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The age of oversharing: parenting on social media

There’s a constant buzz of activity around our children when it comes to their use of social media – what to post, what not to post, what apps to have or not have. But parents also need to watch what they post about their children. “Sharenting” is a new term coined to define what parents are sharing about their children online, and it’s changing the face of how children grow up.

A November 2018 study published by the United Kingdom’s Children’s Commissioner revealed that today’s young parents will share more than 1,500 photos of their child before he or she is 5 years old. That’s 300 photos a year or just under one per day. But as kids age, they might not appreciate that mom shared a photo of them in the bathtub as a toddler or in a pie eating contest as a younger kid. Today’s teens want parents to ask before they share.

Clemson resident Thomas Henry, age 16, said he feels his parents overshare on social media and he’s embarrassed by most of what they post, though his father, Doug Henry, is quick to point out that he shares photos and stories when his children have accomplished something and he is proud of them. Doug Henry also noted that Thomas’ grandparents check Facebook daily to see what he and his siblings have been doing and they enjoy the updates.

“[Our children] bring joy to our lives, and we love to share that joy with family and friends,” Doug Henry said. “We are proud of their achievements and their lives, and the great people they’re growing to be.”

Adison Culver, a 17-year-old Clemson resident and recent high school graduate, said she trusts her parents and what they share on social media. She said they only post things that would be uplifting to her and her three younger siblings. 

“The only things my parents share on social media for the public to see are my accomplishments and celebrations,” she said. “It’s almost like a good resume.”

Adison’s mother, Rachel Culver, said she has never asked permission to share photos and accolades of her children because she tries to keep what she shares positive and encouraging. She said she doesn’t want to post anything unflattering of her children that might embarrass them.

Likewise, Doug Henry also said he does not ask permission to share photos of Thomas or his other children. He said he makes an effort to only share photos and stories that are positive and show his children in a good light.

Stacey Steinberg a professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law has studied the idea of “sharenting” and written about best practices for parents. Her research shows that the intersection of privacy rights, parenting rights and public health is one that is blazing new territory. 

Thomas Henry and Adison Culver aren’t worried about their parents' social media posts having an adverse outcome on their futures. Both said that nothing their parents have shared could be damaging in terms of a future career. Thomas did note, however, that some posts, “might be awkward in social situations.” He said parents should remember to think more like their kids and empathize with them. Adison agreed, saying parents should uplift their children and not share things that might embarrass them.

Privacy is something we all want to have respected, and that goes for children as well. It is important to be aware of what you are sharing and who can see it. After all, the internet is forever.