The Sharent Trap



Nowadays, social media accounts are a whitewashed “highlight-reel” of one’s daily life.

Grace Ryba, Editor In Chief

At the next family barbecue, or birthday party, maybe think twice about sharing everything to social media.

It is common to see parents posting on a day-to-day basis, publicizing countless photos of their kids’ school life, home life, and everything in between. However, few take the time to stop and think about the potential dangers.

No parent wants to subject their kid to online bullying, harassment, or solicitation. Unfortunately, they may be doing just that. By allowing their hundreds of “friends” an inside-look to their children’s daily lives, it is impossible to monitor exactly who, and how many people, have access.

“Experts are now confirming that ‘sharenting’ can put your children at risk, even when they’re older. You never know who may be Googling their names, and checking out social media accounts down the road. So, consider whether you’re providing too much info when it comes to your children. Because, remember, the internet never forgets,” said journalist Tammy Scileppi.

A study conducted by the Crimes Against Children Research Center found that in a single year, one in twenty-five children are subjected to sexual solicitation online. The study also found that one-third of these children were asked to meet the solicitor in the real world, through persistent communication on a regular basis, and sharing personal information, such as their address.

The University of Michigan’s Charles Stewart Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health addressed the mannerisms of parents on social media. The poll found the majority of parents share just about anything. Those polled posted updates about everything from their kids getting ready for bed, to their time at school or daycare, to their behavioral issues.

At some point, a line has to be drawn. Where does “keeping in touch with friends and family” end, and exploiting personal, private information for a parent’s own social media clout and entertainment begin? Parents who are adamant on protecting their child’s privacy, but still insist on posting their “daily lives,” are more likely to find themselves whitewashing their entire family dynamic. By only posting a fake highlight-reel, such as perfect grades, magazine-worthy family photos, and expensive vacations, it is not hard to become a poser. This can easily succumb to envy among those who are digitally and distantly watching, among those who only see those perfect moments highlighted on Facebook. On the other extreme side, keeping everything one-hundred-percent brutally honest and transparent does nothing but expose the personal imperfections, and non-successes, children would rather keep to themselves.

Not only does this behavior among parents potentially put their children’s safety at risk, but may also put their relationship with their children at risk as well. “Oversharenting”, or posting information that may be too personal for the child’s liking, can lead to future embarrassment as the child grows older.

“It’s not funny, it’s disgusting , even though I’m not a parent, I know how it feels to be a child with insecurities,” said Nabeel Tahir.

One may consider it common sense that today’s children will look back on their childhood and have every activity of their daily lives highlighted on their parent’s social media. This is something of which past generations never had to have dealt with.

Almost everybody has their share of embarrassing childhood photos. The only difference is, older generations have these photos tucked away in an album, or privately saved to a computer or phone. However, now, these “embarrassing childhood photos” are being shared with mom and dad’s countless Facebook friends. What is worse is children are unassuming. Children are often too young to grasp that the picture their mom just took of them is about to be seen by countless strangers they do not know, and stuck on the internet forever.

Parents can easily become one of the biggest threats to their children’s privacy.

“My parents respect my privacy to the point that my personal struggles with depression, anxiety, and suicide have never been discussed with anybody without my permission. I don’t feel that sharing photographs of me as a child when I used to wet myself in school, out of fear and anxiety at an early age, would’ve helped normalize it for me. I love my parents for always having the utmost respect for my life, and not divulging in gossip about details and emotions that were deeply personal to me, for the sake of entertainment,” said Tahir.

Estonian sociologists at the University of Tartu, Estonia interviewed mothers active on Facebook and their pre-teen children. Following the interviews, it was found that these children were unhappy with their parents’ practices on Facebook. This can lead to a rocky relationship regarding privacy boundaries, leaving kids feeling unfairly exploited.

“Raising the awareness of parents is crucial as children not only feel a need to negotiate the terms of acceptable information sharing with their parents but also expect their parents to respect their views on the topic,” said Estonian sociologist Andrea Siibak.

Children grow up being taught by their parents about personal space and privacy. Because of today’s threatening online world, pre-teens have the dangers of social media ingrained in their brain from early ages by the adults in their lives. But, what does it say about those parents who turn around and evade this concept entirely when it comes to their own social media? What does it say about those parents who have already become some of the biggest violators of their children’s privacy?

“People are using platforms as their online diaries, broadcasting their personal grievances and details of their children’s lives for the entire world to see. I am going to drop some truth on you right now. The world does not care what your Elf on the Shelf did every night. The world does not care what your kids got for Christmas or their birthday. The world honestly does not care about every detail of your life. Those most vested in your life and that do care will do so offline,” said social media consultant and counselor, Mandy Edwards.

So what is the solution? Ultimately, it comes to consent. Parents need to ask the easy questions. As simple as, “Can I take a picture of you?” can build an important trust that may otherwise go unrecognized. Following that, parents should recognize an appropriate age where their children can have control over their own digital footprint.

“A child or teenager’s digital footprint now starts before birth. From ultrasound photos and due date announcements posted to social media to the proliferation of smart toys, parents are revealing far more information than they realize about their children,” said Dr. Jessica Baron.

Especially as they grow older, children should have the power to veto anything they are uncomfortable with being shared. It is important to consider a child’s future before hitting the post button. What will they want to be when they grow up? How do they want to be perceived by their peers? How is what their parents overshare on social media going to affect that image? Something one may consider an innocent, adorable picture capturing the moment, could be dangerously perceived otherwise by another with alternative motives.