Do you share images of your children online? The answer has divided many of us and the issue has even been given its own name: ‘sharenting’. On the one hand, some see it as an easy way to keep friends and family up to date with a child’s progress, or as a way to make connections with others going through the same thing. Parenting can be isolating, after all, and knowing that you’re not alone – especially in those early days – is incredibly reassuring. On the other hand, there are those who see it as a violation of a child’s privacy and potentially damaging to their future.
Some high-profile sharenting stories have put the issue under the spotlight: Gwyneth Paltrow being publicly criticised by her daughter for posting a picture without her consent; or Clemmie Hooper being accused of ‘cashing in’ on her children by featuring them in promotional posts on her Instagram page.
Meanwhile, sharenting research has revealed some startling results. A 2010 study in the US found more than 80% of babies and more than 90% of two-year-olds had an online presence. More recent data from Nominet showed the average parent posts nearly 1,500 photos of their child by its fifth birthday. Barclays has also warned that by 2030 sharenting will have caused two-thirds of identity fraud.
In France new laws mean parents face fines or even a jail sentence if they post photos that are deemed to violate a child’s privacy, but sharenting is not a straightforward issue. American blogger Christie Tate caused outrage when she refused to stop writing about her experience of motherhood, even when asked to by her daughter. Some say that’s an example of how sharenting can create a conflict between a parent’s right to free speech and self-expression, and a child’s right to privacy. So, what’s the best way to approach this potentially thorny issue?
Sharing Is Caring
There are benefits to sharenting. Michelle Kennedy founded Peanut – a social network forum for mums to meet, chat and learn from one another – and is mother to five-year-old Finlay and three-month-old Nuala. On her Instagram account, which has more than 8,000 followers, she shares images of her children. She says she understands some of the concerns around sharenting, but for her it’s a personal choice. “I'm the biggest advocate of you do what is right for you and your family. I do share images of my children, but I am thoughtful about how much I share and, as my son gets older, I’m sharing less, because he is more aware of media.” She also sees an opportunity in social media: “I think we all want to receive support from other women, and being able to share can help those who have been or are going through a similar experience.”
Social media expert and psychologist Dr Ciarán McMahon agrees there are advantages. “Sharing photos of your children helps you maintain relationships with family members and friends who will want to know about the new additions,” he explains. “Posting photos online also allows you to spread that news without leaving the house. As I mention in The Psychology of Social Media, sharing photos and videos on social media helps users psychologically travel to and from one another – and, as any parent will know, travelling with young children is challenging.
That test of time is something we’re still very much learning about. Right now, we know very little about how our image-sharing choices will impact our children. In the face of such uncertainty, some women are already making changes to the way they document their lives online.
Anna Whitehouse, aka Mother Pukka, stopped using her children’s names online in 2016 and now also tries to limit images of them on social media and keep their faces out of full view. “Whenever I’ve been asked what my steps are in protecting ‘Squidge’ and ‘Stevie’ online, I cannot say they are watertight. And that possibly makes me a bad person and open to significant judgment,” she says. “But we have a set of personal – I still believe, like the majority of parenting choices, it is personal – online safety measures that we try to follow.” This includes: using a black-and-white filter where possible (according to the NSPCC, predators seek clear colour images); ensuring images have no space behind to superimpose anything or anyone; and keeping up-to-date on online child safety developments via the NSPCC website.
Psychology experts recommend asking your child for consent when they are old enough to make a conscious decision, and also being mindful of what it is you’re posting. There’s also a debate that we should consider why we are posting images and what sort of role model we’re portraying. If we’re chasing likes and comments, are we suggesting that’s the only way we can feel valued and successful?
As the digital world continues to evolve, rules might need to change too. As a underlying principle, though, being more considerate and thoughtful about what you are doing is always a good idea.
How To Share Safely
1. Don’t post photos that might embarrass your child – now or later in life.
2. Ask permission before posting photos of someone else’s child.
3. Think carefully before posting photos of your child in their full school uniform, or outside their school. This can lead to easy identification.
4. Ask friends and family not to tag themselves in photos of your child. This can make your picture viewable by their friends and followers.
5. Check your privacy settings so only friends can see your posts. And turn your location settings off, so people can’t see exactly where you took it. Also consider what’s in your profile information and the other updates you post.
6. Don’t post nude or nearly nude pictures of your child. Even innocent pictures can be harvested, posted elsewhere online and potentially accessed by predators.
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