Social media is a powerful tool, changing societies across the globe. From launching revolutions to upending journalism, platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram allow for human connection on an unprecedented scale. However, do we fully understand the consequences of sharing so openly? From family vacations to first days at school, one group that has recently been the focus of a study on the use of social media is parents, and how their use of social media can potentially have a long-lasting impact on their kids.
According to a 2010 study, 92 percent of American children have an online presence by the time they are 2, with 34 percent experiencing their “digital birth” in the womb, as their parents post sonograms on social media. Most parents share about their pregnancies and kids to connect with friends and family, especially for those who don’t live close to one another. If privacy settings are overlooked, however, the seemingly innocent posting of a baby bathtub shot can take a dark turn. Some parents have found pictures of their kids on child porn sites, and still others have been victim to “digital kidnapping,” where a user will steal a child’s picture to pretend the child is theirs.
“I make sure privacy and safety are always at the forefront before I click ‘share,’” said parent-influencer and founder of Mixed Up Clothing Sonia Smith-Kang. Sharing about family life online can have positive benefits, like connecting people around common issues and building community. As Smith-Kang points out, “Our family and friends throughout the world can count on me to bring them first day of school pics, gameday action and multicultural events we attend [as well as] the mundane everyday happenings.”
University of Florida legal skills professor Stacey Steinberg is considered one of the foremost experts on the phenomena of parents sharing online. In 2017 Steinberg coined the term “sharenting” to highlight the overuse of social media by parents and some of its harmful effects, specifically on the child’s right to privacy. “Children might one day resent the disclosures made years earlier by their parents,” wrote Steinberg in her paper, “Sharenting: Children’s Privacy in the Age of Social Media.”
In fact, children whose parents began posting about them in 2004, when Facebook launched, are now finding out just how much has been publicly said about them. In the piece “When Kids Realize Their Whole Life Is Already Online,” Taylor Lorenz of The Atlantic explores the range of emotions children may feel when discovering their digital footprint. While some find it exhilarating, others have felt betrayed by their parents.
“Consider the long-term damage that oversharing might do to parent-child trust,” said Jill Simonian, TV/Media parenting contributor and creator of TheFABMom.com. “If we post…a very detailed description or photo of our kids’ challenges (like learning disabilities or an injury), how do you think our child will feel if and when they learn that we’re talking about them behind their backs, and about something that they might feel sensitive about? (And yes, they will find out, they’ll feel it.)” Simonian was featured in a CBS segment on social media etiquette for parents.
However, children’s right to privacy must be balanced with the parents’ right to control the upbringing of their children and their right to free speech, says Steinberg. In her piece, “My daughter asked me to stop writing about motherhood. Here’s why I can’t do that,” author Christie Tate describes her negotiation with her fourth-grade daughter, reconciling her daughter’s right to have boundaries with her own need to process her motherhood experience through writing.
While much has been written about the topic, the general conclusion is that there is no magic answer to the pitfalls of sharenting, but there are some good guidelines. These include staying on top of privacy settings and asking children old enough to understand if posting about them is okay. To help parents and other decision makers understand the varied aspects of sharing about children on social media, we have compiled a library of articles spanning the past few years. We hope this comprehensive list positively contributes to your thinking and considerations.
Sonia Smith-Kang, founder of Mixed Up Clothing, and Jill Simonian of TheFABMom have partnered with First 5 LA in promotion and co-development of content. They were not compensated for their contributions to this article. First 5 LA regularly partners with parenting experts and bloggers to help inform its marketing efforts.
Etiquette and Solutions
Posting about our kids on social media has become synonymous with modern parenting. While most of it is usually innocent, fun and positive, posting about our kids on social media can also have adverse effects on our children’s reputations, safety and perception of themselves. (Simonian, 4/20/16)
Posting photos of your kids online is a great way to keep friends and family in the loop, but also has dangers. Here's how to avoid “digital kidnappers.” (Rossen & Cherry, 3/20/18)
Even though it’s an easy and fun way to keep family and friends up to date, parents should still be careful about what they post. (Simon, 4/28/19)
To many, posting their kids on social media has become second nature. But where do you draw the line, and are there rules when it comes to posting our kids on the Internet? (Kresta, 6/23/19)
For a lot of people, social media has truly become a way of life. While there are plenty of great things about sharing your family’s special moments online with your friends and followers, there are also plenty of drawbacks. (Mazewski, 8/10/19)
Perspectives, Both Parents and Kids
What does it mean for your kid’s present and future well-being when thousands of photos showing every stage of their development have been handed over to a company that brushes off an acknowledgment that its service may directly contribute to literal deaths before those same kids are even old enough to have a Facebook account? (Morse, 11/21/18)
“This is the most epic Christmas ever,” my fourth-grade daughter proclaimed from behind the new laptop we gifted her. (Tate, 1/3/19)
Beyond data privacy concerns, including possible identity theft for overexposed children, the hard line I hold is one of loyalty, and the hesitation that rests in unanswered questions: How might my actions affect my son’s future? (Szczypinski, 3/7/19)
When 8th grader Sonia Bokhari joined social media for the first time, she discovered that her mom and sister had been posting about her for her entire life. (Bokhari, 3/8/19)
Un-consenting subjects, data collection and child predators should make any parent pause before posting photos to Instagram and Facebook. (Stern, 3/12/19)
The New York Times (VIDEO): If You Didn’t “Sharent,” Did You Even Parent?
While we often hear parents caution their children about safety, this time the tables are turned. In the video op-ed above, three children confront their mothers about “sharenting.” (Garg, 8/7/19)
Kids — and some grown-ups, too — are over the days of “sharenting.” (Snyder, 6/11/19)
It’s such a lovely picture. Wispy tendrils of honey-gold hair dangle at the fringes of her face as she sits perched in profile — bottom to heel, calf to thigh and thigh to chest — pressed into a youthful squat that makes my knees cringe. (Revelle, 7/24/19)
At first, the choice belongs to parents alone. An infant can’t object to a soft-filtered selfie with mama; a toddler won’t know if their tantrum becomes a topic of online commiseration. But when, exactly, does it start to change? (Gibson, 6/3/19)
“Is it OK if I post a photo of him to Facebook?” Here’s the thing: at least she asked! It wasn’t too long before that my mom shared pics of my older kids on social media without getting my permission first. That no longer flies with me. (Willets, 6/25/19)
Stacey Steinberg Op-Eds
As a children’s rights advocate, photographer and mom, this question haunts me. I bring it up when discussing child rearing with friends and family. (Steinberg, 7/31/15)
We must ask: Is it just our friends applauding our kids’ efforts in the crusade to end gun violence, or are nameless people sitting at faraway computers creating profiles of our social justice warriors? (Steinberg & Keith, 4/12/18)
Just as children have a right to privacy, in the United States, parents also have a First Amendment right to free speech and in most cases, a right to control how their children are brought up. This means that as a society, we value letting parents make decisions about how to raise their kids. (Steinberg, 7/11/18)
As you go through your forms this year, keep an eye out for the ones asking for permission to share your kids’ pictures, assignments and art online. Until your children start being able to make these choices on their own, you should be in control of your child’s digital footprint. (Steinberg, 9/9/19)
What “Sharenting” Is and How It Could Be Harmful
All those Facebook photos are cute — but how are they affecting the kids? (LaFrance, 10/6/16)
“As children’s-rights advocates, we believe that children should have a voice about what information is shared about them, if possible," says Stacey Steinberg, a legal skills professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law in Gainesville. (Haelle, 10/28/16)
Parents today lie at a crossroads of pre-social media and post-social media days; how they engage in parenting is evaluated not only on the benchmark of traditionalist perspectives on parenting, but also on more moral and ethical compasses of whether they are doing it “right.” (4/26/17)
Many of today’s young teens were born in an era before social media. By the time they entered preschool, most of their parents had Facebook accounts. (Steinberg, 7/31/17)
Social media-savvy women are reclaiming their role as mothers on Instagram, all while making it look really, really good. (Przystup, 9/27/17)
WHYY: Textiquette and sharenting (32 min.)
We’ll talk about the ethics and etiquette of sharing pictures of your children and grandchildren — also known as “sharenting” — with Stacey Steinberg, law professor at the University of Florida and contributor to The Washington Post’s “On Parenting” column. (8/22/18)
In the grand scheme of human history, the baby photo is a pretty new invention, but now that smart phones are ubiquitous, the first years of today’s children are better documented than any other generation’s. (Hu, 10/25/18)
The children of the first wave of mommy bloggers are growing up, and some are none too pleased about unwittingly having had their lives broadcast to a captive audience of millions (not to mention, in some cases, sold for sponsorship dollars). (Ruiz, 1/14/19)
Stacey Steinberg, associate director of the Center on Children and Families at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law, says that sharenting represents a “cultural shift” in the way kids grow up. (Hobson, 1/28/19)
Googling yourself has become a rite of passage. (Lorenz, 2/20/19)
Parents are already some of the biggest violators of their kids’ privacy, leaving potentially harmful digital footprints well before the age of consent. (Baron, 2/16/19)
Have you ever shared a photo of your child online? Maybe you uploaded their sonogram before they were even born? It’s all in good faith, but some experts say it may be wiser to be more protective. (Quintanilla, 2/25/19)
A campaign teaches parents to “pause before you post” pictures of kids on social media. (Holohan, 4/3/18)
If you’re on social media, you’re most likely bombarded every single day with an onslaught of social media updates about people’s daily lives. (Caprino, 4/12/19)
Over-posting about your children on social media has a name: sharenting, a term coined by law professor Stacey Steinberg. (Bravo, 4/18/19)
Under French privacy law, anyone convicted of publishing and distributing images of another person without their consent can face up to one year in prison and a fine that’s equivalent to more than $50,000. That would apply to parents posting images of their kids as well. (Wong, 4/22/19)
Many children growing up today will discover that their digital footprint began in utero and didn’t stop there. (5/21/19)
The New York Times: The Problem With “Sharenting”
Fears about troubling videos and excessive screen time are legitimate. But the real threat is adults’ disregard for their children’s rights and best interests. (Kamenetz, 6/5/19)
Mila and Emma are two breakthrough stars of a new class of social media celebrities: young children who appear in viral videos. (Rosman, 9/27/17)
“It is very manipulative of young children,” said Kathryn Montgomery, a professor emerita at American University’s School of Communications. “With this form of promotion and advertising, there is a purposeful blurring of those lines.” (Maheshwari, 3/1/19)
Social media content is becoming a profitable industry that can be launched from home. But without regulations and labor laws that a minor would be protected by on a film set, child social media entertainers are vulnerable to exploitation — even by their parents. (Holcombe, 3/22/19)
Kid influencers can be big business on Instagram. Three parents share how they manage their kids’ earnings — without spoiling them. (Mohan, 5/8/19)
The huge growth of influencer marketing on platforms like Instagram and YouTube — expected to be a $6.5 billion to $8 billion industry by the end of 2019 — raises a world of new questions and concerns about the lack of oversight and the possible long-term impact on children’s lives. (Novacic, 8/23/19)