Is Obsessive Parental Social Media ‘Sharenting’ Harmful?


The University of Michigan Health System has released information from the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health showing that sharing children’s actions, pictures, or talents on social media — which they call “sharenting” — may be worth reconsidering.

When it comes to parenting and social media, the poll found that more than half of mothers and one-third of fathers discuss their children’s health and parenting, and almost three quarters of parents say that social media makes them “feel less alone.” The question is, how far should parents go when it comes to opening the door between public and private life?

When children become old enough to use social media independently, many already have a a digital presence thanks to their parents. Sarah J. Clark, M.P.H., associate director of the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health and associate research scientist in the U-M Department of Pediatrics, said:

“Sharing the joys and challenges of parenthood and documenting children’s lives publicly has become a social norm so we wanted to better understand the benefits and cons of these experiences. On one hand, social media offers today’s parents an outlet they find incredibly useful. On the other hand, some are concerned that oversharing may pose safety and privacy risks for their children.”

The most common parenting advice shared by parents on social media involve getting kids to sleep; nutrition and eating tips; discipline; daycare and preschool situations; and behavior problems. Of the parents polled, 70% said they use social media to get advice from more seasoned parents and 62% said doing so made them worry less.

Many parents recognized that sharing information about their children could have a downside. Two-thirds were fearful that someone might learn private facts about their children or could share photographs without permission. Over 50% were concerned that when their children got older they would be embarrassed by what their parents had shared.

Three-quarters of parents had experienced oversharing by another parent in the form of embarrassing stories, information that might reveal a child’s location, or posting of inappropriate photos. There have even been cases of strangers stealing children’s online pictures and re-sharing them as if they were pictures of their own children.

The poll also found that 56% of parents said they knew someone who shared embarrassing information about a child, writes Mary Bowerman of USA Today.

“We have now crossed a threshold in our society where if you do not record, broadcast or disseminate your life or your child’s life it does not exist,” says psychologist David Greenfield, founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction.

However, says Clark, parents are not always geographically close to immediate family and friends, so for many parents online sharing enables them to connect with others and feel the support of fellow parents.

The constant barrage of imagery depicting positive, happy events can sometimes represent only a partial view of the reality of family life. Sarah Martindale, writing for The Week, refers to a recent project by George Filip which points out some interesting online practices that can even begin before a child is born. An extreme example involved blogs in which mothers take on the personality of the unborn baby and write what they presume their babies are thinking in utero.

Still, research has found that parents who put pictures of their children online and receive responses report greater satisfaction with parenthood and find that social networking can be a viable source of helpful information for mothers, especially mothers of preschool-aged children. Martindale challenges her readers to try using social media not just for self-promotion, but rather as a vehicle for positive “personal and societal change”.

“Some of the same psychological quirks that cause people to smoke cigarettes,” writes Josh Harkinson in Mother Jones, “also explain why they don’t stop sharing personal details online.”

Another relevant point, according to Ed Power of The Independent, is that once you set the “digital genie” free, it is difficult to push it back in the bottle. Adults, for the most part, can handle the consequences of posting something online that may not be appropriate in ten years from the posting, but kids might not.

03 19, 2015
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