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Proud parents sharing pictures of their darling children sounds like the most natural thing in the world.
But experts are warning about the perils of ‘sharenting’ – the practice of parents sharing images and information about their children online.
It’s not because it’s intensely annoying. It’s a given that the posts by those friends are a side-step from reality. You know the kind of posts we mean:
Irritating Instagram Caption: “Oh look at this artfully mismatched outfit that little Ottilie just THREW TOGETHER completely on her own. My mini fashion bunny. All the heart eyes emojis!"
Reality: Three hours getting ready, six toddler tantrums, a refusal to wear the faux tutu BECAUSE IT SMELLS OF POO and at least 25 minutes bribing Ottilie to “please, please stand nicely, sweetheart” with the promise of of 60 minutes of extra iPad time.
No, as annoying as 'sharenting' can be for its audience, researchers are warning about the long term perils of creating a digital life for our children – without their consent.
What are the long term perils of creating a digital life for our children?
Turth is: we don't know.
No previous generation has had a childhood that has been so captured, filtered, posted and shared.
No previous generation has had a childhood that is so public.
While the Collins English Dictionary added the term 'sharenting' back in 2016 (definition: the habitual use of social media to share news, images, etc. of one’s children), the word is being redefined.
Leah Punkett, author of Sharenthood: Why We Should Think Before We Talk About Our Kids Online, defines 'sharenting' as “any time an adult in charge of a child’s wellbeing transmits private details about a child via digital channels.”
Mmmm. So far; so sinister. Or at least a bit more sinister, right? It’s suddenly feels a long way from Snapchat bunny ears or angsting over which sepia-effect filter best suits your First Nativity shot.
Sharenting is not a new term but the thinking around it is
Punkett, who is a associate professor at the University of New Hampshire Law School, cites the 'sharenting' old familiars – Facebook, Instagram, blog posts – which she knows many parents will already question in terms of the blurring the boundaries between public and private. But she also flags a number of other destinations that parents may not have considered as 'sharenting' hot spots: photos stored on a cloud server; Amazon wishlists; Nest babycams.
All of these, Punkett argues, accelerates a child’s entry to digital life. Sharenting takes away consent and exposes children to platforms that they may not want to be part of.
Your child may grow up not wanting to have a presence in Instagram.
Your child may grow up not wanting to be well-known on the blogging sphere.
The trouble is, we have no idea what the digital world our children will inherit will look like...
Who really owns our child's digital scrapbook?
While it may sound a little far-fetched and child-centric – they are KIDS for goodness sake; in my day we could only speak when we were spoken to – we simply don’t know how the digital world will change in the next decade. We cannot know how our children may use it... or not.
Ten years ago very, very few of us sat looking at a small blue screen late at night in bed liking images of friends’ new shoes. In another ten years, 2029, we have no idea how social media will be framed in our society.
Many experts are saying that in world where our awareness of data privacy and data protection is at an all time high, it seems odd that we are not considering the future of our children’s digital scrapbook.
For now, 'sharenting' may just be an important topic of conversation. Most families will only ever 'sharent'-lite i.e. post pictures of Harry’s latest rugby try on Facebook for granny and grandpa in Austrialia to see. Bloggers who turn their family into content, and content that they get paid for, may be another matter.