dawn of humankind.
There’s a new wrinkle, however, and it’s eliciting growing concern that it’s not a healthy one. It’s known by the portmanteau, “sharenting,” and it comes to us courtesy of social media.
Sharenting, the overuse of social media by parents to broadcast content about their kids, is increasingly one of the most hotly discussed and debated cultural trends revolving around the internet. In short, worries are escalating that parents who continually post photos, videos and stories about their children are unwittingly creating a host of potential problems.
To be sure, social media such as Facebook and Instagram have positive attributes. They allow parents to engage with like-minded communities, and to quickly and easily update friends and family members, some of whom might live far away, about the progress of their little ones. This can be a blessing for out-of-state grandparents, for instance, who appreciate the ability to regularly access information about their beloved grandkids.
But experts are increasingly warning about the dark side to all this sharing.
One cause for concern is that parents generally post this information without their children’s consent.
Of course, parents make decisions all the time that affect their kids without consulting them. That is the prerogative of being a parent. As children mature, though, they might come to resent their parents’ constant disclosures about their lives and grow uneasy about exactly how much they are sharing and who has access to that information in the online universe.
By age 2, one study found, 92% of American children have unique digital identities, which grow and follow them as they age.
One could imagine, for example, a child being bullied by her peers over a photo or story about her that was posted online by clueless parents, who considered such posts to be only a harmless sharing of cute or humorous content, or a display of pride intended for a friendly audience. The trouble is, once information is posted, it’s hard to control where it goes.
Another aspect to this growing phenomenon that raises concern is the fact that kids today, for the first time, have had an online presence curated for them since birth — or even before that.
Expectant parents today often chronicle every moment of their babies’ development, right down to posting sonogram images, and photos and videos taken in the delivery room. Those are followed by postings about every milestone large and small — first steps, nap time, soccer games, dance recitals, birthday parties, etc. By age 2, one study found, 92% of American children have unique digital identities, which grow and follow them as they age.
And it’s not just parents. Schools, sports clubs, and other organizations add to the digital pileup of information about kids that can be readily accessed on social media.
The implications of kids having what could be viewed as two different identities — their more private ones and those that have largely been created by others and which exist in perpetuity in the digital realm — aren’t yet clear.
Internet safety specialists caution that by the time kids are old enough to assert their independence and desire for control over their online images, a vast amount of information about them is already out there. Grandma and grandpa might appreciate that, but red flags are being raised because of the access that might be gained by more nefarious, predatory corners of the web.
It also means that gobs of information about our kids are widely available to advertisers and platforms to commodify and exploit. That happens regardless of whether parents post about them, but the personal details they tend to share are a treasure trove for data brokers. Some posts could also come back to haunt kids much later, when they apply for college or employment.
There’s another question parents should consider: Are they teaching their children the right lessons about social media?
By constantly posting about their kids, parents might run the risk of normalizing the idea that life is a series of staged events, a kind of ongoing performance art. Indeed, posing for photos to share on social media could become the main event itself, a competitive and somewhat artificial endeavor that threatens to overshadow the more natural, organic aspects of our lives.
Outside the United States, some governments are beginning to take action. A European court ruled that internet providers must give users “the right to be forgotten.” In France, kids can sue their parents for publishing intimate details of their lives without their prior consent.
No such protections exist here, and we should of course be wary about any attempts to police the free flow of information and to constrain what for many is an enjoyable and beneficial pastime.
Nevertheless, parents are being called on to be more circumspect regarding the information about their kids that they post online. At the least, a pause or two to think it over before clicking the share button couldn’t hurt.