This week marked another dust-up in the debate about oversharenting—that is, parents sharing too much information about their kids online.
At Slate, Amy Webb argued parents are “creating a generation of kids born into digital sin.” She and her husband post nothing—no photos, no videos—about their daughter online to protect her anonymity. Andrew Leonard at Salon fired back, “We are strengthening the ties that bind a larger community of family and friends together” by sharing our kids’ lives with a select few on social media.
Wherever you stand, most parents are doing it. According to a recent study done by print site Posterista, 94 percent of parents in the United Kingdom post pictures of their kids online. And 64 percent of parents upload images of their children to social media outlets at least three times a week.
Plus, even if you strike for total anonymity for your child like Webb does, it’s still difficult to succeed. In the comments section of Webb’s post, someone boasted to have tracked down the name, photo and saved website domain of her child. So much for anonymity.
Given that our kids are necessarily exposed, what happens in 10 or 15 years when a child inherits a Facebook page already full of embarrassing baby photos?
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“It may be that we have to negotiate with our kids a little bit more about what’s acceptable or not or give them the ability to take down photographs they don’t want there,” says Stephen Balkman, who leads the Family Online Safety Institute.
He sees the new phenomenon as an opportunity to teach kids about online reputation. “When your kids get to be 11 or 12, sit down and Google their name with them. Go through their Timeline. See if they want what’s up there, and if they don’t, delete it,” he says. “But by looking at all this they’ll better grasp the benefits and consequences of sharing information.”
But that conversation is not always easy. “As parents are starting at a very young age posting anything and everything on Facebook, then it will be hard as parents to say to your child as a teenager, ‘That’s not appropriate to post,’ when parents have been posting information about them for their entire lives,” says Dr. Mary Beth DeWitt, director of psychology at Dayton Children’s Hospital.
And what may be even more problematic are the psychological implications of growing up without anonymity. There was plenty of admonishing following Miley Cyrus’s shenanigans at the Video Music Awards about the ill effects of constant exposure and living in the spotlight from a young age. Well in a way, that’s what is happening to this generation of kids, albeit on a smaller scale. From before birth—when moms are posting pictures of their sonograms on Instagram—parents expose their children’s information to family, friends, acquaintances and total strangers online. And it has yet to be seen how today’s toddlers will deal with their inherited online identities as teenagers.
“We’re still exploring this since it’s so new. Hopefully a parent posting on Facebook about their child won’t make a child feel like that defined who they are, but it’s a concern,” says Dewitt.
“I would tell parents to look back and think how they would feel if their parents posted about them online for everyone to see and use that as the guideline for what’s appropriate and what isn’t.”