How do you overcome the fear of jinxing things that deeply matter to you when you’d rather keep almost every win, joy, or good news to yourself? When I got pregnant, I had no desire to alert anybody close to me. After trying to conceive for almost 2 years, it felt like the perfect ending to months of worry and a beautiful beginning to motherhood.
I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to keep the news private or a secret. That became clear during my surprise baby shower, where a couple of long lost friends and family members asked why I didn’t share the good news with them at all. The only right response at the time was, “You know now.”
A recurring narrative on the internet is that once you go on a social media hiatus, it means you’re pregnant. I begrudgingly agree because I remember only getting back online to post my brand new baby after a year in “hiding.”
The business of sharenting
While most parents-to-be tend to announce their pregnancies after the 3 month mark, I was in no rush. I ended up posting a pregnancy, a labor event, and a birth process at one go in the form of a 5 day old newborn on my Instagram feed. But beyond the hearty congratulations and not so subtle expressions of shock from my internet friends, it felt weird regularly “sharenting” my son with them.
Sharenting or oversharenting refers to regular parental sharing of child-related content, including photos, videos, achievements, and activities on social network platforms. It’s said that the average parent shares approximately 1500 images of their child online before their 5th birthday. Additionally, 74% of parents point to oversharenting by another parent.
Often the target of much criticism, sharenting is now an opportunity for earning additional income. You probably know of personalities who’ve amassed a massive following and landed endorsement deals to boot, just from sharing every single intimate moment about their kids online. Brands then earn their way into the parents’ trusted circle of friends and family by offering new ways to “share and connect.” The market is receptive.
The social dilemma
It’s common for parents to post videos and pictures of their children as a way of sharing their parenting journey and memorable moments. On the surface, it seems reasonable and harmless. The level of guilt might differ from one parent to another, but most of us have found ourselves deep in the throes of sharenting.
I couldn’t leave a platform I’d just rejoined. My postpartum anxiety and first-time mom issues somehow made me vulnerable to sharenting. I felt I needed a support system that shared in my struggle, and I hoped that a mom in my shoes would relate and know it gets better with time. Raising a child can be isolating. And while I felt very alone in real life, my social media peers were very accommodating. This influenced my sharing practices, perhaps even more than I could admit.
I’ve always been one to share glimpses of my life at a bare minimum, so posting detailed accounts of my parenting life was honestly strange to me as well. I documented my baby’s life and milestones in pictures, video, and text forms until I couldn’t do it anymore. My “Moby wrap chronicles” while running errands were a thing.
In those moments, I didn’t think sharing our location when out and about was a potential breach of privacy. I invited strangers into my home in ways I’d never done before, over compensating for the year-long break I had taken. Or so I thought.
Diana Graber’s Raising Humans in a Digital World exposed just how much I may have crossed some lines. Her advocating for the need to keep our kids safe online and empower them to use digital media responsibly put things into perspective for me. Our kids are freely sharing all our details in school and on TikTok, and we’re just as complicit. The social dilemma of whether to continue posting every aspect of my life (and my child’s by extension) or prioritizing the privacy of someone too young to understand or even stop me put me at moral crossroads.
I realized I’d selfishly centered myself in my child’s reality without his consent or worrying if that posed any risks and denied him his anonymity and individuality. From the influx of Instagram toddler accounts gushing about mom and dad, it’s clear these are primarily spaces of performance for parents. Now parents live their children’s lives online for the world to see. It’s never been about the child’s narrative as children tend to be supplementary to the parents’ primary focus.
Yes the internet never forgets, but I had to delete several cringeworthy posts about my little explorer. I halted unnecessarily blogging about him and limited the watch hours I’d spend on the addictive Youtube family channels. It was all too much for me. So what changed?
Understanding the hidden dangers of sharenting
Sharenting has positive effects that one can’t ignore. When you seek or share relatable parenting advice, it builds a sense of community and counters your feelings of isolation. Sharing your child’s visuals and personal anecdotes preserves significant milestones. It also keeps your connection with distant friends and relatives alive. Getting practical tips other parents used helped me deal with toddler meltdowns. For parents who film themselves punishing their kids, this could be the fastest way to stop them from hurting their child any further. The list goes on.
On the other hand, the growing dangers of posting children’s pictures on social media are enough to cause real-life consequences and draw broad discussions among academic circles on raising awareness of internet safety. Here are some of the dangers of sharenting:
- Broken relationships: Your dual role as gatekeeper of your child’s information and narrator offers them less protection from future embarrassment. According to Sharenting: Children’s Privacy in the Age of Social Media, as he grows older, his online identity and interest in privacy evolve. If the details you shared were too personal or potentially embarrassing, public humiliation could make him resent you.
- Form of exploitation: For older kids who can no longer be themselves because they have to work for their parent’s sake, they carry the burden of paying bills and supporting their parents’ lifestyles. Marketers can also exploit and manipulate children’s online experience using the data collected. UNICEF reports that the analysis and sale of children’s data directly threaten children’s rights online.
- Identity theft: Once you share photos of your child online, you lose control of the data. A breach of your child’s privacy on social media can help identity thieves to commit online fraud for years. A lack of negative credit information for your child means that the identity thief has leeway to use fraudulent credit accounts in your child’s name.
- Risk of digital kidnapping: Strangers who consume sensitive information you post can maliciously use it to identify your child’s play locations, home, or childcare. Hackers, sex traffickers, and online predators can use the information to cyberbully or sexually exploit your child. Some can make it look as if your child is theirs, is related to them, or they are actually your child.
- Custody battles: For separated parents going through a divorce process, it’s hard to find a middle ground in parenting principles. Sharenting “evidence” could put you at a legal disadvantage in court if your ex uses your social media posts to paint you in a negative light.
To filter what to share or not to share at all?
Would you like your child to see that embarrassing photo you posted 10 years from now? The onus is on you to decide what personal information about your child should be kept private. Still, you owe them a normal and safe livelihood online and offline.
Despite your good intentions, some nefarious individuals won’t hesitate to exploit the content you share about your child. I now go around warning my parent friends to blur the school badge on the uniform in their kid’s photo if they don’t delete it. It’s met with a few choice words, but I do it. Because their kids can’t speak up for themselves.