'Sharenting' and your children's rights to online privacy

‘Sharenting’ and your children’s rights to online privacy

sharenting and your children's rights to online privacy

Are you crossing a line by sharing information about your children on social media?

Most of us take to social media to share stories, images and videos of our kids reaching milestones, achieving things we’re proud of, or sometimes just… existing. We do it because we’re proud parents and we want our friends and family to see how well they’re doing – after all, is it really so wrong to want to show off a little when it comes to how incredible our kids are?

Yet sharing information about our children is often more morally complex than simply expressing our pride and can result in a variety of unforeseen circumstances – some of them harmful to our kids’ emotional wellbeing and future success.

READ MORE: PRESERVING YOUR CHILDREN’S ONLINE PRIVACY

Who sees what you share?

A 2016 study by UK cyber-security provider Nominet found that on average, parents posted nearly 1 500 photos of their child by the time they reached the age of five – a 54% increase from the previous year. According to the study,
parents have an average of 295 Facebook friends, all of whom could potentially see any posts they make. However, photos and information about their kids could reach a much larger audience if downloaded and re-posted by their
friends or others who are tagged in the photos.

The study also found that only 10% of parents believe almost all their Facebook friends are friends in real life, while more than one-third of them admit that over half of their Facebook friends aren’t ‘true friends’. Nominet also highlighted a lack of understanding and knowledge regarding privacy settings among parents – 85% of them hadn’t reviewed their social media privacy settings for over a year and only 10% said they were very confident in managing them. About half of the parents admitted they understood only the basics when it came to privacy settings.

Something we might not be considering as parents, then, is that while we teach our children early on not to talk to strangers (in either the real or virtual worlds), posting about them reveals a disconnect between what we say and what we do. We’re essentially offering information about our kids to strangers, without fully considering the consequences.

Posting about our children reveals a disconnect between what we say and what we do. We’re essentially offering information about our kids to strangers.

The right to privacy

Clinical psychologist David Abrahamsohn says: ‘I often hear parents advising their children to be careful about what they post online; that it will live with them forever and define them well into their adult years. But what about information posted by their parents when they were too young to even know what social media was?’ He advises parents to remember two essential things: firstly, that – like anything else posted online – none of the information they share about their children is completely private. Secondly, that information about their children is actually not their information.

The second point, says David, is particularly important in the information age, when we all leave a ‘digital footprint’. ‘It’s one thing if you’re an adult who’s chosen to post or share content about yourself. It’s entirely another if you had no say in it whatsoever – parents sharing their child’s stories and photos on social media often begins as early
as their first 3D scan. Does your child not have a right to privacy?’ he asks.

Some countries are now taking measures to ensure children’s rights to privacy online – in fact, parents in France have been warned that posting information and images of their kids online means their children will be within their rights to sue them for jeopardising their security and breaching their right to privacy. The penalties could include a year in prison and/or a hefty fine.

Potential consequences to consider

Earlier this year, a successful ‘mommy blogger’ published an essay detailing her daughter’s unhappiness at discovering she’d been written about for public consumption, which aroused much controversy and discussion. In her essay, the mother claimed she couldn’t stop writing about her daughter, as she felt this would be ‘amputating parts of her existence’ – something she perceived to be just as damaging to her relationship with her child as writing about her might be. This is a concept parents often have to wrestle with – it can be difficult to disentangle our experiences from those of our children. ‘There’s no doubt that parents can benefit enormously from using social media. They can look for and share parenting advice which helps them support each other and not feel isolated when facing difficulties,’ says David. However, he cautions that it’s also crucial for parents to recognise the potential significant dangers of
their actions. These fall into three distinct categories:

1. Safety

The most obvious concern is safety – once something’s online, it’s freely available to others who may not have good intentions. There’s also the risk that postings could be used to identify a child’s location. It’s not unusual these days to hear that people have had their ‘private’ information compromised by hackers. Enabling privacy settings and turning off geotagging (which tells unwanted Internet users where your child is located) on all your child’s electronic devices is essential.

2. Digital reputation

Another concern is that postings will follow your child throughout their life – from school (where their peers may see them) into adulthood, where they could have negative repercussions for educational and employment opportunities. In this digital age, our online reputations are inseparable from our real-life ones. So, while it may seem harmless to post a video of your child throwing a tantrum or doing something funny, it’s worth considering how your child might be affected in the future. Could the posts resurface later, during their sensitive teenage years, when bullies might use
the posts against them?

3. Self-esteem

‘When parents post about their children online, they may be undermining the child’s sense of ownership of their own experiences and identity. Their life story’s being told about them without their input,’ says David. A child’s identity could be partially defined by these events, even though they had no part in creating such stories. This could impact their self-esteem and confidence negatively.

‘Professionals are still trying to understand the consequences of sharing images and information about children in posts, as the first generation of children who grew up with social media are only now coming of age,’ adds David.

We need to keep our children involved in these conversations from an early age, as the digital world will only become a bigger part of our everyday lives in the future.

Before posting information about kids online, David advises parents to ask the following: 

  • Why are you sharing this information? You should have a good reason for sending content about your child out into the world.
  • Could your child be embarrassed by this information, now or in the future? It’s one thing to tell an embarrassing story to a relative; it’s another thing to send the information out to the world.
  • Is there anyone in the world who shouldn’t see this about your child, now or in the future? If there is, don’t share it. If what you’re thinking of posting could harm your child’s future employment or relationships, keep it to yourself.
  • Is this something you want to be part of your child’s digital footprint? Does what you’re posting help or hinder your child’s digital reputation?

FEATURE: CAITLIN GENG PHOTO: FOTOLIA.COM

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