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Father taking photo of daughter playing in snow.

Think about what you share about yourself on social media. Do you make sure there are no photos of yourself with alcohol in hand? Maybe you only share photos from times you feel put together. How do you react when someone “tags” you in an unflattering or embarrassing photo? It is your right to choose what is shared on your social media.

Now consider what you share about your children on social media. Sharenting is a term used to describe an oversharing of information about children on social media. For the first time, young people are growing up to find they have an online presence they had no say in creating. In the United States 92% of two-year-old children already have an online presence and about one-third of these children were first introduced to the online world as newborns.

There are many benefits to parents sharing about their children on social media. Parents can share their pride in their child’s accomplishments or share photos with distant loved ones. Sharing parenting experiences with friends and family can help parents feel supported. However, sharing on social media creates lasting impacts that can follow a child throughout their life. Understanding that while most parents have their child’s best interest in mind, many have not considered how their social media presence can impact their child’s wellbeing and safety. Before sharing about children on social media there are some things you may want to consider:

  1. Your privacy settings on your social media sites.

Many social media sites have options that allow users to limit who sees different posts shared. Often users can limit posts to social media friends, or those users designate as close friends. Consider making your settings more private on posts that contain photos or information about children. Also know that people can save things you share and re-share them without your permission.

  1. Is there anyone you would not want to have this information about your child?

If the answer is yes, reconsider sharing the information. Examples of information you may want to reconsider sharing include, full name, birth-date, school name, home address, location of child, or phone number. Try looking up yourself or your child online, you may be surprised how much information already exists.

  1. Would you be OK if others used this photo without your permission?

While sharing a photo of children in the pool or bathtub may be cute and seem harmless, understand that others who can view the photo can use it for something else you may not approve of. One study found that almost half of all photos found on a pedophile sharing site were originally shared by parents on social media or blogs.

  1. Could your child be embarrassed about what is shared?  

The reality is, one day, your child will likely see what has been shared about them on social media. When I google myself, one of the photos that results is an unflattering photo of me in 9th grade. I wish that this photo could be removed, but it continues to follow me online. Before posting something online consider if you want it to be part of your child’s online presence. Other examples include information disclosed about a child’s diagnosis, behavioral issues, or criminal history that could follow them into adulthood.

  1. Are you willing to give your child the opportunity to “veto” what is shared?

In a study that surveyed youth 10 to 17-years-old what their parents shared on social media, it found that most of the youth preferred when the information shared was positive.  They did not like their parents sharing photos that they deemed unflattering, too personal, or highlighted the negative. Chances are you want your child to be viewed as well-behaved, smart, and happy- is what you’re posting supporting that goal?

Taking time to protect children’s online presence can be as simple as taking a moment to consider “would I want this shared if it were about me?” Having a conversation with older children, like the one modeled in this video, could also be a good step toward better understanding between family members as well as better online safety. 


Written by: Courtney Woelfl, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Cuyahoga County.

Reviewed by: Lisa Barlage, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Ross County.

Sources:

Minkus, T., Liu, K., & Ross, K. W. (2015). Children Seen But Not Heard. Proceedings of the 24th International Conference on World Wide Web – WWW 15. doi: 10.1145/2736277.2741124

Moser, C., Chen, T., & Schoenebeck, S. Y. (2017). Parents? and Children?s Preferences about Parents Sharing about Children on Social Media. Proceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems – CHI 17. doi: 10.1145/3025453.3025587

Steinberg, S. B. (2017). Sharenting: Children’s privacy in the age of social media. Emory Law Journal, 66(4), 839-884.

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