How much is too much when it comes to sharing your kids on social media? The recent brouhaha involving a mummy influencer has gotten us thinking about our social media habits.
“What if your nieces said they don’t want to appear on your sister’s Instagram anymore?”
I stopped scrolling and looked at my friend. A couple of minutes earlier, I had shown him my sister’s Instagram story, which featured my nieces being their young, goofy selves. “Well, that’s something my sister will have to deal with later in the future,” I replied coolly. I get where my friend’s coming from, and he’s not wrong to ask that question.
Uploading a photo or video of your little one on social media is the norm nowadays. In fact, the act has been given its own term – sharenting, a combination of “sharing” and “parenting”. It was first coined by The Wall Street Journal in 2012, and today, sharenting has become a worldwide phenomenon.
The consequences of sharenting
According to a survey conducted by Security.org in 2021, over 75 percent of parents in the United States post their children’s photos, videos, and stories on social media. When doing so, about a third of the parents polled never get their kids’ permission before posting. Data suggests that the average parent can share up to 1,500 photos of their younglings before the fifth birthday. By the time they turn two, 90 percent of children will have established a social media presence. These are all done without their knowledge and consent.
Sharenting is not limited to the United States. Parents in Singapore have also gotten in on the act, and some have faced backlash for it. Last year, a mummy influencer got a lot of flak for pulling pranks on her firstborn and putting them up on social media. Last month, another influencer was criticised for posting a video of her teenage child tearing up over their examination results. Before that, said influencer shared a video of her tween crying because they were bullied.
These personas have brushed off the criticism by claiming that their children are aware of the postings and have given their consent. But is that all there is to this?
Why do parents still go ahead and post?
In an email interview, Mr Shem Yao, Head of Touch Parenting at Touch Community Services, explains that sharenting affects each child differently. “The areas around privacy and consent are grey. Your child might be unable to make conscious and independent decisions at the point of sharing,” he states.
If consent is not given or kids are unaware of what they are consenting to, why do parents still post on social media? What are their intention and motivation? By and large, people on social media share their milestones, things they want to document, and life experiences. This is no different for parents, who do the same thing with their children. However, not everyone shares the same ideology.
“If the intent is to generate viral content for views, then parents must consider if it’s done at the expense of their children’s health or development,” Shem advises.
When yes turns to no…
As they grow up, children will become cognisant of their unwarranted social media presence, and some might request not to participate. What happens next? Does that mean parents must take down all the posts featuring their kids?
According to Shem, parents should have an open conversation with their children to understand their concerns about being featured. “Is it necessary to feature your child? If so, seek consent before posting. If they are still unwilling, take their feedback into account.”
In the fifth episode of our Growing Pains podcast, multi-hyphenate Paige Parker shared that her two daughters infrequently appear on her social media nowadays compared to when they were younger. “If I want to post them, I need to get my daughters’ approval!” she says with a laugh. “We have to consider their feelings when we’re out there in such a public way.”
Public? That’s not me! Some parents might argue that their accounts are private and that they “are not influencers”, so they should be safe. Unfortunately, that’s further from the truth…
The misconception of private accounts
Even if one’s social media account is private, whatever is shared online leaves a digital footprint. A digital footprint is a record of your online activities, which includes your posts. This extends to private accounts too. You’ll never know if others might take screenshots of your kids’ photos or even share your information publicly.
With how easy it is to access your children’s information – their name, what they look like, and even the school they attend – strangers can steal their identity and use it for personal gain by impersonating them. It might increase the chances of fraud, scams, and even kidnapping. All sound a bit far-fetched for your humble IG account? Maybe, but it’s worth knowing the realities of worst-case scenarios.
So what can parents do to secure their kids’ digital footprints? Shem suggests blurring out details that reveal your child’s name, school, or whereabouts. “For example, you can share your child’s face in their school uniform with close family on WhatsApp. However, on social media such as Facebook or Instagram, it is not advisable to show them in their uniforms or share the actual dates of their birthday.”
The Media Literacy Council advises parents to check their privacy settings and only share posts with close family and friends. Parents are also encouraged to keep their little ones away from social media until they are comfortable enough and equipped with the tools and knowledge to protect themselves.
Is it time to rethink sharenting?
Some parents protect their little people’s privacy by obscuring their little ones’ faces. This is done by having emoji stickers on their kids’ photos, getting them not to face the camera, or making them wear full-face masks. While doing this circumvents the issue somewhat, it still begs the question – is permission asked in the first place? Did the kids consent to the posts?
At the end of the day, it boils down to consent. Modern parenting is about supporting children’s sense of agency, which includes permission regarding their social media presence. And if the littles say no? Parents should respect that. If adults want to be taken seriously when it comes to consent, then children deserve that too. Let’s be aware if we choose – and are consented – to share.
So, what about the situation with my sister and nieces? I haven’t gotten the chance to speak with them. But there’s something to be learned from what went down with the mumfluencers recently. Coupled with the conversation with my friend, I’m rethinking – reconsidering, even – my social media habits when my nieces are involved.
Want to know more about sharenting and its effects? Follow Beyond The Post SG to learn more.