Sharenting …. Should we be worried?

A lot is made about empowering children to be safe online. Young children can innocently post photos and comments that would be used to bully them in the present and have consequences in the future.

However, parents are constantly snapping and putting material about their children: both good and bad online. A whole generation of children are growing up inheriting an online story line that they did not want or consent to. A parent’s own decision to share a child’s personal information online is a potential source of harm that has gone largely unaddressed.

‘Sharenting’ is the term that has been coined to describe the way in which parents share details of their children’s lives online.

Professor Stacey Steinberg of the University of Florida discusses legal and other issues regarding the parent’s right to share online and the child’s interest in privacy in a paper that is published in the Emory Law Journal in 2017 and is free online…..

Sharenting: children’s privacy in the age of social media

Parents share children’s photos and stories online with good intent – to share something sweet a child has done or said. Professor Stacey Steinberg says viewers do not even recognize the child’s privacy interest in what is being shared. Worst of all, parents seem to be unaware that long after they have forgotten what they posted, the material remains online and can be used against the child by anyone. Children are losing the right to their own narrative.

This is how I look at it……..

When I was growing up, the camera belonged to dad and we all had to pose every now and then for a photo – the film would be taken to town and after a couple of weeks, we would be staring at fresh photos. We did not take photos often.

For those without cameras – there was the guy who walked around the estate, a camera round his neck, often in an overcoat with many pockets where he stored his clients’ photos. You would have to wait ages for the film ‘to be full’ so that they could be ‘washed’ at a studio – and then brought by the said gentleman to your doorstep. The ‘kodak’ man would also be found at attractions in the middle of towns and cities – if you are my age, you will remember them lying on the ground outside KICC snapping away at happy couples – those photos we used to call ‘Karatina’ – I have no idea where that name came from…but I digress.

However you did it – photos were an opportunity to smile and pose. We have to dig into our memories to remember our ‘real’ life – what we did when we were not posing in front of a camera. Our memories are ours – no one has imposed them on us. We can tell our story unfettered by data overload from our parents.

Digital photos in the 1990’s changed that and our children have loads of photos and videos of themselves. Most of them are spontaneous and not really posed for. I find that my children shape their childhood stories around those videos and photos and retell them with those images in mind. I wonder how much of their own stories – away from the photos and videos they will remember.

Sharenting goes further – not only have we over photographed our children – many parents take to posting photos and videos of their children online. There is the occasional lovely photo of your child that you want the family to see.

Some parents take it to another level. Posting photos of their children and letting the world know where they are and what they are doing too frequently – telling all how clever their children are in this and that. Then the parents who blog about the joys and pains of raising children – mommy bloggers – who tell way too much.

Some parents with a child with a chronic illness, disability or mental health – sometimes start to facebook or blog about their children. This is aimed at encouraging other parents with similar children, to provide support for one another and sometimes raise funds for their sick child.

If as a parent – you have a child with a crisis, the tendency is to focus on the crisis – so much to that it is fused with one’s own fears and insecurities – almost inseparable from you. Although people may be encouraged by it – it leaves a strong statement – the child will have stuff to deal with that they probably would not have had – had the story not been laid out online for all to see.

Whatever the reason for posting photos and stories – these can be extremely embarrassing to a child as they grow up. Whatever friends they have will know too much about them. Employers biased against them even before they meet them.

Professor Stacey Steinberg puts it well….

..each parental disclosure, a bit of the child’s life story is no longer left for the child to tell under his or her own terms. Equally important to the right of the child to one day narrate his or her own story, is the child’s right to choose never to share the information.

We may not be aware of what the issues are but the first generation of children who were covered extensively on social media are now entering adulthood and the job market and this is as good a time as any to look at the impact of sharenting.

Prof Steinberg quotes a former google CEO as saying….

‘one day adults will be entitled to change their name to hide from the embarrassing content shared online during their teenage years’

Sharenting is likely to be a factor in the mental health of our children in future.

Think before you post.

More next time……
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