The Dan­gers of ‘Shar­ent­ing’ Think be­fore you post info and pics of your chil­dren on­line

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We are quick to tell our chil­dren to think be­fore they post pho­tos and info on so­cial me­dia, but maybe it is time we turned the fo­cus on our­selves, writes Sophie Baker. Over­shar­ing info and pics of your chil­dren on­line – ‘shar­ent­ing’ – could be harm­ful to your chil­dren, both now and in the fu­ture

IT’S BEEN DUBBED ‘SHAR­ENT­ING’

– a form of par­ent­ing which has sprung from an ever-evolv­ing dig­i­tal world. They’re the par­ents who tweet, post pho­tos and up­date their on­line cir­cles about ev­ery as­pect of their chil­dren’s lives, from their very first steps through to uni­ver­sity graduations, mar­riages and ev­ery­thing in be­tween.

No pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion has grown up quite so much in the pub­lic eye as to­day’s kids. In fact, many young chil­dren are on Face­book even be­fore they’re born as no more than a blurry ul­tra­sound along with an an­nounce­ment about the im­pend­ing new ar­rival. If you’re a shar­ent who loves up­dat­ing your friends and fam­ily about your chil­dren, par­ent­ing experts say you should stop to con­sider whether the things you’re post­ing about your child to­day could have im­pli­ca­tions for them in 10 or 15 years’ time.

What are the main dan­gers of shar­ent­ing?

Of course, there are some clear dan­gers with re­gard to post­ing pho­tos in a pub­lic sphere, in terms of both pae­dophilia and re­veal­ing your child’s per­sonal de­tails, such as their full name, age and ex­act lo­ca­tion. (Many pho­tos are lo­ca­tion tagged, and may show your house or re­veal­ing land­marks.) Re­cent re­search con­ducted in the US has shown that about 40% of par­ents think it’s okay to post pho­tos of kids in their un­der­wear, not just on their pri­vate Face­book time­lines, but on In­sta­gram and sim­i­lar so­cial-me­dia plat­forms where these pho­tos could be in the pub­lic do­main. It’s easy to down­load and re­dis­tribute pho­tos from so­cial me­dia, and par­ents need to be aware that their in­nocu­ous pho­tos could be do­ing the rounds of far more sin­is­ter web­sites and groups.

How­ever, there are other dan­gers which are far less ob­vi­ous, though no less se­ri­ous. Most of these re­volve around cre­at­ing an iden­tity for your child, es­pe­cially one which may come back to bite him or her in the fu­ture. Par­ent­ing expert Natalee Holmes ex­plains: ‘By post­ing about our kids on­line, we are cre­at­ing an on­line per­sona for them – of­ten with­out their con­sent, or even knowl­edge. We post silly or cute things they say or do, or even naughty things. We think noth­ing of shar­ing their pic­tures, yet most of us have “no­tify me when some­one tags me in a pic­ture” set­tings on our own ac­counts.’

Your child’s dig­i­tal foot­print

Post­ing pho­tos and up­dates about your child on so­cial me­dia cre­ates a dig­i­tal foot­print and an iden­tity for your child – of­ten one which they have had no say in, and which you may not have con­sid­ered. By the time chil­dren are old enough to use so­cial me­dia for them­selves, many have a fully formed iden­tity ready and wait­ing for them al­ready, cre­ated by the in­for­ma­tion their par­ents have shared. ‘When it comes to chil­dren, we tend to post the crazy things, things we are proud of, or in­stances of them be­ing badly be­haved. In all cases, the im­age you cre­ate for your child is not whole,’ Holmes says.

While this might seem harm­less and cute for young chil­dren, re­mem­ber that once some­thing is on the In­ter­net, it’s very hard to re­move per­ma­nently. Ul­ti­mately, the dig­i­tal foot­print we leave for our chil­dren should be one that they wouldn’t look back upon at a later stage and cringe or feel ashamed. On top of that, it should be one they would be happy for any fu­ture em­ployer, friend or part­ner to be privy to.

Psy­chol­o­gist Me­lanie Hart­gill agrees, say­ing that while the ‘la­belling of chil­dren is not new’, the ad­vent of so­cial me­dia has sim­ply made this process eas­ier and that the se­lec­tive na­ture of so­cial me­dia ‘makes it very easy to present a par­tic­u­lar “type” of child to the pub­lic’, even if that isn’t a true re­flec­tion of their per­son­al­ity.

‘Par­ents need to cen­sor what they post re­gard­ing their chil­dren,’ says Holmes. For ex­am­ple, if your child is adopted, you may want to keep that in­for­ma­tion pri­vate un­til your child knows and fully com­pre­hends that they are adopted. Oth­ers may un­know­ingly let pri­vate in­for­ma­tion slip, and your child may find out in a way you had not in­tended, which is a quick way to be­tray their trust in you.

Holmes also men­tions that one of the big­gest dan­gers of shar­ent­ing lies in the lack of con­text for oth­ers. While you might know the back­ground to a seem­ingly in­no­cent post or photo you put on­line, it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that if oth­ers don’t, it can paint you or your chil­dren in a neg­a­tive light and have a detri­men­tal ef­fect on how they are per­ceived by the world.

This doesn’t just go for young chil­dren, ei­ther. Par­ents who tag teenagers in posts need to be sure that what they tag them in won’t cause em­bar­rass­ment for their teens, nor give bul­lies am­mu­ni­tion. Chil­dren

can be cruel and, as such, even posts that are years old could cause prob­lems. And be­cause many par­ents are con­nected on­line to their kids’ friends, they need to ex­er­cise cau­tion around the things they post about them­selves too. One re­cent ex­am­ple was of a mother at a girls’ night out. Her friend posted a pic­ture on­line of her hold­ing a vi­bra­tor and laugh­ing. This was spread among the chil­dren and led to bul­ly­ing and em­bar­rass­ment for the daugh­ter.

Why you should think long term

As your chil­dren get older, these pic­tures and posts may be­come more than just a source of em­bar­rass­ment for them, Holmes says. They could neg­a­tively im­pact on their fu­ture op­por­tu­ni­ties. When your child reaches uni­ver­sity or job-seek­ing age, these pro­files may still be ac­ces­si­ble. With a grow­ing num­ber of prospec­tive em­ploy­ers and ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions check­ing so­cial-me­dia ac­counts be­fore ac­cept­ing can­di­dates, we need to con­sider fu­ture im­pli­ca­tions of the posts we in­clude them in.

Will your ac­count of your eight-year-old copy­ing phrases from Fifty Shades Of Grey af­ter they ac­ci­den­tally got their hands on the DVD still be out there when they’re CEO of a big com­pany? What if your now-grown-up child stum­bles upon a post where you un­favourably com­pare them to a sib­ling, or ask for rec­om­men­da­tions for a spe­cial­ist for their phys­i­cal, emo­tional or men­tal-health is­sues, which they thought had been kept pri­vate?

Part of the way chil­dren form iden­ti­ties is by hav­ing pri­vate in­for­ma­tion about them­selves – and keeping it pri­vate. We can eas­ily rob our chil­dren of that by over­shar­ing on so­cial me­dia, and quickly blur the bound­aries be­tween pub­lic and pri­vate in­for­ma­tion. The dan­ger is that this new dig­i­tal-iden­tity de­vel­op­ment may have last­ing ef­fects on a child, even into adult­hood. As Hart­gill stresses, ‘things on the In­ter­net are per­ma­nent’ and chil­dren have ‘ev­ery right to say they don’t want a photo to be posted on­line. You might think it’s cute, but they might not and these pho­tos could haunt them into their teenage and adult years.’

an end to Does this mean your kids? all posts about

So should you stop post­ing about your kids? Ul­ti­mately, that de­ci­sion lies with you. How­ever, Holmes ad­vises that you keep a few things in mind when weigh­ing it up. ‘Re­mem­ber that your chil­dren are small hu­mans, not “just kids”. They will have self­es­teem is­sues like the rest of us, and they will also want to por­tray them­selves in the best light one day,’ says Holmes. Use the same cri­te­ria when post­ing about your chil­dren that you would want your friends or fam­ily to ap­ply to you if they were go­ing to up­load a pic or write a post about you. Imag­ine you had some­one fol­low­ing your ev­ery move and post­ing it pub­licly? How would you like them to por­tray you? What bits would you skip? Holmes says you should treat your chil­dren with the same con­sid­er­a­tion.

‘And as soon as they are old enough, you should start ask­ing, “Are you happy for me to show peo­ple this pic­ture?”’ ad­vises Holmes. ‘We teach chil­dren to pro­tect them­selves and their bod­ies from a young age, and pro­tect­ing their on­line iden­tity is just as im­por­tant. It is not some­thing most of us grew up think­ing about or wor­ry­ing about, but it is a real-life arena that most of our chil­dren will, or do, ex­ist in, and it needs to be con­sid­ered as such.’

‘RE­MEM­BER THAT YOUR CHIL­DREN ARE SMALL HU­MANS, NOT “JUST KIDS”’

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