Trust me -- as a new father, I get the impulse to share every single thing your brilliant, adorable child does. I call it the “proud papa syndrome,” and I am prey to it myself. But all of us effusive parents may want to consider throttling back on all this over-sharing of our offspring, and not just because the people on the receiving end probably find it deeply annoying. The real danger is that we’re creating a digital profile for our kids before they can even say “stop tagging me in photos, Dad!”
That’s the main message of a new study from the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, addressing the phenomenon of “sharenting” on social media (you know it’s a real phenomenon when it has a cute portmanteau name). Based on a survey of 569 parents with a child or children ages 0-4, the study found 54% mothers and 34% of fathers discuss child health and parenting issues on social media.
Some of the most popular topics for “sharenting” on social media are getting kids to sleep, cited by 28% of respondents; nutrition and eating tips (26%); discipline (19%); daycare and preschool (17%), and behavior problems (13%). Some of this is understandable: asked their motivations for “sharenting,” 67% of parents said they use social media to get advice from more experienced parents, and 62% said it helped them worry less.
On the other hand, 68% of parents also said they were worried that someone might be able to learn private information about their kids, or share photos of their kids without permission. In addition, 52% worried their kids might later be embarrassed by things they shared. Seventy-four percent of parents complained about “oversharenting” from another parent, including embarrassing stories (56%), information that discloses a child’s location (51%), and inappropriate photos (27%).
Parents clearly need to think about reining in some of this sharing. The fact is that we, as the first generation to inhabit social media, are still fairly naïve about its long-term implications. For one thing, we can all remember (roughly) the time when we decided to “join” social media, so it’s hard to imagine what it will be like for people -- i.e., our children, whose entire lives have been documented online.
That said, we already know that inopportune or inappropriate social media sharing can do enormous damage to adults -- the classic example of a college keg stand photo derailing a job search. While people hopefully won’t judge children as harshly, you never know what changes the future will bring, and stories, quotes and photos that appear innocent and charming now may come to be viewed in a different light later.
This post was previously published in an earlier edition of MediaPost's The Social Graf.