Sharing on social media and parenting have collided on the internet. The sharenting phenomenon is pervasive and problematic. Here’s what you need to know to protect your child’s privacy online.
Few things define the digital age like the popularity of social media. From Facebook to TikTok, nearly half of the world’s population has a social media account, and our online activity is changing the world in big ways and small.
This year the average person will spend 144 minutes on social media each day, posting about their favorite meals, popular meetups, political leanings, and, of course, their kids. More than 80% of parents are on social media, and most regularly post about their children, sharing photos, memories, locations, and other intimate details.
Today, “sharenting,” the colloquial term for parents continually posting or oversharing information about their kids online, is prevalent, and it can come with dangerous consequences.
What is Sharenting?
Sharenting is a unique problem for the digital age, but it certainly isn’t a new phenomenon. Since the beginning of the social internet, parents have been posting about their children, eager to show off their greatest accomplishments and commiserate with others about the profound challenges.
The Wall Street Journal is credited with crafting the term, which encompasses everything from cute baby photos to overly-frequent updates on mundane childhood accomplishments. Regardless of the purpose or content, sharenting is incredibly normal.
According to a USA Today poll, three-quarters of people know a parent who shares too much information about his or her child online.
The Risks of Sharenting
In the near-term, posting photos of innocuous or momentous moments may not feel consequential. The outpouring of “likes” and comments often serves as a tacit endorsement of more and more frequent sharing. We singled out the following risks associated with parents oversharing about their kids on the internet:
- Excessive sharing incites children’s disapproval. For children coming of age in this environment, the results are often problematic. A 2019 Microsoft survey found that 42% of teens have a problem with their parents’ posting habits, and “many teens are troubled when their parents post about them on social media.”
- Sharenting poses significant data privacy risks. A study by Barclays declared sharenting the “weakest link” in online fraud and identity theft risk. It’s estimated that parental sharing of their child’s information will lead to more than seven million identity fraud and child identity theft cases, collectively costing nearly $800 million.
- Kids’ photos posted by their parents are often used for inappropriate purposes. Stacey Steinberg, a mother, photographer, and children’s rights lawyer reported in The New York Times that sharenting can provide fodder for pedophiles. She writes, “Sharing online could also lead to image theft by pedophiles. Bath and beach pictures could be prime targets, but other images could be wrongly appropriated as well.” Research by the Independent UK found that pedophile websites steal half their photos from social media, making it one of the prominent places that these photos are acquired and misused.
- Early digital presence makes children an easy prey for profiling and online identity fraud. Companies and bad actors can harvest social media content in new and consequential ways. Personal data is one of the most valuable resources on earth, and data miners routinely compile this information, creating comprehensive digital dossiers that are readily available on people-search sites for anyone over 18.It’s important that parents know that everything from baby photos to personally identifiable information invites data miners to collect and sell this information for a profit. As adults, we’ve already been profiled by marketers and information brokers, but our children’s privacy is still within our control.
Why Parents Post & What They’re Posting About
Collectively, these threats are horrifying, but that hasn’t slowed the rate of sharenting. Studies routinely show that online sharing is both normative and increasing despite the risks and a robust public debate.
Incredibly, many parents are aware of these risks. Nearly 70% of parents are worried about people discovering private information about their children online or sharing photos of their children. There are many reasons that they continue to overshare anyway.
In its simplest sense, many parents are looking for connection, affirmation, and support. More than half of parents with young children report experiencing loneliness at least some of the time.
These realities are heightened at a time when social distancing guidelines have limited in-person interactions, making social media a vital connection point for many parents.
While more mothers post about their parenting experience than fathers (56% to 34%), social media participation is equal, and both parties participate in the sharenting phenomenon.
Sometimes, these habits are innocuous and unremarkable because sharing and participating in the social internet is so natural to many young parents.
Common kids-related content topics include:
- Bedtime routines
- Food and nutrition information
- Discipline concerns
- Daycare arrangements
- Behavior problems.
Most parents don’t intend to be malicious. They love their children, and they want to convey their affection as broadly and as frequently as possible. Simply put, posting about parenthood, including children’s personally identifiable information, is normative, and the risks often lurk out-of-site, ignored as a complicated problem for another day.
In this way, overcoming sharenting and protecting children’s online privacy isn’t just about labeling “good” and “bad” parents. It’s about becoming more aware of the social internet’s realities and making appropriate changes to address critical priorities.
Tips for Parents Using Social Media Safely
Breaking established habits is never easy, but it’s possible and necessary to protect your child’s online privacy. Here are a few simple steps to start off.
- Think before you post. The immediacy of the internet often calls for real-time documentation of important (or not so important) events. Before sharing a picture or a post, consider the following:
- Does this reveal my child’s location?
- Does this respect my child’s long-term reputation?
- Does this put my child at risk?
- Update your privacy settings. Social media platforms routinely update their privacy settings. A Nominet study of British families found that only 15% of parents have reviewed their social media privacy settings in the past year. Update these settings to tighten access to personal information.
- Reduce your friends and followers. Nominet also found that only 10% of parents classify their Facebook “friends” as true friends. As a result, everyone from close friends to former college roommates and co-workers can see your personal information. If you’re going to post about your children, reduce your friends and followers to reflect your closest friends and family.
- Don’t use hashtags or geotags. Social media posts often reveal sensitive location information that should be kept confidential. Don’t make this easy for bad actors by adding hashtags or geotags to your posts as they open them to a wider audience and provide specific location data.
- Request that others avoid posting pictures of your child. Even the best privacy settings and carefully curated online following become futile when friends and family post photos of your children on their accounts. Politely request that people refrain from posting these images.
- Avoid making parenting a blog project or side hustle. For some parents, posting about their daily lives is an intentional part of an influencer campaign that may earn advertising revenue or other perks. These rewards are fleeting and often minuscule, especially compared to the cost of prolific data privacy violations.
- Seek alternatives. Social media isn’t the only way to connect with friends and family. Rather than posting photos, connect online using Skype or Zoom. For photo sharing, consider starting private photo albums on Google or iCloud that allow select people to view pictures in a private setting.
Creating a Foundation for Privacy
Parenting in the digital age means making intentional decisions to protect our child’s online privacy. Undoubtedly it’s one of the most challenging and important digital priorities for today’s parents.
Parents can be proactive about protecting their child’s privacy while modeling healthy digital behavior that will equip them to protect their own digital privacy in the years ahead.
When cultivating healthy internet habits, a good place to start is to minimize the amount of personal information available on the internet. OneRep is here to help you and your family take control of your digital privacy by removing personal information from people-search sites.