For me, the introduction to social media and blogging came about in the early 2000’s when I found myself at home with a baby, a toddler and a preschooler.
In my job, prior to having babies, I had used email and the internet but as this new parenting season unfolded, so too did new communication and sharing tools which enabled me to have connections with other mothers who, like me, found themselves now at home raising children.
I began sharing photos on Facebook, blogging about the funny stories, difficulties, sicknesses or milestones of my kids and, most importantly, established a community that, although not face-to-face, could support one another through the ups and downs. As a young parent, I now had this online place to ask questions, make suggestions and develop support through the stages of newborns, toddlers or even offer to encourage mothers going through the rollercoaster of postpartum emotions.
Moving overseas in early 2010, I began to take blogging a bit more seriously and used it as a tool for mass-communicating with the friends, family and the support network we’d left behind. It was a way of sharing what life was like in another country, the differences, the challenges and the beauty of a culture foreign to our own.
It probably wasn’t until a few years after we had moved that I had my first moment of wondering whether all this blogging (and photo sharing) really was beneficial to keep up with. By this stage, more people had begun following our journey through the blog; people who didn't know us personally. And the realisation that anything I posted about our family would “stay” forever in the virtual world became quite confronting. So I decided to ease up on the frequency of blogging, only doing updates every few months. I became a bit more vague with details too and tried to post less photos of our kids and more about the activity that we were a part of.
Facebook was still a way to communicate with “friends” though and I felt like I was pretty selective about who I would accept friend requests from etc. In reflection though, I think I was pretty typical of a "sharent" posting first day photos, anniversaries, birthdays, awards, holiday highlights, dress up days etc. In fact, because we didn’t take our photo albums overseas with us, when our kids needed photos of themselves for school projects, they worked out that they could ‘google’ their name and, almost every time, they could find what they needed on the internet.
On Facebook, I loved reading people’s positive comments towards our family and it felt nice to have a place where I could remain connected, especially with people who I only got to see once a year when we would travel home. I admit, it felt good when people would tell me that my kids were cute, that I looked nice, or how great the party I had planned turned out, until… it didn’t any more!
I started to realise that whilst it was convenient that my children could find photos of themselves online to download - other people could too. And as they got a bit older, even their friends had discovered this, and they would show my kids photos they had found of them online. It was mostly amusing but at the back of my mind I also began to feel a sense of uneasiness about it all.
It would be this one experience on an ordinary Sunday morning though, that changed the way I chose to share photos of my children going forward.
One week, my daughter was involved in an inter-school swimming competition. Swimming was something that she improved at quickly and she was rapidly growing in both her strength and competitiveness. After winning several individual and relay events, she proudly stood with her swimming team grinning and holding up the medals hung around her neck.
I was so proud of her - all that hard work she had put in - all those laps in training. We came home with a beautiful, triumphant photo of the moment and, of course, once posted on my Facebook page, the positive comments came flooding in.
It wasn’t until that weekend when we went to church that I realised what I had done. My daughter ran up to one of her favourite Sunday school leaders to tell them “her” big news… only to find that they weren’t excited... they weren’t surprised… and they didn’t even encourage her.
They just replied, “I know. I saw it on Facebook.”
The look on her face is one that I will never forget and I’m actually glad about that. I don’t want to. It was what I needed to make the necessary changes that have remained since that day onwards.
A couple of things happened that day. One was that I went and apologised to my daughter. I had taken her news and shared it without her permission. This is something that all my children have since communicated that they value being consulted about.
Since that day, I started asking permission to share their news or photos and I only share privately with certain people like their grandparents, aunties, uncles, close family friends etc. I also involve them when choosing which photo to share. Sometimes the photo I think is the best, they don’t like. And they ask me not to share that one.
On some occasions, they even ask me to permanently delete photos that I really like of them - that they don’t want kept - and that’s really hard! But I do it, out of respect.
Secondly I saw a part of myself revealed that day I didn’t really like. Why was I seeking the approval of others? What was it that I needed to figure out in my own heart so that I didn’t crave people telling me how good my kids were? Why was my self worth so tied up in what I shared?
I rarely post any photos nowadays but before I share anything, I always check my heart and intentions first and ask myself “why” I am posting this? And if it’s about me needing something back… I just won’t post it. But it’s also taken a lot of underlying pressure off me to feel a need to have the next “thing” ready to share or post. I am no longer looking for that “moment” or that “experience” to capture. I am actually just able to enjoy my family without having to think of what, or how, I am going to share our experiences, or wonder what people will think - and I like that.
These experiences are mine. There is no one way that is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ for you and your family so please don’t feel judged or condemned. But I do think that as a parent (or a sharent) a little bit of self-reflection on this topic can go a long way. Here are three questions that we can ask ourselves.
- Is it safe, or even ethical to publish something about someone who can’t, or doesn't, give their consent? *see link in the resources
- Whose responsibility is it to protect my children from the dark side of social media and the internet? (And, unfortunately there is a dark side)
- How am I exposing my kids to social media? Knowing that exposure can potentially have a significant impact on their mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.
You may be undecided about your stance on this topic right now, and that’s ok. One thing I have really appreciated from my friends is their sensitivity and respect when posting photos that have our family in it. I have lots of friends who ask me, is it okay to post this? Do you mind if I tag you in this? And I think this is a great suggestion for all of us to check first with other parents before posting and sharing images that include other people’s children. Everyone has a different level of comfort and privacy on this topic.
Nowadays, I hear many discussions about how young people aren’t being responsible with their digital identities, but as parents I think we also have a responsibility when it comes to what information we publish about our children and the effect that our "sharenting" can have on them and their futures.
Why not start a conversation by asking your children how they feel about your posting and sharing habits?
“If You Didn’t ‘Sharent,’ Did You Even Parent?” is a five-minute film that addresses themes of parenting and privacy, and fulfills the dream of all kids to turn the tables on their parents and admonish them for their behavior. It profiles three young people, from ages 7-18, as they confront their mothers over their “sharenting” — the oversharing of content about them on social media, often without their permission.
Does sharing photos of your children on Facebook put them at risk? Every time you post about your child on social media you are helping to create for them a data-rich, enduring and potentially problematic online profile. Some experts suggest we should exercise more caution.
SHARENTING: CHILDREN’S PRIVACY IN THE AGE OF SOCIAL MEDIA an in-depth legal analysis of the conflict inherent between a parent’s right to share online and a child’s interest in
privacy. It considers whether children have a legal or moral right to control their own digital footprint and discusses the unique and novel conflict at the heart of parental sharing in the digital age.