Image: Stevan Sheets
Jonathan Baggaley examines the very modern phenomenon of social media ‘sharenting’
Are you a ‘sharent’?
For many children online life begins before birth, when their excited parents-to-be post ultrasound images on social media.
According to research by Parent Zone, the average parent will share their child’s image online nearly 1000 times before their fifth birthday. As well as pictures, parents will share funny stories, information, or personal details, such as when their children’s birthdays are. Some parents even set up blogs or vlogs online in which they post stories, pictures and videos of their children as they grow, accessible to anyone who wishes to follow them.
So, what are the advantages and disadvantages to sharenting?
The internet can provide fantastic tools for allowing special moments from your child’s early years to be shared with family and friends. And online forums, networks and blogs often provide valuable support and reassurance for parents at a time when it’s easy to feel isolated or under pressure.
But parental sharing can affect children as they grow up. No longer is the embarrassment of baby snaps restricted to digging out the photo album when you first meet your teen’s new boyfriend or girlfriend. Sharing photos and information online is permanent, and what can seem appropriate to share now may not be in the future.
So, what should you consider before you share?
When did you last check your privacy settings? On most social networks the default is that any other service user can access your pictures, which may also appear in internet search results. Google your child’s name to review the information you post and the social networks you use. Remember that anyone who can see a photo can also download or screenshot it, and could go on to share it.
What else are you sharing?
You might be sharing more than what’s in the post. As default, many cameras, phones and apps tag posts and photos with ‘meta-data’ which can include location details and other identifying information. This is potentially risky for any child, but poses particular risks for vulnerable children such as those who have been fostered or adopted and could be sought online by members of their birth family.
Under the terms and conditions of most social networks, when you share a photo you license the network to use and reproduce your image, and grant it the right to license it for use by third parties. Your picture could then be used for commercial purposes and you may be surprised to know where it could end up - in extreme cases printed on a mug and sold on the internet! Another online activity which emerged in 2015 and has distressed parents and carers is ‘baby role play’, a game played by some Instagram users who repost photographs of other people’s children and create fictional identities based on them, inviting others to role-play being ‘Mummy and Daddy’.
Your child’s digital tattoo
Every publicly accessible image or comment featuring your child contributes to a public image which will follow them into the future.
That apocalyptic nappy incident might make for a hilarious tweet now, but if it comes to light when they’re older, how could it affect the way they feel about themselves, or you, or how others see them? Could their online childhood become an issue if they are seeking a job, or a relationship, or even election to public office?
Top tips for parent bloggers
If you’ve set up a blog to share your parenting experiences with a wider audience, you’ve probably already given plenty of thought to issues such as your child’s privacy, managing their digital footprint, ownership and copyright of images, and commercialism.
Strategies adopted by some successful bloggers include: making their own and their child’s identities anonymous, involving their child in the content they create and only posting material they are happy with, and carefully monitoring their child’s online presence. Ways to do this include setting up a Google Alert for their name. Find out how here. Some parents also choose to watermark the images they post, making them less attractive to those who might re-use them. (There are various ways to do this, depending on the software you use. Simply search for ‘How to watermark photos’ online.)
Your child’s right to privacy
Once information about your children is on the internet it can be difficult for them to control it and so we need to be considerate when we share things on their behalf.
Respecting this right to a private life now, and in the future, and involving them in decisions about what to post online once they are old enough, is not only good manners, it could also help them learn the importance of thinking before they share things on social media themselves.