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School’s out and summer is here. Those conditions, alone, are enough to overtake your social media feeds with photos of cute kids and family vacations. But you may have already been seeing a lot of family photos, researchers say — many parents have used social media as a means of staying in touch during the pandemic.
“Our society experienced little opportunity for in-person connection throughout the pandemic, so parents often turned to the Internet and social media as a means to sustain social relationships and gain support,” said Alexa Fox, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Akron.
These patterns have given rise to the term “sharenting,” which refers to the practice of parents publicizing content about their kids on social media.
“People who grew up as social media users are now becoming parents,” Fox said. “And in many cases, it is very natural for them to continue to use social media as they enter into and traverse through parenthood.”
Meanwhile, technology is becoming increasingly more complex, said Fox, which can complicate how parents engage on platforms.
Fox’s research has shown that first-time mothers may be vulnerable to companies asking them to share about their children on social media, which could put their privacy on risk. And according to a 2020 study by the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of respondents said parenting is harder today than it was 20 years ago. They cited the impact of digital technology (26 percent), the rise of social media (21 percent) and how access to technology exposes children to things at a young age (14 percent) as some of the most common reasons.
“I think many families crave the connectivity that social media offers, especially now during the pandemic,” said Stacey Steinberg, a legal skills professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law and the author of the book “Growing Up Shared.” “At the same time, families are more aware of the privacy concerns lurking on the Internet. So it’s a delicate issue, and one many of us, even those who have been studying these issues for years, struggle to balance.”
So what should parents be thinking about as they consider posting about their kids online? Steinberg and Fox both recommend that you think and talk through topics like privacy, consent and third-party apps before posting. Children can be a part of those discussions too, even at a younger age, they say, although age and ability should be factored in — some children may not completely grasp what it means to provide consent.
Ultimately, Fox said, involving children in posting decisions offers an opportunity for a teachable moment: Parents “can help their child understand what it means to think about content before posting it, who might have access to it and for how long.” She also recommends parents keep in mind that archived or disappearing photos, such as Instagram Stories, are still stored on social sites and may be shared with third parties.
Even when parents delete posts, that information could have still been saved and shared in other ways, Steinberg said. For parents who now have concerns and regrets about their past posting decisions, she suggested they talk through them with their older children. “This can help kids see that it can be hard to predict how they might feel about their own sharing years in the future, and might encourage them to exercise restraint on their own social media accounts,” she said.
To understand how parents are having these conversations and approaching social media, we talked to four moms about how they navigate a constantly evolving digital world.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
27, Covington, La.
A mom influencer who shares with caution
“I share my children with caution. I love to share the little conversations that we have, like when my daughter told me she was brown one day! Or when my children learn the meaning of forgiveness after fights. But when it comes to every aspect of their life, I choose not to share. Some things are best kept within the family, especially when it's a special moment that we can cherish.
On Instagram, I’m more comfortable with posting my Stories and my location after I leave that location due to our safety. But overall, my audience is very familiar with their names and how old they are. It can get a bit weird knowing that people look forward to seeing my children, but that comes with the role of an influencer.”
A mom who avoids posting on social media
“I choose to keep pictures of my son off social media, but I don’t post very much anyway. I feel that his online presence should be his choice and on his terms. I do share photos of my son with family and friends via an Apple shared album, and it works well. It also keeps me from constantly checking Instagram to see if I’ve gotten any likes.”
35, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
A mom who avoids sharing faces
“I post frequently, but after I had kids, I made my accounts (I mostly use Instagram) private. I even started a new public Instagram account for home decor projects because it can be fun to use hashtags and shout out local businesses, but I don’t post my kids’ faces on it.
I also have a rule of thumb, which is not to post anything about my children (4 years old and 4 months old) that I wouldn’t want posted of myself. No bodily fluids, no tantrums, no photos taken without my older child’s willing participation. She doesn’t know what social media is, but she does know when she thinks she looks cool in a new dress. I like sharing updates with friends and family, especially during the pandemic, but I try to be thoughtful about it.”
40, Orange County, Calif.
A mom blogger who shares family experiences
“I always wanted to start a blog, but I was afraid of sharing photos of my children. I heard too many stories on the news about the dangers of sharing my children on social media. But after suffering from postpartum depression and struggling with special needs parenting, I realized these stories need to be told because it can help someone else out there. Sure, these are my stories, but inevitably my children are a part of my stories too.
Eventually, I decided not to make decisions out of fear. However, this doesn’t mean that I’m not mindful and careful. I never share my children’s schools, the city we live in, and always tag our location after we leave. I never post in real time when we’re on vacation. I never share my children from certain angles that can be altered or photoshopped. And absolutely no bath photos, crying photos or any other photos that can be embarrassing for them.”