Online safety / June 12, 2019

Have you had the sharenting talk yet?

Nimmi Kanji

Nimmi Kanji

Director - TELUS Wise

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Think about your Facebook or Instagram feeds. How many posts include pictures or videos of your friends’ kids (or your own)? According to MediaSmarts, Canada’s centre for digital and media literacy, in its 2018 report, The Digital Well-Being of Canadian Families, 73 per cent of parents sometimes share photos, videos or blog about their child.

It’s so mainstream now (last year alone Jimmy Kimmel’s Halloween candy video contest got more than 1,000 entries) that the practice has its own name. Sharenting. The term was even added to the Collins English Dictionary in 2016, defined as the habitual use of social media to share news, images, etc. of one’s children.

Regardless of if you sharent or how you sharent, one thing is clear - every image or video that you post about your kids becomes a part of their digital identities, which will walk with them for life. With that in mind, sharenting creates a great opportunity to talk with your kids about what gets posted about them online and their online identities in general.

Starting the conversation

So you’ve decided that you want to talk to your kids about sharenting, posting boundaries and online identity, but what exactly do you talk about? Consider these three topics:

  1. The emotional: how do my posts make you feel?
  2. The practical: is it okay to share pictures and stories about you online?
  3. The tactical: how can you manage your own privacy online?

The emotional: talk about feelings

Your kids may or may not know what sharenting is, but I can guarantee that they can identify how they feel about what you (or anyone for that matter) post about them online.

McAfee, in its 2018 Age of Consent survey, found that only 23 per cent of parents are concerned that posting an image of their children online could lead to worry or anxiety, and only 30 per cent considered that their children could be embarrassed by the image. Yet, according to a survey from ComRes, more than one in four children between 10 and 12 years old feel embarrassed, anxious or worried when their parents post pictures of them online.

It’s important to gauge how kids feel about what you and others post about them online. When you encourage them to express their feelings openly and regularly, it gives them greater confidence to be assertive in their response to other things online that may make them uncomfortable. Having these types of conversations can also inspire them to think about how their own posts could impact the way others feel.

The practical: talk about consent

McAfee found in its Age of Consent survey that 58 per cent of parents do not ask permission from their children before posting images of them on social media. Why? Twenty two per cent believe that their children are too young to provide permission, and another 19 per cent indicate that it’s their choice, not the child’s.

Kids disagree. This February 2019 article in The Atlantic highlights the frustration and dismay some kids feel about how much of their lives are documented online, in many cases before they even have their own social media accounts. Parents posting personal stories and pictures. Schools documenting activity days. Daily camp photos that get shared. Sports scores. Class assignments.

Kids are paying attention and regardless of their ages, it’s never too early to start talking about consent with them. Having these conversations teaches them about boundaries and empowerment in their online and personal lives.

If you take a picture and want to post it, ask first. “I really love this photo of you, and I would like to share it on {insert social media platform of choice}, so our friends and family can see it. What do you think?” If the answer is no, respect the no. Not only can this conversation help you better respect the opinions of your kids, it also may influence them to obtain consent before they share photos and videos of others.

The tactical: talk about online privacy

You can model your own digital citizenship as part of your sharenting conversation. Explain that you really enjoy including friends and family in special family moments and milestones by posting online but that you limit exposure of those posts to select groups.

Help to build their social media literacy by showing them your privacy and permission settings in your various apps. As an example, show them how you keep your Facebook and Instagram accounts private and only accept friend requests and follows from people that you know well. Then go a bit deeper. Talk about your posting choices and the rules you have for what is and isn’t acceptable or safe to share online.

If your kids are old enough to have their own social media accounts, ask how they manage their accounts and how they determine what to post. Do they have their own rules in place? Do they set up permissions for tagging or sharing with the hockey team, band or student council? Sharing your own awareness, boundaries and action can inspire them to be more mindful about how much or how little control they currently have over their online identities.

Some people are active sharents. Others forgo it completely. It’s a matter of personal preference and depends on the types of boundaries you have in your family. If you do practice sharenting to any degree, get your kids involved in your posting decisions. Let the choice of what to post and to whom be a collective decision. That way your kids become more empowered to set and communicate their own boundaries and take charge of their online identities.

Tags:
Digital etiquette
Safe digital habits
Kids & tech
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