Editorials, Opinion

Beware the perils of ‘sharenting’

When we were kids, it was “don’t talk to strangers.”

The gentle admonishment from our parents was a reminder that, although the world seemed wide and bright to us as children, there was darkness out there and we needed to be careful.

Now that we’re adults, the world seems even wider and much darker. And so we share these same words of wisdom with our own children and grandchildren. With the advent  of the internet, however, we’ve had to add a few: don’t post your personal information on public platforms or share it with people you don’t know in real life, don’t accept friend requests from strangers, don’t go alone to meet someone you only know online … the list of warnings could go on forever.

We try to teach our young people to be careful online — to stay safe in a world where threats can come from  unexpected places — but are we being careful?               Not just with our own information, but with our children’s?

Laurel Cook, a social marketing and public policy researcher and associate professor at the John Chambers College of Business and Economics, warns of the perils of “sharenting.”

The portmanteau of “share” and “parenting” refers to the phenomena of caregivers sharing information and photos of kids online. Like when you post pictures from your daughter’s soccer game or your son’s birthday party or your nephew’s concert. Like when camps and summer programs post images of kids doing activities. Like when you post baby bump and newborn pictures and first-step videos and silly photos of toddlers being toddlers.

You may think you’re sharing precious or funny moments with friends and family, but you’re also creating a digital record of the child that they have no control over.

At the least, you’ve shared private images of and information about the kid without their consent. At the most, you’ve given a predator everything they need to target that child.

Best-case scenario, that picture of John Doe as a 3-year-old with spaghetti all over his face only comes back to haunt him at his wedding. Worst-case scenario, a potential predator knows approximately how old John is, the color of his hair and eyes, other physical features and any other information they can glean from the photo’s background and your public profile information.

Even the most “private” social media accounts present some information publicly, like your name, profile picture and often your hometown, age or birth date and certain interests; and anyone you’re connected with on social media can save your photos, then potentially post them somewhere else. And, as Cook points out, social media platforms and third-party websites are constantly collecting data. Now, companies can create digital profiles of individuals starting from before they are even born that will follow them their entire lives.

If you want grandma to see that photo of John with spaghetti all over his face, send it to her as a text message, or wait to show her in person instead. Before sharing, consider if you’d want that picture or video to be online if it were of you and not your child. If your child is old enough to understand consent, ask them if you can share their photos or announce their accomplishments on social media.

This is not meant to be a “social media will be the downfall of society” kind of editorial. Rather, it’s a reminder that the internet is forever, and we all need to be more careful about what we post — about ourselves and about others.