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‘Sharenting’: balancing sharing and privacy in the digital age

While offering a sense of community and validation for parents, recent research highlights significant risks associated with sharing children’s content on social media platforms. Jeanine Balzan Engerer urges parents to reflect on this practice
Many parents find solace and support in sharing their parenting journeys but they may be unintentionally exposing their children to risk. Photo: Shutterstock.com

Parents across the globe delight in sharing precious moments of their children’s lives online, from sonograms to first steps. It is estimated that before reaching the legal age (13 years), according to the European Union, parents would have already posted at least 1,300 photos of their children on social media.

The rise of ‘sharenting’, a blend of parenting and sharing, raises important questions about the implications of this practice. While it offers a sense of community and validation for parents, recent research highlights significant risks associated with sharing children’s content on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

Let us first acknowledge the positive aspects of sharenting. Many parents find solace and support in sharing their parenting journeys, fostering a sense of companionship and reducing feelings of isolation. Advice and experiences exchanged online can create a supportive network among parents, providing valuable insights and reassurance.

However, the benefits of sharenting primarily benefit adults, while children may face unintended consequences. When engaging in sharenting, parents may unintentionally expose their children to risks.

A study conducted in Turkey examined the content shared by parents about their kids. The findings reveal that most of the content included ads, locational information, children’s names and embarrassing or private content.

“The benefits of sharenting primarily benefit adults, while children may face unintended consequences”

One of the most potential dangers of sharenting is that the photos or videos shared can be used on child porn websites together with a significant risk of theft of children’s identity information. Indeed, in 2020, Europol and Interpol alerted the public that they found a dramatic increase in online child sex abuse content produced by young people themselves or those around them.

So, what does this mean? Should we never post anything about our children?

Considering these dangerous risks, I would think twice about what to post and maybe reflect on the following. How ethical is it to post content about minors without their consent? What is our responsibility as parents to safeguard the privacy of our children? Does it stop at the door of physical life, or should it also be extended in the virtual world?

What if our children in the future would not like to be present on social media? What if the content you are sharing now might jeopardise your child’s future? And ultimately, when it comes to monetising and commercialising our children’s upbringing, how ethical is that? When we think about it, if a job required you to use your children to make money, would that feel right?

Sharing information in a safer way

Here are some tips on how parents can share information about their children in a safer way.

1. Review your privacy settings on your social media accounts. Get in control of who is viewing your photos and videos by applying the proper privacy settings. Avoid having a public profile when sharing content of minors.

2. Check who your friends on social media accounts are. Ensure you are happy that all those people you have as ‘friends’ are seeing private information. If not, select who can see your photos.

Get in control of who is viewing your photos and videos by applying the proper privacy settings. Photo: Shutterstock.com

3. Be mindful when posting. Reflect on the previous questions before posting and ensure there are no personal details, such as the road where you live or the school your child attends.

4. Manage your child’s digital footprint. The more photos you post about your children, the more information you are giving the internet to “manipulate” your child in the future.

5. Explore alternative options. Some parents opt to use shared photo albums such as Google Photos with close friends or family members.

6. Use Google alerts. Utilise tools like Google alerts to monitor your child’s online presence and address any potential risks promptly.

Finally, sharenting demands a delicate balance between cherishing precious moments and safeguarding our children’s wellbeing in an increasingly digital world. We need to keep in mind that all kids deserve a free upbringing without the gaze of others. It is our duty as adults to protect our children and seek validation in healthier ways without exploiting the freedom and privacy of our minors.

Jeanine Balzan Engerer is a counsellor and member of MACP − Malta Association for the Counselling Profession.

If you’re interested in learning more about the counselling profession or would like additional information on mental health and self-care, visit www.macpmalta.orgwww.facebook.com/CounsellingMaltaMACP or e-mail info@macpmalta.org.

For more contributions by the MACP, click here. For more Child stories, follow this link.

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