It starts innocently enough by posting a picture of a sonogram and suddenly – months before he or she is even born – your child has an established presence on social media. Welcome to the digital world, little one.
Soon there’s a post announcing your child’s birth, and consistent updates follow: first smile, first tooth, first step, first time using the potty, first day of school. With so many milestones, it’s easy to understand why moms and dads want to share a few pictures of their little ones on social media and watch the comments and likes roll in.
But before long, those posts form a fully fleshed-out digital profile of your young ones. A 2018 study in the United Kingdom estimates that parents post approximately 1500 photos and videos of their children to social media sites by the child’s fifth birthday. With more than 228 million Americans using an ever-expanding array of social media sites, that may be a conservative estimate.
The phenomenon of parents posting information about their children on the internet is known as sharenting, a portmanteau of sharing and parenting. While it seems harmless, the abundance of information shared about children – full names and dates of birth, coupled with pedigree information like telephone numbers, location data, and mother’s maiden name – exposes children to the possibility of becoming victims of identity theft.
By sharenting, parents are making the decision to participate in social media for their child, depriving them of their ability to make the decision to participate or not participate for themselves when the time comes. Sharenting also runs roughshod over the child’s ability to cultivate their own identity, both in and out of the digital space.
Before you share a photo to social media, consider the following guidelines from the University of Florida Levin College of Law.
1) Familiarize yourself with the privacy policies of the sites and be cognizant of the risks. Even if you post something with the intent of sharing it with a limited audience, security breaches and the potential for the site to change or violate its own policies without your consent are real-world possibilities. Even if you limit the audience of the post, friends can intentionally or inadvertently share information with third parties.
2) Set up Google Alerts for your child’s name so you can monitor where information about your child appears.
3) Consider sharing anonymously without disclosing your name or the names of children so information can’t be tied back to you.
4) Use caution before sharing location. Sharing information about the physical location and family routines can increase the risk of child abduction.
5) Give your child “veto power.” Demonstrating that you respect the child’s choice helps to build their sense of self and gives them a voice in the decision process.
6) Never share a photo that shows your child in any state of undress. You may view these images as cute and harmless, but they pose an easy target for pedophiles.
7) Consider the impact of sharing on your child’s current and future sense of self and well-being. Children model the behavior of their parents, and when parents overshare, children are likely to mimic the observed behavior in adolescence and adulthood.
If you’re a parent guilty of oversharing, or a victim of it yourself, it may be helpful to speak with mental health practitioner licensed by the California Board of Psychology or the Board of Behavioral Sciences. You can check the license of a mental health professional at www.search.dca.ca.gov.