Several of Candor Health Education’s programs are guided by learning objectives aimed at educating students on how to be safe and responsible citizens when using online social media platforms. Students are reminded that photos, videos, and other content posted online never truly disappear and may be forwarded and seen by others outside the intended audience. They are informed that asking for, taking, being in possession of, and passing along nude, or partially nude images of someone (known as “sexting”) can be considered sexual harassment and/or child pornography and may result in legal consequences. Most parents would agree that this type of education is essential to keeping their children and teenagers safe in the “digital world” that most have been emersed in from the moment they received their first smartphone or other electronic communication device.
However, many parents may not have considered how their own online behavior may be playing a role in their children’s digital footprint. In fact, many parents often unknowingly participate in a behavior known as “Sharenting.” Sharenting is a word used to describe when a parent, guardian, or other care giver shares and transmits information and images of their children on social media. On its surface, Sharenting may seem like a harmless way for new parents to share their children’s developmental milestones while they connect with other new parents to gain a sense of community. For some, this behavior might also be viewed as an easy way to keep distant relatives informed of exciting news regarding their children. It may also be a way for a parent to show support for their child’s interests, lifestyles, and accomplishments as they grow up. Despite these positive aspects of Sharenting, there are considerations that parents should contemplate and questions they should ask prior to sharing information that may impact their children.
WAS CONSENT GIVEN?
An important concept that educators teach in all Candor Health Education programs is the idea that consent, or permission, should be received before participating in any type of behavior with another person. For example, it is taught that consent is required before touching someone’s belongings, making comments or gestures toward another person’s body parts, and before forwarding photos, images, and video clips. With respect to sharenting, parents should follow similar guidelines, consider their children’s right to privacy, and seek consent before posting their image on social media. Allowing young people to decide how their image is being used, where it is being displayed, and who may view it allows children to gain a sense of control and empowerment over their digital footprint.
HOW WILL THE POST IMPACT MY CHILD?
What an adult may perceive as funny, adorable, or harmless could end up being an embarrassment to a young person, especially as they become teenagers. Without realizing it, a parent may post something that affects the wellbeing of a child and consequently impact their self-esteem, self-worth, and social standing. Before sharenting, a parent should consider asking the following questions: “Is there a possibility that my child might be bullied as a result of this post, now or at a later date?,” “Is this image portraying a negative or inaccurate view of my child’s personality?,” “Is this post shameful, or would my child interpret it as shameful?,” “Would this image be appropriate if it were of an adult?,” “How would my comments and captions make my child feel?,” “Have I violated the trust of my child?.” When a parent takes time to stop and consider how a social media post may affect a child, they may find that the post is not worth the possible negative consequences.
Educators make a point in reminding students that it is increasingly more common for colleges, universities, and future employers to spend time investigating the digital footprint of any prospective student or employee. Often, future significant others and romantic partners spend time digging into the online histories of an intended suitor. Because social media posts never truly disappear and can be found even years after they were first placed, parents should avoid sharing images or video clips of behaviors that may not put their child in a positive light. It is normal and developmentally appropriate for teenagers to engage in high-risk behaviors, make poor decisions, and not fully evaluate the consequences of their actions. However, it is not normal or beneficial for these behaviors to play out publicly or to be permanently documented for others to see and judge. When parents decide to post about their children and want to ensure information is not getting into the wrong hands, they can take control over who is seeing the information by setting social media accounts to “private.”
With the invention of social media, families are living in an increasingly digital and public world. It is common and fun for parents to participate in Sharenting to connect and communicate with family and friends. However, before Sharenting, parents should stop and think about whether consent was given by their child, if the post is appropriate, and who will ultimately be able to see the post to avoid negative consequences that might impact their child’s wellbeing.
Written by: Sandi Metcalfe-Health Educator, Candor Health Education