Two years ago, for the first time, students took me aside to wonder aloud how to go about asking their parents not to share photos. It happened again last year when a child commented about baby photos that were especially embarrassing.All of this adult sharing of kids’ images and information is called “sharenting.” A fair number of people, including researchers, are wondering about the effect that too much sharenting has on kids.
A few months ago researchers at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital conducted a survey on the subject. The hospital’s National Poll on Children’s Health investigates topics several times a year, polling adults in around 2000 randomly selected, nationally representative households, about significant health issues that relate to children. In March the hospital announced the results of a November-December 2014 poll that asked 21st Century parents a range of questions about how they use social media to gain knowledge about parenting on social media as well as how they share information about their children.
The survey found that more than half of the mothers and about a third of the fathers use social media constructively to seek or share parenting advice. However, about three-fourths of the parents polled said that they were aware of parents who over shared information about their child. Sarah J. Clark, M.P.H., associate director of the poll points out that:
… there’s potential for the line between sharing and oversharing to get blurred. Parents may share information that their child finds embarrassing or too personal when they’re older but once it’s out there, it’s hard to undo. The child won’t have much control over where it ends up or who sees it.
You can read a good summary or of the poll, Sharenting Trends: Do Parents Share Too Much About Their Kids On Social Media?, posted at Science Daily.
An excellent article in the Guardian, The Pros and Cons of Sharenting, provides a thorough overview of the issues. Written by Nione Meakin, the 2013 article explores how all the parental sharing may change the lives of children as they grow older, and it’s chock full of valuable information. The author quotes Internet security expert Tony Anscombe, who says, “When it comes to our children, we’re making the decision to put things out there on their behalf, and what seems appropriate now may not be appropriate in ten years’ time.”
As adults grow increasingly comfortable with social media and share more and more of their parent-child moments in the connected world, they also create a trail — an identity that becomes sort of a digital dossier long before a child begins using a digital device. There is no comparison between keeping an old-fashioned photo album and keeping a social media photo gallery. One has privacy and the other has the potential to have none. One is mistake-free and the other has the potential to turn into some really big mistakes.
Many adults would be wise to consider the maxim that their children hear over and over again at school, “There are no absolute erasers in the social media world.”