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The Problem With Sharenting

I just learned the word “sharenting.”  It’s a portmanteau created to shame parents who post pictures of their children online.


(screenshot because WashPo seems to have pulled the article offline)

I don’t post pictures of my kids online, and even I think the term “throwing their kids to the wolves” is overkill.  What wolves?  Does WashPo mean the other kids in school?  Does anyone really believe that those kids would be little puppies if we didn’t throw them these meaty morsels which turn them into wolves?  Last I checked, bullying existed before parents started posting about their kids online.

Here’s my problem with the term and why I don’t think it’s cute or funny.  The term only exists under the heading of parenting.  What about the other abuses of privacy — from writing about your dates (which is an invasion of another person’s privacy) or your partner (once again, invasion of privacy) or your parents (yes, again, an invasion of privacy).  Bitching about your sibling online, complaining about your boss online, writing snarky commentary about your neighbours or classmates: these are all invasions of privacy and examples of oversharing.

But they’re not judged like parents who post pictures of their kids online.

I have no problem discussing over-sharing if we’re going to apply the questions asked by WashPo to all people and situations: where does one person’s story end and another person’s privacy begin?

The Internet is a sea of images and statements that people wish their friends and family (or strangers or enemies) hadn’t posted starting with the stories about something really funny that happened to us (that makes another person look foolish) to snapping photos of unsuspecting people or stealing images and turning them into a meme.  There are so many cases of things that are definitely damaging vs. potentially damaging such as children turning around and being upset that their childhood was documented online.  Let’s focus on getting rid of the definitely damaging cases before we start focusing on the potentially damaging ones.

In all cases, before you post something potentially upsetting to someone else online, ask.  And if you can’t ask, you probably shouldn’t post.

But let’s not pretend this problem only exists amongst parents.  Let’s all be a little circumspect before posting online.

And while you’re being circumspect, remember that tomorrow is #MicroblogMonday and get writing.


1 sharah { 04.12.15 at 8:42 am }

You know, Facebook and blogs have been around a long time now. And even though I see lots of articles like the WP one, I have never seen one featurin the opinion of a child who thinks their parent has overshared. It’s always an adult with nebulous fears abut what *might* happen. So where are the views of the kids on this? There should be some around who are old enough to have had to manage taking over their digital footprint from their parents.

2 Mel { 04.12.15 at 8:50 am }

A very good point.

3 KeAnne { 04.12.15 at 9:08 am }

WashPo has been on a streak lately with these types of articles. And it almost always involves shaming the mom for sharing. It is true that mothers probably do make up a higher proportion of bloggers, Instagramers, etc, but it is just one more way in which mothers are criticized for not being good enough or not doing the “right” thing.

4 Geochick { 04.12.15 at 10:32 am }

I took down some of my posts about my struggles with parents because I started to think I shouldn’t write about it. But if we’re going to write about our experiences how do we do it without over sharing? And who cares. I think it’s the same as bitching to your friends about parents/siblings/partners/children. Guess the difference is that it’s online forever.

5 Jen { 04.12.15 at 10:44 am }

I closed my Facebook account because it was mostly pictures of my children and I decided I didn’t want FB owning so much of their childhood. My first blog was totally anonymous, and for years I didn’t post any pics. But then I realised I loved blogging about them and was taking pictures I never would have if it wasn’t for blogging. I also turn my blogs into books once every couple of years as a journal and it’s so precious to have those pictures.

I ask the girls when I post about them. I never use our surname. I edit out identifiers from pictures like their school name on their uniforms. I have removed my blog from search engines.

Have I done enough to protect their privacy? I have made mindful decisions and reached a compromise. Do I judge others for making diferent decisions? No. Do I think that their decisions may evolve over time as mine have done? Yes, usually in the opposite direction!

6 Lori Lavender Luz { 04.12.15 at 11:21 am }

It’s a good point that we can overshare about ANYone.

But there is something different about the parent-child relationship compared with the other relationships you list (dates, partners, parents, friends, siblings, boss, neighbors, etc) — and that’s the inherent unequalness of it (OK, boss might fall under that category, but you were talking about the less powerful sharing about the more powerful, not vice-versa).

And I agree with what you say. Circumspection is necessary whenever posting about ANYone (including oneself!)

7 nicoleandmaggie { 04.12.15 at 12:25 pm }

A big difference between talking about kids and talking about anyone else who is not a kid is that the kid is a minor and should have special protections. (I would extend this also to people who are mentally incapacitated or otherwise unable to consent.)

And yes to KeAnne about the gendered aspect of these complaints. It’s not just moms– just look at the Adria Richards case.

8 StacieT { 04.12.15 at 2:06 pm }

The article wasn’t particularly impressive to me. It didn’t say anything that someone who is mindful of what they put out on the Internet wouldnt already know. Anecdotes about our children and our lives as parents do not have to be a negative, and they don’t have to be embarrassing to the child. I don’t ask my children to approve what I write either. We all have to do the best we can and share what we think is appropriate for our own families.

Frankly, I’m worried more about how their personal information/personal identity can be breached from a site of which I have no control (say insurance company or from a government agency) than what could be taken and used off of my blog or FB account.

9 createdfamily { 04.12.15 at 3:37 pm }

I think there is a big difference between sharing pics of one’s children here and there and sharing more detailed stories/information/etc. that could one day be embarrassing or cause issues for the child interpersonally or professionally. It’s probably carry over from being a military kid and sibling, but if my LO wants to work high up in the military or government some day I don’t want things I’ve blogged about her to hold her back. 😉

10 earthandink { 04.12.15 at 6:34 pm }

I dislike shaming moms. Plus, mommy bloggers are well known for being a pretty powerful group and a few have blogs that make small fortunes. And even if you aren’t making pie in the sky money, you may be supplementing an income. The children I’ve seen featured on some of the more well-known ones appear, as they’ve gotten older, to be perfectly comfortable with the whole thing. It seems to have the tone of a family business as they’ve gotten older.

Which brings me to another point. Why aren’t these people criticizing someone like, oh, CakeBoss for having his children on his TV show? It’s the family business and there’s an underlying feel that the show is also the family business and so they’re on it. Also, he’s a guy. And famous! So he should be able to do that with no criticism. (I actually like his show and him, but you see my point.)

Blogs are the same thing. Or can be. To me it feels like a way to try and control this force that allows anyone to take a shot at building a brand (if they so desire). Regular people, women, working for themselves! Dearie me. What has the world come to. (Sorry, apparently I’m more annoyed about this than I thought. Ha!)

Also, the idea that there aren’t files following us around is ludicrous. Until we pass some very different laws, there really isn’t much in the way of privacy any longer. It’s amazing to me how these people never take aim at the institutions that aren’t protecting more wide-scale privacy (such as someone like Google or Facebook knowing everything I do online) but are worried about a Mom blogging about her kid. Give me a break. I call this sort of journalism 1984ing. Let’s focus on the true issues, perhaps, shall we?

11 earthandink { 04.12.15 at 6:35 pm }

Good heavens, that’s a long response. My apologies.

12 Justine { 04.12.15 at 8:42 pm }

Yes to nicoleandmaggie (re: the protection of minors) and yes to KeAnne re: gendered nature of the comments about this. I also wonder, though, about the appetite for this information. As much as people seem to enjoy sharing it, there are other people who consume the content. If no one consumed the content, would we continue to produce it?

I’m not interested in shaming (that’s a choice), but I am interested in the cultural shift. Because I can’t help but think about what it says about us, and the way we judge ourselves.

13 Persnickety { 04.12.15 at 11:25 pm }

I struggle with this. I know I talk about the people in my life on my blog (although there is some censorship there too) and I have had an issue in the past. But my blog is semi anonymous- my husband did try to be helpful and connect it to FB- so that it posted that I had posted. Only one post made it up before I realised and disconnected because I don’t want that up there. By the time my husband thought to mention that it was connected, I had already de linked it.
But pre-Internet, we didn’t always have that kind of privacy either. It’s just how it was distributed. My don’t give people nude photos rule was as a result of an incident when I was in jr high. The girl who sat next to me in English class received a nude Polaroid from her boyfriend for Christmas. A month or two later they broke up acrimoniously. She copied that photo and placed flyers around town with some not so nice commentary. Pre-Google era, so never going to be searchable, but paper ephemera can hang on for a while too.

14 St. E { 04.13.15 at 12:37 am }

Shaming moms is not a good idea. While I would dabble in an argument on what is sharing versus over-sharing with regards to kids (e.g. a kid trying his sister’s hairband is fine, but posting a pic of your kid eating poop is not), I am not going to throw snark at everything about social media and kids.

My valid fear would be what if someone uses these pics in a wrong way. My valid fear would be how would my child look at this thing 20 years on. I don’t want to embarrass my child.

Social media was meant for sharing, what other purpose is there?

15 Queenie { 04.13.15 at 1:18 am }

I do think people need to think more before they post. I’m really uncomfortable with some of the things people I know post. It feels….like they are taking advantage of their children, somehow. Too much exposure, for people who have no choice.

16 Stephanie (Travelcraft Journal) { 04.13.15 at 1:51 am }

Really good points!

17 Andy { 04.13.15 at 6:17 am }

My personal “rule” for sharing on the internet has always been – “would I be okay with the Mothers* in my life reading this”? If the answer was yes, then I would post. If there was even a tiny bit of doubt, I wouldn’t

*Mothers = my mother, my birth mother, my mother in law, my grandmother, Liam’s birth mother

18 KeAnne { 04.13.15 at 7:04 pm }

I thought Stacy made a good point about cybersecurity threats being a bigger, more serious risk than what a mom would share online. We are doing a lot w/ cybersecurity risks at work and it is shocking how simple breaches can be. The cynical part of me wonders if the focus on parents posting stuff online is a nice obfuscation of the real risks of cybersecurity. Probably overthinking…

19 BattyNurse { 04.14.15 at 8:04 am }

Very true. Trying to be more aware. Basically this means everyone sees lots of pictures of my cats.

20 SRB { 04.14.15 at 11:47 am }

REALLY interesting points about the gender-based criticisms.

The only social media I use is Instagram, but am aware that I do not own those photos and that no matter how private my settings are, they are not private. And then there is my blog… At any rate, my kids lives are part of *my* life, and therefore my story to tell from my point of view. Which is not to say that I do not consider them, their privacy, or their feelings. As far as photos go, I use the rule of thumb “Would I want a similar photo of me posted without my knowledge or consent?” So, no nudity, sitting on the toilet, having a tantrum, in the bathtub, covered in vomit etc.

And I won’t pretend that I don’t judge. Some things are in poor taste. Plenty of raised eyebrows over the years, but I keep it to myself.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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