Parents are always eager to share their children's successes, and social media makes that sharing so much easier. Parents often share a lot about their children because they're proud and because for many, it's an easy way to keep family and friends updated on their family life. Unfortunately, some parents, especially new moms, may be vulnerable to sharing too much about their kids online, something experts are now calling "sharenting."
Everyone knows that parent who is constantly posting on Facebook or Instagram about their kids, but when is it too much? In a study titled "Smart Devices, Smart Decisions? Implications of Parents' Sharenting for Children's Online Privacy: An Investigation of Mothers" published online in the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, researchers studied "sharenting," which they described as "a parent's habitual use of social media to share news and images about their children," according to Science Daily, and found that it's happening more and more.
The study suggests that women who often feel in a vulnerable place about their role as a mother often share a lot about their kids on social media, but they may be sharing too much private and personal information in those posts, including information that could be used to identify their children. A survey conducted by C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Michigan shows that 84 percent of mothers 'sharent' in order to feel less lonely.
"Providing updates on [a child's] progress with posts of photos, videos, and other personal information about the child has almost become a social norm, but it puts the child's online privacy and, potentially, safety at risk," researchers Mariea Grubbs Hoy and Alexa K. Fox wrote. The study suggests that parents need to be more aware of the information they're posting about their children online to ensure their privacy.
"Today's parents, many of whom grew up sharing their own lives on social media, may not comprehend the full impact and potential consequences of posting such information about their children," they wrote. They also suggested that mothers are "an important yet under-addressed vulnerable consumer segment who may be uniquely susceptible to particular types of social media marketing engagement tactics."
The study asked a control group of women about their use of social media, and whether they used it to post about their children and their understanding of privacy rules online. They shared how becoming a mother and all the changes and responsibilities that come with that life change can make a woman feel vulnerable and seek reassurance online.
"Posting about their experiences and sharing personal information about themselves and their children served as a coping strategy, primarily related to seeking affirmation/social support or relief from parents stress/anxiety/depression," the researchers wrote. "Every mother mentioned posting milestones ranging from the infant reaching the 'month birthdays' to children's firsts and other 'cute' moments. They then waited, at times eagerly, for affirmation in the form of likes or comments."
It's not just new mothers who need to curb their sharenting. Stacey Steinberg, associate director of the Center on Children and Families at the University of Florida's Levin College of Law, told Here & Now that all parents need to think more about how much of their children's lives they're sharing on social media. "I think our kids need to be able to come of age in a way that they have control over their digital footprint," she says. "So it's really important that before we press 'share' on our digital devices, so to speak, that we really think about who they might become, who they might want to become and how can we best give them an opportunity to control this new digital identity that they'll grow to be in charge of one day."
She also suggested that parents consult their children before they post on social media, allowing them to have some control over how much their parents are sharing. "I think that parents need to be familiar with the privacy policies on any websites that they're sharing. I think it's also important that parents give, especially older children, veto power over any online disclosures that they're planning on making," she said. "And then I think that parents need to consider their child's well-being — both their well-being now, if the child saw it or their child's friends saw it, but also their well-being years into the future if they were to one day stumble across the ... digital footprint that was left."
How much do share of your children's lives online?