On Sharenting

Not every single detail about parenting should be shared on social media.

Mother takes selfie with a toddler
A mother takes a selfie with her toddler.

@Irrmago via Twenty20

I learned a new term recently that I find amusing – "sharenting," which is the act of sharing every aspect of parenting on social media platforms. Most people with a child under the age of 18 are familiar with the normalcy of uploading details and tracking other kids' antics and activities in a newsfeed. I can't think of a single friend or acquaintance whose child I wouldn't recognize or whose extracurricular interests I wouldn't be able to name, even if I have hardly anything to do with them. 

Sharenting is popular and widespread because it's fun. It offers instant gratification to parents who may feel overwhelmed by the tremendous work required to raise little humans. It's validating to see the likes piling up when your kid does something cute that you managed to catch on video. It makes parents feel less alone. 

But it's not entirely harmless. Sharenting comes at a cost – the greatest of which is the cost to children's privacy. In the quest for immediate reactions, parents do not stop to think about the long-term repercussions of posting goofy, emotional, angry, or partially-clothed videos of their children online, despite the fact that these could be deeply embarrassing in the future. Often, this information can be damaging in ways we're unable to foresee. New York Times education reporter Anya Kamenetz wrote,

"Imagine a child who has behavior problems, learning disabilities or chronic illness. Mom or Dad understandably want to discuss these struggles and reach out for support. But those posts live on the internet, with potential to be discovered by college admissions officers and future employers, friends and romantic prospects. A child’s life story is written for him before he has a chance to tell it himself."

Parents need to slow down their posting and think about a few things, some of which might be uncomfortable. 

First, See Yourself as Your Child's Digital Guardian

A parent is a gatekeeper of private information that a child can then choose to release as they reach adulthood. If a parent really wants to share or feels they would benefit from the online connection that comes from sharing, then ask the child, assuming they're old enough to communicate. Kids appreciate being heard and understood, and this sets a good example for them.

Next, Put Yourself in Their Shoes

Everyone should have the right to express themselves in private, to show intense emotion, to make embarrassing mistakes and act like a goofball. But if we know it's all going online, it affects the way we behave. Millennial parents, with their perfectly curated social media profiles, should know better than ever that we like to control what gets posted and what does not. So that is precisely why we should ask ourselves, "Would I want the world to see a baby video of myself on the toilet, as a toddler having a tantrum, or a failed dance recital as a pre-teen?" If the answer is no, don't even think about it. 

A commenter on a New York Times article by legal professor Stacey Steinberg put this beautifully:

"I am always uncomfortable with the posting of photos/videos of children when they are at their most vulnerable, i.e. embarrassed, crying, or emotional. [For example], videos of surprise reunions of children with their military parents – especially in a classroom where their peers are witness to their reaction – is exploitative and not respectful to the child. Children deserve privacy during emotional moments."

Why Do You Think Everyone Cares?

This may sound harsh, but it's good to be reminded once in a while that not everyone thinks your kid is as amazing as you do. Ouch, I know, but it's true. I've heard people complain about online friends' oversharing about their kids' lives, and I've even resorted to muting or unfollowing certain friends because I find the deluge of kid content to be overwhelming. 

For close family and friends who are sincerely interested in your child's weekly progress, send emails. It seems old-fashioned, yes, but it's more secure than posting it on social media to hundreds of followers.

Don't Lose Sight of Yourself

This is something that I see afflicting many mothers, where they get so caught up in parenting that they forget to take time for themselves, to do things for themselves, and pursue any interests unrelated to their children. This is sad. As another NYT commenter said,

"While it is nice that many moms share things about their children, I find it a little sad that they don't share much about themselves. Everything seems to be about what the child is doing, his or her accomplishments, adventures, etc. These women never seem to have accomplishments or adventures of their own to talk about."

Obviously this is not the case for everyone, but it doesn't hurt to keep it in the back of your mind that having one's own adventures as a mother is an excellent way to stay sane, balanced, and happy. (I've long maintained that my solo trips are my key to loving family life as much as I do.)

Not everyone will agree with these things, but they're an important part of the conversation surrounding digital privacy. Model the behaviors you want them to use as they grow up, respect their right to privacy, and treat them the way you'd want to be treated, if you'd been raised in this day and age. Less is more when it comes to online posting about children; if they want to share more details someday, that should be their decision later in life.