Ciska Thurman looks at the potential consequences of divulging too much about your kids on social media
It’s the modern equivalent of your grandma’s brag book – that little folio of photos (accompanied by the adorable anecdotes) to show your friends what beautiful, happy and well-groomed children you have. Except now, like everything else, it’s online, on Facebook, YouTube, blogs and chat rooms. But what’s the harm in that? Well, quite a lot, actually.
Research has shown that social sharing makes people feel less alone. Parenting, especially for the first time, can be an isolating and intimidating experience. So, the ability to share it online with other parents (known as ‘sharenting’) is often a comfort to parents seeking a community for camaraderie and advice.
We all know there are many websites on topics such as sleep, nutrition and discipline, but interactive social media also has the benefit of allowing parents to console, counsel and commiserate. That’s where it starts. All of a sudden ‘oversharenting’ is a real threat.
Parents of babies and pre-schoolers mostly belong to a generation that still remembers what life was like before the internet: a world with limited channels of communication and far fewer forms of entertainment (think snail mail and printed photos). Some are nostalgic for the way things used to be and dismissive of how social media has slowly reduced our daily interactions to how many likes, retweets or comments we can elicit.
Others embrace it too readily and start relying on that virtual feedback as a marker of who they are and how they should behave. It’s a group divided. It’s also a group that is not always well informed about the perils of posting any old thing at any time.
Social-media experts say the threat is directed squarely at your children, today and in the future. Emma Sadleir, a media-law consultant and speaker, implores the parents of teenagers to ‘remind your children of the five Ps: if you wouldn’t want the police, your principal, your parents, your potential employer or a predator to see it, don’t post it. You are building an image and an identity for yourself.’
The parents of infants and young children should adopt the exact same approach – respect their privacy and preserve their safety today, especially because they don’t have a say in it.
Once your children are old enough to become the guardians of their own online identities (social sharing is here to stay), it should only be with your careful guidance and direction around privacy – a message made loud and clear through conscious, rather than impulsive, posting. Instead of handing over the clichéd keys to adulthood, cash in your son or daughter’s clean online slate.
Child-friendly sharing practices
Keeping your kids offline entirely may be difficult to achieve, but here are some tips for keeping their online profiles in check:
• Cull your ‘friends’ list on Facebook (or equivalent networks) to include only those who know and have an interest in your family. Don’t cast the net wide enough to include acquaintances, and ensure your privacy settings are watertight.
• Use a nickname, never your daughter or son’s full name, when you are tagging or captioning photos. Tagging images of your children by name activates the facial-recognition tool on some social-media platforms.
• Post consciously, never absentmindedly – and always remain accountable to your kids as older versions of themselves. Before posting, ask yourself: Am I sharing or venting? Would I say or do this face-to-face? Could this hurt someone I know?
Examples of oversharenting
Resist the urge to share the following:
Security-related information Where you live, contact details, what your birthdate is, the fact that you are away from home… Essentially, any information that can help facilitate identity theft.
Every detail of your life If you are sharing everything – from that potty- training mishap and what your toddler ate for breakfast, to a pic of the tantrum in the pharmacy – how will you ever be able to teach your children concepts such as privacy, tone and context; or the value of applying a filter? These are important tools for young adults to use and understand.
Unsuitable photos Of other people’s kids (always check with them before posting anything); of where your kids go to school; nude photos (no matter how cute); photos with children’s full names attached; and any photos your children may not want lurking in the public domain later on in their lives.
Branding and labelling If a theme starts to emerge due to your overzealous sharing (‘He is looking grumpy again’, ‘What a picky eater’), you could be creating a mould that will frame your child’s perception of themselves later on and possibly undermine their sense of identity.
‘Once something is online, you have absolutely no control of the audience,’ says Emma. It’s out there, never to be retracted or permanently deleted – and, in the wrong hands, it can put your child in danger.
So, next time you LOL because of a parenting post that just reeks of TMI, consider the consequences and gently nudge your BFF’s anecdotes offline.