Is “sharenting” good parenting?

Senior Lecturer Michelle Bugby begins the discourse of the ethical considerations surrounding parents sharing information about their young children on social networks.

If there’s anything parents like to do, it’s talk about their children and show pictures of them. Yet with the explosion of social media, those funny stories or cute pictures that used to be shared with just your family, friends and your colleagues can now be shared with literally the entire world. The trend of so-called ‘sharenting’ (a portmanteau of the word “share” and “parenting”) has become increasingly controversial as social media sites have grown. Online sharenting has many benefits, such as building communities, advocating for children’s issues and connecting with friends and family around the globe. As a parent, I often share on social media or precisely these reasons, yet there is no consensus on what is appropriate to ‘sharent’.

Parents act as both gatekeepers of their children’s personal information and as narrators of their children’s personal stories; this gives children little protection as their online identity evolves. According to Ofcom, 87% of parents in the UK have privacy concerns about social media; however have many of us become desensitised over the years to such public sharing? Cute baby photos, embarrassing birthday party surprises, and falls are fun to record, but should these be kept for personal consumption alone? Let us remember that like us, our kids will one day grow up and would want their privacy and integrity intact. This I find really thought-provoking, as a conflict of interest may exist, as children might one day resent the disclosures made years earlier by their parents on social media.

According to Ofcom that although 42% of parents share photos and information about their children on social media, they still have concerns about their children’s privacy. Yes I hear you say — you can use privacy settings, and you absolutely should, but there are always ways around them (such as screen shots) and even when you take something down, that doesn’t mean it’s completely gone. Therefore we do need to consider that when it comes to sharing information about their children online nothing is completely private, and everything is permanent.

Ultimately as McCarthy (2017) suggests it is not your information; it belongs to your children, which is particularly important in this new digital age, where all of us have a ‘digital footprint’ and your child has a right to privacy. The question to ask yourself is this something you want to be part of your child’s digital footprint? Even if it’s not embarrassing, how does it portray your child? Think about it. You’d probably like your child to come across as smart, well-behaved, industrious, kind and successful, right? Does what you are posting help that or hinder it?

This is an on-going debate and if you would like to contribute to this discussion further please contact me at michelle.bugby@northampton.ac.uk

Michelle Bugby is Senior Lecturer here at the University of Northampton. For more, follow us @UniNorthants or use #UoN. Find out more about our education courses here.