Sharenting Online: What Happens When Parents Go Too Far

Haley Zapal | April 14, 2021 | Kids and Technology Parenting Tips

Being a parent in the digital age means you have a ton of ways to connect with others. From Facebook groups to mommy blogs, countless communities exist where you can share funny stories and ask for advice about everything from first phones to issues at school. 

On social media, you can also post photos of your kids so friends and family across the world can keep up with family news. Sometimes, though, parents can post a little too much information about their kids — or even go so far as to shame them publicly. In this post, we’ll break down everything you need to know about sharenting.

What is Sharenting?

Sharenting is a term that most likely originated in a Wall Street Journal article from 2012. A mashup of the words “overshare” and “parenting,” it refers to how parents share photos, videos, and other content about their kids in the age of social media. It can be used negatively to imply that some parents share a little too much — think constant Facebook photos and post after post of details about potty training. Sharenting can even begin before a child is born. Many parents post their first ultrasound pictures on Facebook to announce that they’re expecting, and that’s just the beginning of thousands of photos to come.

The Idea Isn’t New, But the Technology Is

Ours is the first generation of parents to have the amazing ability to quickly and easily share photos and videos they’ve taken — and there’s nothing wrong with it! It’s only natural that parents want to share the joy and stress, the highs and lows, the hard nights and early mornings of life with their children. After all, parents in the ‘70s and ‘80s did the same thing. They just documented milestones like first steps and graduations with Polaroid cameras and bulky camcorders

The difference is that today when you take a photo, you can share it instantly with the entire world. Strangers who don’t even know your family could stumble across an image of your child, especially if it goes viral (Remember laughing at the Charlie bit my finger video? It’s been viewed almost a billion times). Meanwhile, when we were growing up, the only people that could see embarrassing photos of us had to be invited inside your parent’s house and crack open a dusty photo album. 

How It Can Affect Kids

In the grand scheme of things, posting about kids on social media is a relatively new activity, so there’s not exactly a playbook for parents to follow. Interestingly, kids today may have no idea it’s even happening until they’re in elementary school. And when they are old enough to realize that huge parts of their lives have been shared with your friends (and possibly even strangers!), there’s absolutely nothing they can do about it. They’ve been the star in a show they had no idea was being filmed. 

This is ironic because many parents make a point to stress to kids the importance of their digital footprint when they get their first phones — how the things they post could come back to haunt them when they’re older. But for some kids, their parents have already posted content about them online that could follow them around forever. This could cause anxiety, embarrassment, and even shame. It’s important to remember that kids can’t give consent to the things you’re sharing about them. And yes, even though you’re the parent, they’re still little humans that may one day be affected by your decision to post a melt-down video on Facebook.

When Sharenting Goes Too Far

Sharenting taken to its negative extreme can take the form of kid shaming. This disturbing trend has been making the rounds on TikTok and features footage of parents harshly disciplining their children. Examples include aggressive shouting, destruction of a kid’s computer or guitar, and even verbal taunting. 

In a recent Wall Street Journal Article on kid shaming, pediatrician Free Hess, M.D., comments about the potentially harmful effects videos like this could have on kids. “Even if their friends don’t follow their parents on social media, for so many kids today, social media is their world,” states Dr. Hess. “Adults have no idea what it’s like to be a child in public in front of the world.” Growing up is hard enough as it is, and self-esteem is especially fragile in adolescence. These videos can damage a child’s sense of self-worth as well as the relationship between them and their parent.

Things to Remember When Posting About Your Kids Online

Every family is different, and the way you choose to share about your children is a personal decision. But it may benefit you to pause occasionally and reflect on what you’ll get from pressing that “share” button. Is it engagement? The quick hit of knowing you're not alone? Remember that your post could make the situation worse for your child, both in the short term and down the road. When posting photos or stories about your child online, consider some of these suggestions if you’re trying to minimize how much the world at large knows about your family:

  • Use as little PII (personally identifying information) as possible when talking about them.
  • Post in private or closed Facebook groups rather than public ones.
  • Make sure your personal social media profiles are set to private.
  • Craft a “Close Friends” group for Instagram for sharing kid photos.
  • Consider a text or email thread instead of posting on social media for potentially sensitive issues like trouble at school or mental health concerns.
  • Search for hashtags for issues you need help with like #ADHD, #Anxiety, or #OCD and read the advice anonymously.  
  • Give kids “veto power” over what you post so they can have a say in what ends up online.
  • Don’t post photos of other people’s children without permission from their parents.

What You Can Do

At the end of the day, you’ve got to do what you feel most comfortable with. For the majority of families, sharenting probably won’t be a huge issue, and most parents fall into a rhythm with what works best. We recommend talking openly and honestly with your kids about social media and privacy as soon as they’re old enough to understand. Oftentimes, kids can end up mimicking the behavior of their parents when it comes to social media. Fortunately, it’s totally possible to balance online safety and privacy — it just takes a little forethought.

About Bark

Bark is a comprehensive online safety solution that empowers families to monitor content, manage screen time, and filter websites to help protect their kids online. Our mission is to give parents and guardians the tools they need to raise kids in the digital age.