Report: Oversharing on Social Media May Have Unintended Consequences for your Children

Report: Oversharing on Social Media May Have Unintended Consequences for your Children
Image: Pixabay
March 17, 2015

Are you guilty of sharenting? Maybe just a little?

You may be guilty even if you aren't familiar with the term. Sharenting is the act of sharing on social media information or photos about your children and research suggests that this practice may have harmful, albeit unintended, consequences.

The report conducted by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital found that more than half of mothers and one-third of fathers discuss child health and parenting on social media. Nearly three quarters of parents say social media makes them feel less alone.

Instead of turning to a faceless internet search to help with parenting issues, many parents are crowdsourcing information from fellow parents that they presumably know. Nearly 70 percent of parents are using it in this fashion. Doing so often helps with 62 percent of parents saying it helped them worry less.

On one side of the extreme though, so-called mommy bloggers flood the internet with stories about their adventures in parenting, offering tips, advice and sometimes just a good, old-fashioned rant to millions of readers.

"On one hand, social media offers today's parents an outlet they find incredibly useful," said Sarah Clark, associate director of the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health. "On the other hand, some are concerned that oversharing may pose safety and privacy risks for their children."

Three-quarters of parents reported that they've seen other parents post inappropriate photos of their children or information about their location.

Oversharing along with public accounts and a slew of hashtags can also lead to stolen photos. Yahoo! Parenting reported on a disturbing trend people stealing photos and passing the children off as their own. This baby roll playing is also known as "digital kidnapping" or "virtual kidnapping" and spurred a petition to pressure photo share site Instagram into banning these types of photos.

Even if someone isn't pretending to be the parent of your child, a photo could end up becoming an internet meme, which are images, videos or text that is copied, often altered, and spread by internet users.

In South Carolina, a parent found that a photo of her daughter, who has a rare medical condition, had been stolen and altered to mock her physical deformities.

The report found that nearly two-thirds of parents are concerned someone would learn private information about their child or share photos of their child.

Children often don't have a say in what their parents post giving them little control over their cyber identity. As children get older, they may be embarrassed by what their parents have put online and, "The child won't have much control over where it ends up or who sees it," said Clark.

More than half of parents worried that their children may one day be embarassed by what they shared.

But that doesn't mean parents should stop sharing altogether. Parents can use privacy settings on their social media accounts to disable sharing and ensure that only certain people see the photos or information that is posted.

Some apps are doing the privacy work for you. KidsLink is a smart phone app that allows you to share photos with people that you invite into your circle, like friends and family. The company also strips the metadata from photos, which can include personal information, like location data.

"Parents are responsible for their child's privacy and need to be thoughtful about how much they share on social media so they can enjoy the benefits of camaraderie but also protect their children's privacy today and in the future," said Clark.