oversharing online
Tricky stuff

Oversharing online

Do you frequently share pictures and details about your children on social media? Arlene Harris investigates the potential repercussions of oversharing online or ‘over sharenting’.

An unspoken rule of parenting has always been that no-one (apart from possibly grandparents) find your children as interesting as you do. And while most people will recognise the signs of panic on a listener’s face as they pause for breath whilst regaling the latest funny, amazing or even naughty escapade their child has got up to, there is nothing to alert social media parents to the fact that they are heading for an information overload.

Siobhan Fitzpatrick used to be one of those parents – since signing up to Facebook four years ago, she has bombarded her friends with images of her three daughters – in their school uniforms, on the beach, riding their bikes, eating dinner – in short, she has posted every aspect of her family’s life online for the whole world to see.

The Wicklow woman never paused to consider if her children were happy with their images being shared with all and sundry or even if anyone was remotely interested in the barrage of posts, but it took her now-teenage eldest girl to make her realise that not everything needs to be made public. “I have always been so proud of my girls and I know I am one of those mothers who never stops going on about how great their kids are,” she admits. “Sometimes, I would see my friends’ eyes glaze over and knew it was time to put a lid on it, but when it came to Facebook, I was able to post all their achievements and people could either look at them or scroll past – I didn’t think I was bothering anyone.

“But I never told the girls what I was doing and when Sarah (14) was told by a classmate that there was a really funny picture of her online, she went ballistic. I had put up shots of us on holiday last year and in one picture Sarah is looking really sulky because we were at a family event and she had to wear an outfit that she hated. One of my FB friends commented and this was of course seen by her friends’ one of whom was the mother of Sarah’s classmate.”

So not only had pictures of her daughter been circulated amongst a group of adults, they had also been seen by teenagers and Sarah felt embarrassed and very let down by her mother. “I felt bad about it, of course, but what really shook me up is the lecture I got from my 14 year old about posting every little aspect of our lives online,” admits Siobhan.

“She told me off for letting the whole world into our family life and to be honest, it should have been the other way around – to be given out to by your teenager is quite humiliating, particularly when she was completely in the right.”

Be cautious

Child psychologist Peadar Maxwell says while social media can be a great tool, it is also potentially dangerous and parents like Siobhan should be very careful of how much they share.

“The modern phenomenon of social media is here to stay and Facebook, Snapchat and all the rest are a twinedged sword,” he says. “They help us connect to one another and share with people we care about but they can also be invasive and distracting.

Many parents share their joys and highlights with family and friends on Facebook in what some call ‘sharenting.’ “Others cross the line by over-sharing to a degree that at best irritates their friends and followers, and at worse does not consider accurately enough the safety of their children.”

Maxwell says while sharing is a big part of life and most experiences feel less full unless shared with someone, oversharenting can become a target for ridicule or at a more extreme level, be saved by individuals interested in child images. “Most sensible parents are mindful of the type of image they post on the internet avoiding semi-dressed or nude photos, bedtime, bathing or beach scenes,” he says.

“Your children won’t thank you later in life for over-exposing them on Facebook or other media. And parents often forget or don’t know that most things on the internet are there forever in one form or another.”

Don’t share too much

“Sometimes, parents ignore warnings that images are screen shot and saved by others for their own use and social media companies store huge amounts of information posted by users. Also, when thinking of sharing images of other people’s children it would be wise to ask the child’s parents for consent to do so.

Expert groups such as the Oxford Internet Group advise about being careful when sharing a child’s details such as name, age, and location. So share as little as possible – while it sounds like an extreme example cyber-kidnapping (stealing a child’s identity online) does actually occur.”

While the Wexford-based psychologist is not saying that parents should never post family pictures online, he does stress that parents need to educate themselves about the risks. “Model minding your privacy for your children,” he advises. “If older children see parents and adult relatives sharing compromising images they may get the idea that pictures of people half-dressed, drunk or being overly affectionate is either funny or okay to share with the world.

“Also remember to check your privacy settings regularly as they change with updates. Log on to the social network you use and view your page or profile from another users point of view to double check that you really have set your privacy as you wish or think you have. At the end of the day, parents are responsible for their children’s privacy not the social media platform.”

And risks aside, Maxwell also says that like Siobhan’s daughter Sarah, most teenagers will not thank their parents for showing their private side to the world. “Lots of young people may very well have issues with their parents having over-sharented online while they were growing up,” he says.

“Pictures that are cute and funny in a shoebox may seem invasive and embarrassing when shared with lots of people the family may not even have contact with in the future. So before posting a picture, just imagine if you were asking your child as a teenager for consent to post an image, how do you think an older child would respond? If you think they may say, ‘Please, Dad, that’s embarrassing, or don’t humiliate me with that Mum’, then don’t post it.”

Think twice

David Carey is director of Psychology at City Colleges and Dean of the College of Progressive Education. He agrees and says there is usually very little need to post most family pictures online. “Besides misguided vanity and an inflated sense of self-importance, there is no need whatever to share every moment of life with friends and followers online,” he says.

“No one is that interested in your child’s latest potty-training issue or your most recent family holiday. “Parents should be careful in posting photos of intimate family moments. In fact, if the moment can be defined in any way as ‘intimate’ it should not be posted.

Parents need to bear in mind that any photo posted in social media can be copied, altered or used for unpleasant purposes. So parents should think twice before posting, ask themselves one hundred questions about their motivation, come to the answers, then ask one hundred more questions and then do NOT post.”

More info

  • www.davidjcarey.com
  • www.hse.ie

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Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

A
In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.

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ASK LUCY

Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….