Acne, blankies, bowl-cuts, smiles pre-braces, lazy eyes, runny noses, the fortnight they were goths or ravers – there are some parts of growing up that most kids would rather forget. Sharenting is the combination of the words share and parenting, and the term used to describe the practice of tweeting, blogging, and posting details of your child’s life online.
Some parents abstain from posting about their kids online completely, and everyone knows a parent whose feed updates by the hour with minute, private or embarrassing moments in their child’s life. Let’s take a look at some of the factors which can influence the extent of sharenting.
Beijing is full of expat nuclear families. Living on the other side of the world means our dearest may not always be nearest. Disconnection from friends and family can cause deep feelings of isolation. Particularly for new arrivals, social media represents an easy way to stave off loneliness and keep in touch with those at home.
Even for those who have extended family or established social networks in Beijing there are times when parents can feel alienated. New mothers are often housebound in the first weeks for example. Some families may have specific health concerns, or social, religious, and cultural needs which they can’t fully address or receive support for in Beijing. Sharing with like-minds or distant loved ones can provide a vital sense of community in such situations.
Some parents see their online postings as the digital equivalent of the family album. And just like a scrapbook, online content can be a biographical resource. The permanence and depth of online information leaves a precious seam of childhood adventures and successes that kids (and their kids) can mine in years to come.
Personhood, Privacy, and TMI – Where to Draw the Line?
From religious upbringing to diet and exercise, parents make enormous and far reaching choices in their child’s lives. Parents exercise total control over their child’s right to privacy. It’s important to give this responsibility due consideration. Some parents see no difference between a first day of school snap and a comprehensive update on bowel movements. I recently experienced a spasm of unease for a young man whose parents shared a thorough account of his grooming routine – waxing, facials, etc. online. I don’t know the family – I am the proverbial friend-of-a-friend. But in that instant, I and hundreds of other strangers became privy to the intimate details of a teenage boy’s toilette. Even in an increasingly metrosexual world it’s easy to envisage ramifications which involve embarrassment, teasing, perhaps even bullying from peers.
I Wanna Be Famous
Fame has become a core societal value in the last decade. Scientists believe that social media and reality TV have profoundly changed what children value about themselves and others. In a 2011 study by UCLA, 40% of preteens surveyed cited fame as their top choice for what they wanted in the future. Modern pop culture is rife with extreme celebrity examples of parents using their kids to garner attention. From Balloon Boy to the Gosselins, some families are willing to do whatever it takes to gain notoriety and cash. Posting photos and tweets are at the thinnest end of the wedge, but parents may wish to consider the larger ramifications of promoting attention as a reward.
The information you post online is susceptible to all sorts of unintended uses and abuses. As soon as content is published to the web, it takes on a life of its own. Nowadays many employers and universities perform online research as a matter of course. Obviously, candidates should be selected on the basis of merit, but social media may lay bare a welter of potentially prejudicial clues; for example the job candidate rejected solely because of a search result which revealed his opinion on gun control.
Most disturbingly, even with savvy use of a site’s privacy settings, once a photograph is on the internet your intended audience is never guaranteed to be your only audience. Parents should be aware that pictures can easily be scraped and used for other purposes. Without wishing to be alarmist, there are places online where predators share pictures of children which they have taken from social media sites. A reddit forum (described here) has been shut down, but its denizens have no doubt just moved under the next rock. This phenomenon of strangers sharing family photos in disturbing contexts has made many parents extremely wary of posting images of their kids on the net.
Stay tuned for Sharenting: Part 2 Limits and Controls
Photo courtesy of spirit-fire, flickr.com