Congratulations! I’ll look for more photos online”. The Dilemmas of Sharenting
When my son was born nine years ago it was a big deal! He was the first grandchild and our first child. Our close and extended family eagerly awaited the news of his arrival and when he did arrive my husband texted family members with the good news and responses back included things like “Can’t wait to meet the little guy” or “Congrats! I’ll look for more pictures on Facebook”! As new parents, we were surprised (well about a lot of things). But then we were confronted with the decision to post his picture on social media or not. At the time my husband and I decided not to because we felt that our son did not have a full understanding of what being on social media means and we didn’t have his consent. I wondered what might he think if he looked back five or ten years later to see himself and aspects of his life shared and constructed so publicly. Would he be ok with this? Would he be upset? Would he hate that video or picture we posted or feel embarrassed?
The practice of parents sharing photos of themselves and their children online is known as “sharenting” (Blum-Ross and Livingstone, 2017). For the record, I did ask my son if I could write this blog (just in case you were wondering) and he said yes! There are many reasons why parents might share photos or details about their children on social media such as maintaining connections with friends and family near and far. There are also social and economic implications of this practice including parent bloggers who might even have financial gains from blogging about parenting experiences or sharing products relating to parenting (Blum-Ross and Livingstone, 2017). What message might this send to children? Being an influencer has value and paying attention to influencers is valuable. Look no further than the Cat and Nat vloggers who sell card games, and books and even have a live tour all based on the “mommy culture”.. As Bessant and Nottingham and Oswald (2020) point out in their blog during the COVID-19 pandemic several organizations (e.g., businesses and schools) encouraged families to share their lockdown moments and tag themselves on social media. So where does this leave parents when making the decision?
Researchers who study social media usage in children and youth have cited that young people want control and agency over their digital footprint (Steinberg, 2019, boyd, 2014) and as Sonia Livingstone points out, children are not unaware of privacy concerns (Livingstone, Stoilova and Nandagiri, 2019). Stacey Steinberg (2019), in her blog post on the topic of sharenting shares several useful tips that parents might want to consider before sharing personal information about their children on social media. Steinberg notes that the topic is complex. Families and their children need to make decisions that work for them but also be informed of the risks and benefits of sharenting. This conversation opens up critical thinking and invites families to consider issues of privacy, and agency, which is all media literacy.
Where does this leave our family? To date, there are no pictures of my son on social media. As he is growing up he is expressing interest in sharing more of himself with others. He often asks to share a funny selfie or a playful experience in our family’s chat (which includes grandparents, aunts, and uncles). I am still unsure as to how to navigate a balance between respecting his requests to share and my own insecurities and concerns over privacy.
Below you can see some creative ways my sister-in-law who is quite active on social media and very respectful of our sharenting decision, uses the affordances of social media (mostly Instagram) to capture private moments with her nephew and share those moments publicly. Check out a few of her creative posts below!
Bessan, Claire., Nottingham and Oswald, Marion. (2020, August 12). Re: Sharenting in a socially distanced world. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/parenting4digitalfuture/2020/08/12/sharenting-during-covid.
Blum-Ross, Alicia and Livingstone, Sonia (2017) Sharenting: parent blogging and the boundaries of the digital self. Popular Communication, 15 (2). pp. 110-125. ISSN 1540-5702.
Boyd, Dana. (2014). It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens. Yale University Press.
Steinberg, Stacey. (2019, November 13). Re: Growing up shared:negoating the risks and opportunities of ‘sharenting’. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/parenting4digitalfuture/2019/11/13/growing-up-shared-negotiating-the-risks-and-opportunities-of-sharenting/.
Stoilova, Mariya. (2022, January 12). Re: Childhood in a digital world: reviewing the latest issues. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/parenting4digitalfuture/2022/01/12/roundup_jan22/.