Oversharenting: What children think about parents’ posts about them on social media

hush

OK, I admit it. I think we made a mistake related to parenting and media. And since I’m supposed to be the expert here, I hope this helps remove some of your parenting guilt, while giving you some things to consider about your own media parenting.

A few weeks ago we snapped a picture of our teenage daughter asleep on the couch and posted it on Facebook with some witty caption about teenagers hibernating during the summer. We thought it would be funny and relatable to our friends who also have teenage children during the summer and who deal with all that that entails. Well, our daughter found out about the picture, probably because we’re Facebook friends with her, and got upset. We quickly removed the picture.

Here’s where we went wrong. A new discussion is arising among those of us who study children and media about children’s rights. What we violated in this instance was the right for our teenage daughter to manage her own online identity. Some call this oversharenting (I don’t know who first came up with this term). In fact, some research suggests that more than 90% of children have an online identity, or presence, by age 2 simply due to their parents sharing things about them online.

A recent study involving 249 families asked kids ages 10-17 what they thought about their parents sharing things about them online. Many of the kids think that parents should not share anything about children online without the child’s permission. Often, children feel that what their parents share online is embarrassing, and they feel frustrated that parents are contributing to their online persona without permission. Sharing information online about another person is even starting to pop up as a legal concern in some parts of the world.

So what do we do? Isn’t the whole point of social media to share things with those we love? After all, how will my parents (who live 1,500 miles away) and siblings (there are 6 of us who each live in different states) see their grandkids grow without us sharing things online? We’ve moved enough times that we have friends in dozens of states—we want to keep a connection with them and their families.

A few years ago we began to tackle this issue “offline.” We noticed that our kids sometimes get embarrassed when we told stories about them to our adult friends. Since then, we’ve tried to make a point of asking permission of our kids before sharing funny experiences. In this one case that I mentioned at the beginning (which, by the way, I share here with my daughter’s permission), we forgot to do that with our daughter in an online setting. I’m not sure I have a foolproof answer on this, especially since children are often incapable of understanding all the repercussions of sharing or not sharing things online. But I think a good place to start before posting things about your child is to simply ask your child, “Hey, can I share this?” or “Would you be okay if I told the story about when you did this?”

No matter what you decide to do, I think it’s important to at least think about these things, and to stop and ask yourself “should I” or “shouldn’t I” before posting about your children.

3 comments

  1. This article is a great starting point, and I look forward to trying out those conversations with my kids. But right now they are 21 months and a newborn. So much of what I read on this topic doesn’t really address our littlest children (0-3). Do people tend to think that older kids will not restrospectively view their parents baby pic shares as embarrassing because, well, babyhood and toddlerdom are seen as cute and pretty low-risk of bothering the child in the future? That’s kind of how I think about it… though I still try to keep posts about my kids occasional and mindful of embarrassment. Or is it that people actually think you shouldn’t post anything about kids until they are old enough to understand and actively give consent? And at what age can these conversations begin? 3? 4?

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    • These are good questions Jessica, and I’m not sure I know of research to help provide an answer. I think you’re on the right track by being mindful about embarrassing your children. Obviously, young children can’t provide consent for themselves. If I were to offer an age at which kids can give appropriate consent, I might say 8, though that isn’t based on any research, and it of course depends on the child’s level of media literacy. In other words, I suppose there’s no right answer, and if there is, I don’t have it yet.

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