The University of Michigan C.S. Mott Hospital National poll on children’s health has presented new data showing that parents have shared enough on social media to create a new catchphrase: “sharenting.”
It’s a term that many will understand immediately, due to the tidal wave of parents’ pictures, videos, and posts on social media networks about their children – bragging, ranting, praising, and otherwise.
Released this week, the survey results show that 74 percent of parents polled think other parents share too much information about their children on social media, thus “oversharenting” with others.
Of the parents polled, 84 percent of mothers and 70 percent of fathers reported using social media sites like Facebook, online forums, or blogs.
Many parents take to social media to find a community of peers who understand their experiences. The most popular topics cited by parents included getting kids to sleep (28 percent of posts), nutrition and eating tips (26 percent), discipline (19 percent), daycare (17 percent), and behavior problems (13 percent).
Parents said that social media interactions helped them feel less isolated and were helpful in teaching them what to do with their own kids. But two-thirds of parents polled also shared concerns about online privacy. Among the biggest “oversharenting” taboos and concerns – other parents sharing embarrassing images of their own children, posts that share a specific location of our kids, and sharing stories that could prove damaging in years ahead when the children are old enough to maintain their own social profiles.
When do the simple acts of asking for support and sharing updates about our kids snowball into potentially compromising our children’s safety, online well-being, and even isolating parents from others in their social networks?
As a blogger who has worked in social media marketing in the past, and who is raising a toddler of my own, it is tempting to use my online networks to garner sympathy from friends, support for challenges, and find an outlet for some of the highlights of parenting.
But having stumbled upon various awkward interactions online – from being subjected to nude pictures of a childhood friend’s toddler on Facebook, to posting a protective parenting tweet that made me sound like a lunatic – I have realized that some of the best interactions with others are those we leave offline.
Some of the best advice about online interactions that experts offer to teens might be the advice parents should follow as well.
Social media lacks context
Social media expert danah boyd, who published the book “It’s Complicated” in 2014 about the social media lives of teens, captures wisdom in her research on teens that is valuable for adults as well.
In an NPR interview about the book, she talked about “context collapse” online, in which interactions with a vast online audiences (professional contacts, peers, and friends) don’t include the context we would apply to a one-on-one conversation.
When all parents have is a picture, a video, or the 140 characters of a tweet, we aren’t getting the full story. This means we have to approach social media interactions with the assumption that there is more to the story, which might be worth asking someone about in a more in-depth discussion.
Avoid privacy and oversharing concerns
According to the U of M poll, two-thirds of parents were concerned about sharing too much online, giving others content to share, and what their child will think of their posts in years to come. One way to combat those concerns is to take interactions offline – join a playgroup, attend a story time at a local library, or visit a popular park and interact with parents while kids play.
Similar to Ms. boyd’s research of teen interactions online, author Christa Melnyk Hines offers advice on preparing kids for online interactions which also proves helpful for adults. In an interview for Mothers & More, a nationwide networking group for moms, she talks about the importance of teaching kids balance between online and offline experiences.
“The biggest challenge for all of us continues to be striking a healthy balance between our online and offline interactions. Without setting predetermined boundaries, we can easily slip into an unhealthy pattern of overusing technology to the detriment of our relationships and our health,” says Hines.
Adults should heed this advice as well as they post about their kids, and serve as models of healthy online behavior.
When sharing online, imagine the Internet time machine
Fast forward 15 years from now. Imagine your child applying for college, or building his or her own social media profiles. And imagine, through connections back to you, their friends find that image you shared of them taking a potty break.
“By the time children are old enough to use social media themselves many already have a digital identity created for them by their parents,” says Sarah J. Clark, M.P.H., associate director of the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health and associate research scientist in the U-M Department of Pediatrics.
What you post online today paves the groundwork for how your child is viewed tomorrow. Beyond privacy concerns (of which there are plenty), consider how this image could be viewed by your children's peers and down the road.
When moving ahead with sharing, double check privacy settings on all social media sites to and confirm who is seeing your posts. When it comes to oversharenting,” weigh the value of using a site that allows only invited family and friends – such as Shutterfly or 23snaps.com – to view that slideshow of junior on the potty.