What is sharenting? And how dangerous is it to post about your kids online?

Maria Guerrero

Maria Guerrero

Family psychologist

Posting photos of your children on the internet is hard to resist. I remember how wonderful and special every little gesture my baby made felt and how I desperately wanted to capture those moments and share them with, well, everyone! Even now that my children are older, I still struggle with trying to resist the gratification I could get out of sharing their lives on social media.

But sharenting, the term for continually posting images, videos and information about your children on the internet, usually without their permission, can be dangerous. By 2030, it is anticipated sharenting will be the cause of nearly two-thirds of identity-fraud cases affecting today’s children.

That’s hard for the parents in my practice to hear, especially millennial moms and dads who share nearly 300 photos online every year.  The tricky part is that parents’ intentions are good. They are proud of their children and want to help relatives and friends in other countries see parts of their lives. But I believe there is no 100% safe way to share your child’s life on social media, and the risks outweigh the benefits.

What are the risks of sharenting?

Sharenting runs multiple risks, some of which might seem far away in the future to parents, but which are very real nonetheless. 

Some risks of sharing our children online include:

  • Uploading photos of children, adding their full name, their location, facilitates data theft.
  • Nude or semi-nude photos of minors can be picked up and used as pornographic material, making their children victims of child pornography.
  • Many parents seek support online and comment publicly on a problem with their children, on their health problems, on their misbehavior or their academic circumstances. What some parents see as simple help can lead to bullying in the short term and can have negative consequences on their child’s future personal and professional lives in the long-term.
  • Several children have denounced their parents for violation of their identity: an 18-year-old Austrian woman sued her parents for sharing more than 500 photos of her on Facebook without her consent, a 13-year-old Canadian boy who considered that the images that his parents had uploaded ruined his reputation sued them, and a Dutch grandchild sued her grandmother for refusing to remove photos on Facebook.
  • Many children report feeling embarrassed, that their right to privacy was violated, or that they have been betrayed by their parents’ sharenting activity, especially when they go online for the first time, usually as tweens or as teenagers, to see their entire life already uploaded in front of them.

Based on the many risks related to sharenting, I recommend parents avoid sharing photos, videos and information of young children altogether and to wait until their children have turned at least 13 – the legal age to have a social media account. And then, ONLY with their child’s consent. I understand this approach may sound too extreme for many parents or self-proclaimed “sharents”, so here are my tips on how to share online more safely:

How to share pictures of your child online more safely

Do it with care

If you feel you must share, “share with care.” Always ask your child for their permission and consider both the short term and long term consequences of your post. Think twice about how what you share online might affect your child’s self-esteem and career in the future.

Avoid nudity and undress

Never post photos in which the minor appears naked, including those of newborns, bath time, on the beach etc. Likewise, I also do not recommend uploading a photo of the minor with little clothing. Leah Plunkett, author of Sharenthood: Why we should think before we talk about our kids online, has an excellent rule of thumb,don’t post pictures in any state of undress.”

Understand social networks

Review the privacy policies of social networks you use regularly and limit access to a small and trusted environment (friends only, not friends of friends). While there, revisit your friend list. How many of those people are really your friends? Consider reviewing and pruning the list, as it’s very easy for someone who is not really a friend to take a screenshot of a photo or post and repost it or send it to others in a way you don’t want. 

Get notified

Set up a Google alert for your child’s name so you are notified if (and likely when) your child’s name appears online.

Turn off location sharing

Never share your child’s location. Location and geolocation functions can be disabled when sharing images. Try not to give any clues to the places you visit frequently.

Never share your child’s full name

Don’t share your child’s name, and avoid sharing both your whole life and theirs: this creates a digital biography, and you don’t know how it might be used in the future.

Keep photos safe

Don’t use social media as your photo album, download your photos to your own server space, or even better, your own hard drive.

What should you do if you have already shared your child’s information online?

1. The first thing I would advise parents to do is to review the privacy settings on all their social networks, blogs, etc., and in all the sites where you share or have shared information before. Set all publications, photos, albums, to private.

2. For tweens and teens, sit down with them and look at the photos together. Ask them if there are any photos they would like taken down. Remove any posts that they want removed immediately. For younger children, I recommend deleting everything. But if that is not realistic, take the time to review your posts.

3. Remove posts that might be compromising, like nude photos or something that seemed funny at the time but on second thought might be embarrassing for your child.

4. Remove any posts that include the child’s name or location.

How to stop sharenting

Feeling a bit addicted to posting online? You’re not alone. Most social media sites are designed to be addictive. Each thumbs up, heart and comment you get sends a dopamine rush to the brain and creates a craving. Like any addiction I have seen, it can be very difficult to break out of a habit without a total disconnect. Try moving social apps off your home screen. If that doesn’t work, delete them. If that doesn’t work, try a tool like Qustodio: the same app you might already be using to block access for your kids – but for yourself!

Parenting is more important than sharenting

As our kids grow up in a very digital world, with online consequences that are not entirely clear, parents need to up their digital savvy. The innocent days of the internet are over. What goes on the internet stays on the internet and can be used against you and your children.

As parents and guardians, we should be the ones setting an example for our children. By looking after our own online safety and theirs, we will be helping them to care for it themselves when they grow up. Talk to your children about online safety and digital citizenship, teach them to think twice before they post, and above all: make sure you do too.

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