Technology is amazing, accessible, portable, relatively cheap and convenient, making sharenting a great way to connect families and friends and keep a digital record of your memories. Some parents sharent in online groups with others going through similar experiences; others sharent to raise funds or awareness of specific issues, for example, their child’s mental or physical health needs, illness or disability. In these situations, consider posting anonymously or using avatars to protect your child’s privacy. Believe it or not, no matter now genuine your intentions may be at this present time, your child may not wish to be associated with such experiences in the future.
Make time to talk about privacy
I would encourage parents to ask their children whether they want their life and photos to be shared online, as this creates a culture of consent and reinforces other messages about giving children choices about what happens to them. We have produced a downloadable booklet that encourages families to discuss online privacy rules the same way we agree other privacy rules with our children such as bathroom or bedroom privacy or help with getting dressed. As a child gets older, so too does their sense of self and ability to make choices, including the choice about what is - or is not - shared about them online.
Respect your child’s feelings
Sometimes sharenting is not respectful of children’s privacy or dignity, and frustrated and parents may share things that could (often unintentionally) shame, embarrass or upset a child. Posting a photo of your teenager’s messy bedroom to encourage them to clean it up could affect trust or cause more problems than it solves.
Understand your digital footprint
The Children’s Commissioner (2018:14) recently reported that “by 2030 “sharenting” will account for two-thirds of identity fraud facing young people over 18”.
Social media is only “free” in monetary terms as you “pay” with the information you share. This creates digital ‘footprints’ which can stay online for a very long time and can be used by companies, data profilers or harvesters in different ways such as targeted advertising or by those with ill-intent including criminals. For example, an innocent photo that says, “Happy 4th Birthday to my lovely daughter Sarah” which has the home address geo-tagged, gives away the child’s name, address and date of birth.
It’s all about being balanced and informed
To make informed choices about sharenting, ask yourself these questions:
1. What are my motivations for sharing this photo/video/story about my child?
2. Is it respectful and does it maintain my child’s dignity, privacy and safety? Could it breach the trust I have with my child through sharing things that only I should know?
3. If the roles were reversed and my child were sharing a similar photo/story about me with all their friends, would that be okay?
4. Who will be able to see it both now and in the future? Should I share it in a ‘group’ message or do I want all my contacts to see it?
5. Have I asked my child whether they want this to be shared with anyone else?
6. If there is another child in the photograph, have I asked them and their parents if it’s ok to include their image? If not, do I know how to crop/blur their faces?
7. Is the advice given by other parents online accurate and appropriate? Always speak to your Health Professional for medical advice as what works for one child may be ineffective or dangerous for another.
8. How many photos / friends / groups do I have on social media? Carry out a ‘digital spring clean’ and remove stuff from time to time.
A final word...
Please remember that as your child’s primary role model, if they pick up an implicit message early on that their self-value is tied to the number of ‘likes’ or ‘shares’ they receive - even from people they don’t know - this may have an impact on their sense of worth and their own online behaviours as they grow up. If you want your children to have critical thinking skills, be self-respecting and careful about what (and with whom) they share online, it may be worth thinking about what role-modelling we are doing now to plant those seeds.
To download the booklet: http://www.westerntrust.hscni.net/pdf/SHARENTING%20BOOKLET.pdf
Children’s Commissioner Report: https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/publication/who-knows-what-about-me/