Most parents regularly post Facebook selfies taken with their children and share details about their kids on social media. So how do you 'sharent' safely without causing online harm to your children?
Megan Blandford

12 Jan 2017 - 11:08 AM  UPDATED 12 Jan 2017 - 11:20 AM

More than 80 per cent of infants under the age of two have a digital footprint, as proud parents around the world regularly post pictures of their children on social media.

But are millions of parents around the world getting their boastful social media posting practices wrong? Is it hurtful or harmful for children to have a digital footprint of their parent’s making?

Psychologist Jocelyn Brewer argues that it’s not a black or white issue. “I don’t think it’s a matter of right versus wrong, but giving greater consideration to the longer-term implications of what is shared, with what context … and the underlying motivations (of parents),” she says.

‘Sharenting’ – as this online sharing been dubbed – certainly comes with risks (we’ll get to those), but it can also ease parenting isolation.

“There are clear benefits in being able to connect with other parents around the struggles, challenges and opportunities that come with parenting,” says Brewer.

“However we need to do more than rely on technology to share our memories, events and news. To maintain deeper and meaningful relationships we might need to do more than push out our highlights reel.”

While most advice simply suggests ‘don’t’ when it comes to sharenting, one analysis of sharenting safety provides some advice for parents who want the best of both worlds: safety for their children and online connection.

That advice includes:

1. Familiarise yourself with the privacy policies of any sites you use

When you’re online the world is your audience. Privacy settings are important – but then again, the only way to really be sure about online privacy is to be careful what you post. If you wouldn’t share something publicly, consider not sharing it at all.

2. Set up a Google alert that will let you know when your child’s name is used online

3. Consider sharing anonymously, particularly if you’re using your child’s behavioural or health challenges to connect or advocate for change

We must ask ourselves what our motivations for sharenting are. One recent study shows that 80 per cent of parents post photos of their children for friends and family, while 25 per cent admit there’s an element of showing off to their sharenting.

But there are other reasons behind it: parents ‘sharent’ as a form of advocacy to raise online awareness about chronic illnesses and it allows them to find their voice and support, and work their way through mental health challenges. Sharenting can even assist in disciplining a child via public shaming. Some of these circumstances may be suited to anonymity. 

We must ask ourselves what our motivations for sharenting are. 

4. Ask for your child’s permission, especially once they’re over four years old

In a U.S. study of 250 families, kids aged over 10 listed their parents’ oversharing as one of their main technology concerns, as they felt frustrated and embarrassed when their stories are shared online without their permission.

Brewer confirms that asking for a child’s permission is an important part of both sharenting with respect and educating kids about social media. “Once children have developed language skills and a visual literacy of themselves and their identity, it is a good opportunity to start having conversations about what people share and importantly why they share it,” she says. 

In some countries, such as France and China, it’s argued that that kids are too young to give consent and deserve privacy protection from everyone – including their parents.

5. Think twice before sharing your child’s location or routine 

6. Don’t share photos of your children naked, and limit the viewing of photos in swimmers or scant attire

"Once children have developed language skills and a visual literacy of themselves and their identity, it is a good opportunity to start having conversations about what people share and importantly why they share it."

7. Think carefully about the implication this could have on your child’s future and current happiness

There are definite risks to sharing our kids online: embarrassing them, inciting bullying, creating a digital footprint that will follow them into the future, and the greatest danger, of course, is that images can end up in the hands of pedophiles or identity thieves. 

Awareness, however, is the key to making good decisions.

One thing’s for certain: parents aren’t leaving social media anytime soon, and where there are parents there are children.

Maybe that’s okay. Or as one of the Internet’s founding father’s, online evangelist Vinton Cerf once said: "The Internet is a mirror of the population that uses it”. And a mirror that blacks out the brightness of children is a sad idea indeed.

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