Are You Guilty of “Sharenting”?

By Tracey Dowdy

Are you guilty of “sharenting”? Don’t know what that is? Actually, you’re probably familiar with the concept, perhaps just not the term.

Last week I came across a news story of an Austrian teenager who is suing her parents for sharenting. They had been sharing her childhood photos on Facebook and despite her repeated requests for them to stop, particularly posting photos of her in the bath or having her diaper changed, they continued to post. As a result, she felt she had no recourse except to pursue legal action. That’s obviously the far end of the spectrum, but she isn’t alone in her attitude.

So, how much is too much? If they’re your children and your photos, don’t you have the right to post and share? Well, ask yourself, “Do I have the right to curate someone else’s social media presence without their consent?”

The divide seems to be generational – if you’re the parent or grandparent, the answer tends to be “Yes” but if you’re the child, the answer is almost always “No.” In fact, a 2016 study by the University of Michigan found three times as many kids as adults felt it was important for parents to have rules about what could be posted on social media.

As a parent, we want to share those funny anecdotes and charming videos and most parents aren’t looking for an audience beyond their family and friends. But, once it’s online, those photos and videos take on a life of their own.

Remember the video of 3 year-old Mateo and his negotiations for a cupcake? No? What if I said, “Linda, Linda, Linda, you’re not listening to me!” Now you remember don’t you? At the time of this post, the video has 48,620,411 views on YouTube. Mateo made it to The Ellen DeGeneres Show, received not one but an entire tower of Batman and Superman cupcakes, and Linda got a trip to a spa plus a check for $10,000. Not a bad return for three minutes of negotiations between a mom and her toddler.

You may know Laney Griner’s son Sammy as “Success Kid”. Initially, Griner was unhappy about Sammy’s photo going viral until recently when she was able to capitalize on the meme and raise $90K for her husband’s dialysis. “Without that happening, how much could I get this recognition about my husband’s kidney transplant?” she asked in an interview with ABC news.

Both those examples, despite Laney Griner’s initial displeasure, have happy endings but that’s not always the case. Aside from cyber-crimes like digital kidnapping and photos being stolen and posted to child-porn sites, kids are just flat unhappy that parents don’t consider the post from their perspective.

According to Dr. Leonard Sax, child and adolescent development expert and author of The Collapse of Parenting, “A lot of these things you think are harmless, are not actually that harmless… My first question to parents when they ask if it’s okay to post about their child is, ‘Why are you doing this?'” says Dr. Sax.

I think that’s a good rule to apply to anything we post online. Why are you posting it? Attention? Validation?

Engaging in an online community of support can be a positive thing. But those of us so mindful of curating our own digital identities would do well to offer our children the same consideration.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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