The Dangers of Oversharing About Your Kids on Social Media
By Michael Osakwe
- What is considered “oversharing” by parents on social media?
The defining boundaries of parental oversharing, or “sharenting” as it’s sometimes called, can be a bit hazy and hard to define. For example, in France and Germany local police ran public awareness campaigns that discouraged the sharing of any content relating to parenting and children. France specifically has gone as far as suggesting that its existing stringent privacy laws could be used to fine parents whose children might, at some point in their future, want restitution for damages caused by parental oversharing. In other countries, the advice given to parents is less drastic, as some degree of sharing is viewed as natural, so long as it’s done responsibly.
To answer the question more directly, it’s likely that most would consider the sharing of embarrassing details or personally identifiable information as falling under the domain of harmful sharenting. Given how subjective both criteria can be, though, defining “oversharing” may come down to a parent’s own preferences. While the issue might seem unimportant, it’s possibly one of the biggest digital privacy issues of our time because children can’t consent to what’s being shared about them, and they will directly experience the effects of whatever is added to their digital footprint.
- How can it hurt their children? What are the risks?
The harms of excessive sharenting have been widely discussed before, but the main issue is that this behavior results from a child’s innate inability to consent about what they want online. In an era where people google potential partners and employees before meeting them, it can be at the very least embarrassing to have your most private moments tied to your online presence. This is made worse by the fact that on most platforms, shared content generally isn’t owned by users, meaning that when a child gets older, it might be hard to scrub away any personal details revealed through their parents’ (or family members’) oversharing.
Even ignoring hypothetical future harms, though, there are very serious and more immediate risks that can result from sharenting. Pedophiles and other predators can collect pictures of children online, wherever they may find them, and poorly configured privacy settings might allow them to track individual children and their families through their parents’ sharing habits. The information that parents share can additionally be used to perpetuate forms of child identity theft. Within children’s own social circles, overshared content can be used to cyberbully children and harm their self-esteem. In general, sharenting could likely create some of the same psychological problems that children face when they become users of social media.
- What tips do you have on how parents can share responsibly to avoid these risks?
Many would likely agree that the golden rule of responsible sharenting is for parents to avoid sharing anything that they wouldn’t want to be shared about themselves. For example, while your child’s comments during potty training might be hilarious, they’re probably best kept as a familial inside joke, rather than the talk of the Internet. Parents who share should probably focus on sharing more generic and relatable moments, like family outings, rather than those which are deeply personal. However, an individual parent’s mileage may vary. Still, should a parent decide to put themselves in their child’s shoes, it might help them realize just how personal and embarrassing a photo or video could potentially be for their child as a teen or adult.
It’s also important that parents not only consider what they share, but how they share it. Many social media users might not be aware of the concept of metadata, but it’s something that’s important to be familiar with. Photos are often processed with features like EXIF data and geolocation that automatically tag images with the precise locations of where photos are taken as well as the details of the device used to take the photos. Luckily, most social media platforms automatically scrub EXIF data from pictures, but they still might leave basic geolocation details behind. Parents need to make sure they’re aware of exactly who they’re sharing posts and content with by going into their social media accounts’ privacy settings and changing the geolocation and post visibility preferences to their liking. Parents should also ask their family members (e.g., aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.) to check in on their privacy settings and be aware of what they’re sharing about their child. Although parental oversharing is more common, anyone can overshare information about your child.