Sharenting: Are you Putting your children at risk?

By Destiny Alvarez

Today, the digital world rules all. Some people have an overwhelming need to live-tweet their day, to post photos of their food on Instagram stories and of course, share photos of their children.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to show the world your child’s milestones or big events. At first, it seems entirely reasonable to go on Facebook or any other social platform and watch videos of children playing, singing or doing fun activities. Anyone with a social account has probably experienced this. Some people might even know more about a social influencer’s children than their own.

But how much sharing is too much sharing? And when does it put a child in danger?

This type of constant digitally led parenting is called “sharenting.” Sharenting is when parents overshare information or content based on their children on social media and the internet in general. Several ethical questions and issues come with posting children’s information.

In 2018, a popular UK online forum called Mumsnet became overrun with threads targeting influencers for oversharing about their children. A lot of the anger came from people who felt influencers were using their children as a brand to monetize their family and increase their social network. While not everyone has influencer level followers, social posts can be shared and seen by millions of other people without the permission of the user or their children.

A study done by ParentZone found that children in this digital era will be featured in roughly 1,000 photos before they reach age five. The study also found that over 49 percent of the parents who used smartphones to upload photos were not aware that the location data for those photos could be stored and traced on social sites.

In the age of digital permanence, it’s important to think about the implications of sharing your child’s information and photos online. Ultimately the majority of parents who post about their children are doing so without their consent. So the real question is, do parents have a right to post about their children or do children have a legal right to control their digital footprint.

Another study done in 2010 by Business Wire showed that more than 90 percent of 2-year-old’s had an online presence. A digital presence creates an online identity. With a vast amount of sharenting going on, children are losing their chance to develop their own identity on social media. This makes it easier for children to succumb to the pressures of social media at a young age, and it infringes on the child’s right to privacy.

Professor Stacey B. Steinberg, from the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law, examined the legality of a parent’s right to share and a child’s interest in privacy. Steinburg mentioned that a lot of parents don’t share things with malicious intent, but they also don’t consider the longevity and the risk of what they are posting.

“B. Legal and Safety Risks Posed by Parental Oversharing Some parents have found that even just posting a picture could create a privacy risk to their child. One mother, Paris, posted a picture of her daughter on Facebook. She received a like from a user whose name she did not recognize. “The stranger had made the toddler’s image her homepage photo and was presenting Paris’ son as her own child.” Paris is not alone; another mother, Ashley, experienced a similar form of “digital kidnapping.” After posting a picture of her two daughters, Ashley found it was shared by another Facebook page that seemed to share many pictures of little girls. As Ashley looked closer at the link of her children provided on the page, she realized that any of the thousands of followers could not only see the image of her children, but could also follow the link back to her own Facebook page and track down more information about her daughters, including where they lived.”

Sensitive information like real-time location, habits and content can be shared and collected by other people on the web without parents’ permission or knowledge. This puts children at risk for digital kidnapping as well as potential profiling and online or in person targeting. Additionally, future employers or professionals could potentially retrieve sensitive data on children when they enter adulthood. That content can negatively impact them and could have been posted about them without their consent.

Ultimately, there is always going to be a risk when posting on social media. The information you put on the internet will forever be out in the void. Experts like Steinberg suggest rethinking your posts and protecting your children. Parents can start by teaching their children about consent at an early age. Starting at an age even as early as 2-years-old and continuing on through their adulthood. This follows not only moral guidelines but helps parents teach valuable lessons about consent and what should and shouldn’t be posted online.

For more information and tips on sharenting habits look here. And for those who want to get more involved in making the internet a safer place for children, join the Safer Internet Day campaign. SID is Feb. 5, learn how you can contribute here.

Citation: Stacey B. Steinberg, Sharenting: Children’s Privacy in the Age of Social Media, 66 Emory L.J. 839 (2017)

Twitter: @DesAlvarez94

This Article Has 13 Comments
  1. Colton Schang says:

    I tweeted about this topic in class and took a poll on the subject. Not surprisingly —most students don’t have children yet, 80% of respondents weren’t sure if it was ok to post something about their children without their consent. Being a father of two young children, I have had these types of discussions with my wife on what we feel is appropriate to share and when and where we should be sharing, if at all. We’ve come to the personal conclusion that we will share minimally about our kids and chose other avenues to share content about our children with the people that we care about most. I think as more people are educated on the inner workings of the web and the dangers that are out there, like this blog post so poignantly points out, more thought will go into what we put online as parents for our children. Thanks for the post Destiny!

  2. Carolyn Riesinger says:

    This is an intersting and often controversial topic, so I’m glad you chose to write about it! As tempting as it might be to post pictures of your children, I think that they should have the choice of whether or not to have a profile under their own name. I agree that it is important to protect them when they are young from the pressures that social media can place on people.

  3. Jessica Murray says:

    Hi Destiny,

    This is a super informative post, and also super scary. I think a lot of us believe we won’t be subjected to– or are immune from– online predators and dangers. We post freely and don’t often consider, as you mentioned, the permanence of sharing information online. I’ve often wondered how I might approach “sharenting” if/when I am a parent. I know that I wouldn’t want people posting content of me without my permission or, at the very least, my understanding. I was very surprised to learn that 90 percent of 2-year-olds have an online presence. Quite frankly, I don’t know why I was so surprised to read that. I guess it just shows how rapidly online engagement and sharing has progressed since I was a toddler.

    Thanks for sharing so many links and resources!

  4. I really enjoyed this post and think it is extremely relevant and important in todays world. The first thing that comes to my mind when reading this is celebrities, who I feel like are the ones who typically get scolded for oversharing their child’s information. I think there simply has to be a happy medium because I understand how parents want to share photos and accomplishments of their child, but also need to remained grounded and think of the bigger issue at hand. Celebrities especially have much more followers on social media than the average person so the sharing of any information needs to be even more selective. Overall I think “sharenting” is a careless act, but needs to be taken more seriously because there can be real consequences in todays society with stalkers and other threats. I think this was a very valuable post with a lot of insight that I enjoyed reading!

  5. I think this is an extremely relevant and important in todays world. The first thing that comes to my mind when reading this is celebrities, who I feel like are the ones who typically get scolded for oversharing their child’s information. I think there simply has to be a happy medium because I understand how parents want to share photos and accomplishments of their child, but also need to remained grounded and think of the bigger issue at hand. Celebrities especially have much more followers on social media than the average person so the sharing of any information needs to be even more selective. Overall I think “sharenting” is a careless act, but needs to be taken more seriously because there can be real consequences in todays society with stalkers and other threats. I think this was a very valuable post with a lot of insight that I enjoyed reading!

  6. Kaisa Lightfoot says:

    These are really interesting insights, Destiny! I had not given much thought to this issue aside from how I thought it was weird that some of my friends with children have created entirely different social media pages for their children. It’s strange to think that this is another space where children will grow up–similar to a playground. Just another social space to navigate and learn about. In that same vein, I wonder how parents will discuss safety concerns with children using social media from a young age. Ultimately, it seems like having that conversation would be beneficial between parent/guardians and children even if the child doesn’t have a social media page from the get-go. I do have an issue with the information sharing piece, for sure, and it will be fascinating to see how people who grew up with adult-run social media will feel about it as they age. Thanks for posting!

  7. Iyanna Soltero says:

    Destiny, I think you’ve presented a really important question to consider. Our technology has already evolved and advanced greatly, and I don’t think it’s coming to a stop anytime soon. Our data are already so easily retrievable, and we truly don’t have much control over it whether we believe we do or not. As adults we barely know how to appropriately use social media, so do we expect children to know how to? I think that you’re right, it is highly important for parents and children to have these conversations. Parents should be actively involved in what their children are posting online, and continue to remind them that the impact their words online can affect their professional future. Thank you for some great insight!

  8. Elyssa Dziwak says:

    Hi Destiny,

    I really enjoyed reading your blog! It’s a really interesting concept that I don’t think many people have discussed enough. Should parents have the right to post their children’s images, videos, information, etc. onto social media without the child’s permission? I personally struggle to find an answer to this question because I think children are too young to really make that decision for themselves, yet at the same time are parents really thinking about what they’re doing to their child’s “image” at such a young age? “Sharenting” is definitely a topic that needs to be given some attention since we will be witnessing the repercussions of this act in just a couple of years. Thanks for bringing up such a relevant topic!

  9. Julianne Spencer says:

    This is an extremely informative post and made some really good points. It’s unbelievable to think that “90% of 2-year-olds have an online presence.” It saddens me to think that they might not be able to own their own social media narrative when they get older. I know someone who created a Facebook account for their baby the day they were born, but what if their son doesn’t want those photos in cyberspace/their social media page? I also understand the opposite end that new parents want to share everything about parenthood with their social media network.

  10. Brian Gaudette says:

    Well written and thoughtful post. I think that baring bodily harm, parents have the right to incorporate their children into their online speech, regardless of whether that speech is monetized or not. Child celebrities have been around long before the interwebs with all its great cat videos.

    What’s alarming is the 50% of people posting pictures, names, and locations of their kids without understanding what they’re doing.

    Definitely a lot of education in this space. I need to go back and look at all my device settings.

  11. Madelyn Dwyer says:

    Hi Destiny,

    This topic is so interesting to me. I think it is a very important issue to discuss and bring more attention to. Social media has become such an integral part of our lives and sharing photos seems like it has almost become second nature for many people. I wonder what it would have been like to grow up having photos of myself posted on social media by my parents and how I would feel about it now. When my parents started using social media, I was at an age that I could give my consent and understand what was happening. Hopefully, privacy settings will continue to improve and parents will become more knowledgable about the potential risks that come with “sharenting.” The digital kidnapping and location tracing is very scary.

  12. Molly Mair says:

    I read this post last week and ruminated on it. Then I really started noticing how many people share about their kids, especially their babies. All the pics and videos. It is sweet to see baby’s first steps, but it also seems to lose a specialness when spread across platforms. Consent of the child is a curious matter. I am sure some kids may feel exploited by their parents for the instant gratification of a like once they are old enough. And how many of us who like a baby pic will actually remember that baby pic in the future? I am starting to feel that if something is truly special, I need to save it and keep it off of SM.

  13. Rylee says:

    Destiny I think this is a great concept you have brought up for class. While discussing social media and the issues it can bring, there can be a huge security threat for not only people themselves but their children! What a scary idea and we would hope it wouldn’t happen but here we are. I wonder what are ways we can prevent it besides making awareness of it?

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