Social media has the power to define—and redefine—our lives. Love it, or hate it, we can’t seem to get enough of it. Sharing our most personal information is common, accepted, and expected. It is almost an anomaly not to post pictures and videos of vacations, family milestones, and life decisions. We are all guilty of sharing—and at times, oversharing—our lives with the world.
Today’s parents are face to face (or, screen to screen) with the latest challenge—that of "sharenting"—which is “a new term for parents' online sharing about their children.” We are parents who share. We are parents who establish online identities for our children long before they will create their own. We are parents who grapple with being described as “helicopters” and “lawnmowers.” And, we are parents who want the best for our children.
So, what is wrong with sharing? Nothing, really. It creates a sense of connectedness to this wired world in which we live. Yet, from this, tough questions arise: When are we sharing too much information about our children? At what point do we keep personal details private?
I decided to poll my friends—on social media, naturally—to see what they were sharing and when they think twice about sharing.
Sharing to stay in touch. Sharing on social media helps to remedy the long-distance relationship woes that many families experience. We no longer live in the same towns or even states. Personally, I am able to watch my long-distance friends’ and families’ children “grow up,” and I wouldn’t have that opportunity if it weren’t for social media. For many of us, we share sonogram and newborn pictures, baby’s “firsts,” and other personal milestones because our world now spans beyond Main Street, USA. However, if we are sharing to “keep up with the Joneses,” then we are sharing for the wrong reasons. Proud parenting moments and personal achievements should be cherished and shared. Friends and family both near and far will thank you.
Kid-Approved Posting. As our children get older, they may not always want their personal moments shared. We tend to share on impulse because “sharing” has been normalized—some of us share day-to-day, and most people would not consider that to be excessive. But, do our children want their lives chronicled? They have little to no say about our sharing tendencies as parents. My son Henry has asked me at times to share his funny videos, but he has also asked me not to share them. As children get older, they may ask not to have their information shared, and their feelings should be validated. Including our children in the conversation about what to post creates a healthy family relationship as well as a healthy online presence when they begin to share on their own social media.
Networking. In today’s world, a lot of opportunities develop because of and through social media: sports-related recruitment, fundraisers, academic endeavors—the list goes on and on. Promoting your child’s information may be necessary in order for them to move to the next level. The idea of sending Girl Scouts around the neighborhood to sell cookies may very well be archaic (the door-to-door selling, not the cookies!). While sharing information about our children may seem inevitable, we still need to be diligent in this area. Many other people—who are not friends or acquaintances—can access this information as well. Concerns about identity theft and predators are the possible risks when we don’t know who else can view and share our children’s information.
Teaching moments. Teaching what is and what is not appropriate to post is an important skill from which we can all benefit. With the ability to share just a click away, we can easily overshare without realizing it. Sure, posting funny cat memes, new recipes, or Mommy Has A Potty Mouth posts are generally harmless; if our friends get tired of seeing our posts, they can unfollow us. But, other posts may not be so forgettable (bath pictures, tantrums, or other embarrassing kid moments), and this is where we can teach our kids what is and what is not appropriate to share. Modeling good online behavior and talking to our children about why we don’t need to share everything can impact them to share more responsibly later on.
The line between what should be private and what can be public has blurred when it comes to the concept of “sharenting.” We all know that social media is not always used for respectable reasons, so we have to consider that the information we are sharing about our children can be shared beyond our original posts for years to come. Today’s children can potentially have their entire lives documented and archived online, adrift for years to come in the swamp that is social media. How do we know that their private information is safe once we hit that share button?
At the end of the day, we are truly the first line of defense in keeping our children safe online. We are also the ones who can redefine the concept of the online identity—one in which our children’s lives don’t have to be so public.
Deirdre Johns is Mom to Henry, an eight and a half-year-old lover of animals and nature. She has been teaching English for thirteen years and has lived in the Lowcountry with her family since 2012.