"Sharenting," or online sharing about parenting, has benefits and potential harms
Researchers offer seven guidelines to follow when posting about your kids online
Yes, “sharenting” is a thing, and many parents do it.
It occurs when parents share details about their children’s lives online, and there are some benefits to “sharenting.” Some say they discuss parenting on social media to feel less alone and others post about their family to stay connected with their loved ones.
However, there are potential harms that come with “sharenting” too, that many parents might not recognize, according to new research.
In a presentation about child privacy in the age of social media, researchers are calling for pediatricians to provide guidelines about how parents can navigate the complex web of their right to post online and their child’s privacy.
“The issue around this topic is really just not even realizing what the potential risks are,” said Dr. Bahareh Keith, a pediatrician and public health practitioner at the University of Florida.
“So, even for myself, when I first had children … I didn’t even think about some of these risks. It wasn’t until this research that I realized the risk,” she said.
Keith is partnering with Stacey Steinberg, a law professor at the University of Florida, to present the research in a session at the annual American Academy of Pediatrics national conference in San Francisco on Friday.
Posting about your children online could impact them psychosocially and even result in issues with identity theft or online predators, explained Keith, who is also a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
About 92% of 2-year-olds in the United States already have an online presence, according to a 2010 survey by the internet security firm AVG.
“That’s one of the reasons why we’re both doing this project and advocating, because we’re going through the same thing,” Keith said about herself and Steinberg as mothers. “When we first started this project, both of us were sort of shocked at how much there really is a significant potential risk.”
One mother’s disturbing case
The new research is based on an extensive review of law, medical, and public health cases and literature. It mirrors another paper by Steinberg, due to publish in the Emory Law Journal next year, in which she offers an in-depth legal analysis of “sharenting.”
In her other paper, Steinberg wrote about a mother who authored a blog post featuring her young twins during potty training. The mother posted a photo of her children with their legs exposed, and she later learned that the photo was downloaded, altered, and shared on a website commonly used by pedophiles.
However, in their new research, Keith and Steinberg cautioned that a more common risk includes the psychosocial impact that online sharing can have on children.
“There’s been a dearth of discussion on this topic by both legal scholars, children’s rights advocates, pediatricians and by the media, and this dearth for discussion leaves parents with an insufficient amount of material to consider before they press share on their digital devices,” said Steinberg, who also serves as an associate director of the University of Florida Levin College of Law’s Center on Children and Families.
Steinberg and Keith recommend best practice guidelines for parents to consider when “sharenting” – such as, considering how a photo might affect their children if a bully finds it and uses it against them, or whether a photo could have a negative effect if their child is running for political office as an adult and it resurfaces.
“A big part of my research really focuses on a child’s privacy and a child being able to enter adulthood free to create their own digital footprint, or at least being able to feel comfortable with the digital footprint that’s been left in their childhood wake,” Steinberg said.
Set your privacy levels
Steinberg recommended that parents should know their social media site’s privacy practices and select specific audiences for each piece of information shared. When posting about a child’s behavioral struggles, parents may want to post anonymously.
7 best practice guidelines for "sharenting"
“Additionally, many of the social sharing sites give the option of setting passwords and having online content hidden from Google search algorithms,” Steinberg said.
“Another helpful ‘do’ is to set up notifications to alert you when your child’s name appears on Google,” she said. “We’ve also encouraged parents to use caution before sharing their child’s actual location. … Parents might want to consider avoiding posting pictures of their children when they are undressed or in any state of undress, or in bathing suits or scant attire.”
Steinberg and Keith also encourage parents to give older children veto power over posting a specific blog post or photo. This granting of power possibly could start as early as age four, according to the research.
Children, even at a young age, are becoming increasingly digitally savvy. This week, the American Academy of Pediatrics even released new guidelines for monitoring children’s use of digital media. The academy recommended no screen time for infants, a limit of one hour per day for children 2 to 5 years old, and that parents should decide their own limits for children 6 and older.
Join the conversation
Yet, while there are guidelines for children’s use of social media, Keith said that more research needs to be done to better understand parents’ use of social media – and how that use impacts children.
“We really want to get people to talk about, but also to encourage, more studies to be done to look at the child side of this,” Keith said.
“In the public health literature, we are just now starting to build the study design on how do we conduct research on social media because it’s not your typical, randomized control trial,” she said. “We are just scratching that surface in the public health arena.”