Parents shape their children’s digital identity long before sending their first e-mail, which usually begins with that ‘obligatory’ early scan photo. Studies say that by the time the child is five, parents have posted 1,500 images of them online, with one in five uploading images at least once a month.

The dangers of ‘sharenting’

‘Sharenting’ has become the new norm. Posting pictures and details of children and narrating each stage of their lives from first walks to hospital visits has become so commonplace that we rarely question it.

September comes, feeds are inundated with the first day of school pics, often with the child holding their new branded school bag and jumper. They stand proud outside their front door. It’s a mid-shot, you can clearly identify the door number and perhaps you see a bit of the house next door. The captions and comments state the child’s name “Good luck on your first day, Mia!” With the school’s name, door number and other visuals, it wouldn’t take much detective work to locate your child’s home address.

Regardless of whether your profile is public or private, is this the kind of information you’re willing to share, putting your child in potential harm just for the gram of it? We ‘sharent’ out of love and pride for our children, but is it worth some of the risks?

Along with the disclosure of minors’ personal information, other risks include sex exploitation. Parents share innocent photos of their cute little girls doing legs up in bikinis on holiday. They may create a hashtag  #mybabygirl #toddlerswimwear; easily searchable amongst sexual predators. They could not only see them, but you also run the risk of having your photo screenshotted, edited and put up on different accounts altogether, maybe titled ‘young dancers’ exposing them to other online paedophiles.

Sharenting and consent

All this rests on the question of consent. Is it fair to create their digital presence if they are too young to consent? Shouldn’t the right to online privacy and consent apply to children too? Do children have a moral right to control their own digital footprint?

Whilst there isn’t any law to say otherwise, for now, we may need to use a common-sense approach and proceed with a bit of caution. Here are some tips to help you along the way.

  • “Can I post this?” These four words can go a long way, especially if it involves another child. Make it a habit; seek consent before you share.
  • Consider sending images to your family or close friends via a WhatsApp group instead of posting online.
  • Before you post, ask yourself: is this the type of information I would want to see about myself in the future? Could it potentially damage their reputation or sense of self, for example?
  • Be aware of the risks, especially if you have a public profile. This includes exposing your child to cyberbullying, paedophiles and sex exploitation.
  • Make your ‘sharenting’ stance clear to friends and family so they know whether they may share your child’s picture on social media or tag you if someone shares a picture of your child. Being upfront may help avoid any uncomfortable conversations.
  • Lead by example, not by the number of likes. Be present; life is for living, not just for documenting.

We are the first generation of parents figuring this out. Without the law to guide us, there is no clear route. The internet was not built for children; Facebook was not designed to expose children to the risk of wrongdoing. A lot more needs to be done to protect their privacy.

Consider the risks

We ‘sharent’ to craft a sense of community with friends and family and as a digital journal to easily recall memories and milestones in their lives. It helps us to bond with other parents by sharing our journeys through the crazy world that is parenting. Yet there is a risk, and where there’s risk there are costs. Sharing comes not just with clicks but with a responsibility.

This is perhaps best articulated, by S.B Steinberg, ‘these parents act as gatekeepers of their children’s personal information and as narrators of their children’s personal stories”.