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Laura (not her real name)
How I feel about 'sharenting'
I grew up with a single mother. As a result, we were always very close - perhaps too close. My mother was always very protective of my sister and me - and she had a lot of strict rules to protect us from the dangers of the outside world.
We weren’t allowed to go online until we were 11. At the time, it seemed like everyone in my class was on Myspace. On the edge of being a social outcast and desperate to fit in, I begged my mother to let me join, too. Of course, I wasn’t allowed – quite rightly as I was too young to sign up.
It is ironic, then, that my mother's own social media use came to cause me so much grief.
Finally, at the age of 13, I was given the green light to sign up to Facebook. At first, all was well. I posted far too many cringe-worthy statuses and photos that I have to live with today (thanks, digital footprint). But in the summer of 2011, my mother decided that she too would start a Facebook account.
Initially, her usual approach - sceptical and guarded - prevailed. After a few months, this started to change. My mother had thrown herself into raising us and didn’t have much time to socialise - so when I say we’re close, I really mean it. As a result, her posts revolved around my sister and me.
I have anorexia nervosa - and when my mother posted Facebook albums about trips out, it was difficult for me to look past the disgust I had about my body.
I asked her to remove photos, but she refused, insisting there was nothing wrong with them. She wanted to share her memories of being with me, she said, and I should stop feeling ashamed. Already feeling out of control and full of teenage hormones, I was never satisfied with this answer - so we ended up having arguments, which resulted in me unfriending her on Facebook far more often than I’d like to admit. It’s strange to unfriend your mother - but sometimes you need to.
When my mother finally took her posting too far, I refused to add her back. Finally she got the message and we came to some sort of agreement. I would allow my mum to post some photos of me (without the diva-esque meltdowns) if I could approve the photos first and I wasn't tagged in them.
Unfortunately, oversharing goes further than photos. My mother likes to update her friends on pretty much anything that happens in my life. Moving to uni? Update. Finding uni hard? Update. Too busy with work and uni to come home that month? Guilt-inducing update. I try to ignore it as much as possible, but sometimes it feels like an invasion of privacy.
I don’t know a lot of the people who are receiving a live feed of my life. In fact, she doesn’t know a lot of them herself – she met them in fan groups online. The ones she does? They just remind me of my youth - like I’ve been transported back to my lonely 15-year-old self each time someone offers unsolicited advice. I’ve grown up, been through mental health treatment, moved to a new city, graduated, and started my first grown-up job. And yet I often feel like I can’t escape my childhood. I’m being pulled back through social media.
One problem of over-sharing is also what’s not shared. My health struggles haven’t been aired online - out of respect, of course, but this only really highlights just how bad these situations were. It gives them an air of shame – as if they're something that should be hidden, that I should feel guilty about.
I love my mother – I’m proud of her, and I think she’s an incredible person. The sacrifices she’s made for us will be impossible to repay. When I consider the difficult life we had, it only makes sense for her to celebrate our achievements - and show her friends that we’ve done things that once might have seemed impossible.
Still, the constant pressure to perform well academically and career-wise increases when I think of all the people that are watching from the sidelines via my mum’s feed. I’m a perfectionist, and she wants us to achieve, and so do her online friends. This has resulted in several panic attacks. I just don’t want to fail her.
If you’re young and still trying to set boundaries, my advice would be to remind your parents of the dangers of the internet and new technology (hello, facial recognition). I feel like my mother, so cautious when it comes to the outside world, forgets herself when she logs in.
But I’ve come to understand why. It can be lonely being a single mother whose children have left home. Be considerate of your parents’ reasons for posting – they have feelings too, you know? Try to talk about it sensibly (don’t approach it like I did!) and compromise, where possible. You’re a big part of your parents’ life, so let them show you off - within reason.
Elaine is a psychologist, speaker and writer. She is the author of All the Ghosts in the Machine and is an expert on death and the digital.
Should parents ask permission before posting about their children?
When I learned that I was going to have a baby, I started sharing photos on social media from the sonogram onwards.
So. Many. Photos.
Later, I posted about our funny conversations too. People seemed to love it, so I kept doing it, for years.
I understand why it happened. I was proud, she was part of my life, and humans get a sense of belonging from sharing with their communities. Having kids can be challenging and even lonely, and parents get support online. And when people are rewarded for a behaviour – through likes and comments, for example – they’re likely to keep doing it. Positive reinforcements like these made me a ‘sharenter’.
‘Sharenting’ means parents (or grandparents, or other relatives) sharing information about children on social media. If your parents are online, they probably sharent. Over 90% of American children have digital footprints by the age of 2. By the time they’re 5, the average kid has had 1500 images of them shared online.
So if you’ve got feelings about sharenting, you’re not alone.
Older generations didn’t grow up with digital technologies and might not understand why sharenting is a problem, especially when they think only close friends or family will see things. But ‘stranger danger’ isn’t the only issue.
Companies collect kids’ personal information, increasingly using facial recognition technologies. Ten years from now, your rights and freedoms may be harmed by information posted today. Advertisers could use this information to exploit you and, by 2030, sharenting may also be responsible for millions of cases of identity fraud. Children’s right to privacy and protection of their personal data is well recognised, but adults might not realise what this means for their own social media use, unless they live in some place like France, where parents can be fined or even imprisoned for sharenting.
It’s not just about the law. As you mature, it becomes increasingly psychologically important to be able to decide your own personal boundaries, both physical and informational.
However private or harmless adults think sharenting is, information posted about you can spread far and wide, can be exploited by social media companies and advertisers, and is almost always seen by people you don’t know. From a young age, my daughter hated it when my friends – people she’d never met before – knew all about her.
Talking about this can be tricky. So what can you do if you’re concerned about sharenting?
First, be confident that you have a right to have a say over your informational privacy, which is protected by the law. Parents should be asking permission, especially once you’re 13.
Prepare well for the conversation. Watch this super-helpful video of kids talking to parents about sharenting. Make notes.
Next, schedule a talk to sit down and speak with your sharenting adults. It’s better than yelling at them in a moment when you’re upset!
Try to get where they’re coming from. Parental pride is normal, and sharenters might not know as much as you do. Tell them about what you’ve learned. There’s also a book, called Sharenthood, that might help them understand.
Ask questions about their own experience to help them understand how you feel. Have they ever been upset about images or information of themselves online? If they couldn’t do anything about it, how did that feel?
Communicate your feelings clearly and be specific about what you’re asking your sharenters to do. Realise that your parents or other relatives may feel sad about changing their sharenting habits. Brainstorm with them about different, more private ways that memories can be captured and shared.
In our talk, my daughter asked me to remove all past posts about her on social media. Emotionally, it wasn’t easy. But I realise – now – how important it was to do what she asked.
You can find out more about your digital life and your right to privacy on the website of the 5Rights Foundation.
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Should parents ask permission before posting about their children?
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