Are you guilty of online over-sharing? This might make you think twice
And click. Out goes the photo, onto the internet, forevermore. It’s one of my three kids. They’re all laughing at something, and my youngest is holding his three-day-old cousin on his knee. He’s besotted. It’s a gorgeous, happy photo, and I know our extended family will enjoy it.
But many experts would say it’s wrong to share it. That I don’t have my kids’ permission – that I’m creating a digital footprint that they didn’t choose.
Are parents over-sharing? Are there privacy issues? And could any of the images we’re posting today affect their lives in the future?
I have to hold my hand up (insert defensive tone here) – I do share photos of my kids on Facebook. Not every day or even every week, but when I capture something funny or cute, up it goes.
I do it because it’s a quick way to share photos with family – it’s the modern equivalent of sending a letter with a snapshot enclosed.
I do it because I have friends who live abroad – I might not see them from one year to the next, but I know what their kids look like and they know mine, virtually at least.
I do it because I have friends who live here in Ireland, whom I don’t see as often as I’d like.
And I do it because like so many other people, I have an innate wish to share the good stuff – not to show off (we have no medals – there are zero photos of medals) but when I’m enjoying a moment, I have an instinctive need to turn to the person beside me and say “Hey, look at this!” If there’s no-one beside me, Facebook steps in.
So am I defending the indefensible, or do we accept this as the new norm?
There’s a cycle. Experts advise against it, and parents, feeling judged, block their ears. A blanket warning against sharing photos makes me feel like I did when I was pregnant – when I read that I couldn’t eat ham or coleslaw or lettuce or tuna or any half-way interesting cheese. It was too much, so I switched off, and rightly or wrongly, made up my own mind. And when it comes to 'sharenting' – parents sharing photos of and information about kids – the risk of blocking our collective ears is that we miss out on some important information that could help make photo-sharing safer.
A few simple common sense tips include:
- Check your privacy settings on Facebook – you can make sure that posts only go to friends, and if your online friends are the same as your offline friends, then you’re not sharing with strangers.
- Set up lists on Facebook – you can add people to “close friends” or “acquaintances” and share with close friends only.
- Don’t post photos that might embarrass your kids in five or ten years time – a picture of your child crying might be funny if you’ve just come up with a great caption, but is it really fair? Likewise for that bath-time photo. If in doubt, don’t post.
- As your kids get older, show them what you’re planning to share and make sure they’re OK with it.
- Don’t post photos of other people’s kids without permission.
- Don’t assume that because you’ve only shared with friends that your photo can’t go outside that circle – once it’s on the internet, you no longer have full control of the image.
As a blogger, admittedly it all goes a step further – I include photos of my kids in blog posts, and readers aren’t limited to real-life friends. But I apply the same rules as I do for Facebook; I don’t share anything that could embarrass them – there are no photos of them crying or upset or doing anything that might make them uncomfortable in future.
Starting out, I worried about it. Was I doing something I’d regret later – would the kids be cross? On balance, probably not – or at least no more cross than your average teen is with your average parent. They're growing up in a world where sharing photos online is seen as normal, and I suspect they won’t single me out as guilty.
They've seen my blog so there won’t be any shock reveal in the future. They’ve seen Facebook many times too – I use it to show them kids of friends who live abroad, and photos of their cousins, and pictures of soon-to-arrive visitors if they’re a little nervous about meeting new people.
I’m reasonably certain that I haven’t posted any photos that could be a cause for teasing in secondary school, or ruin a date in college, or prevent them from getting a job if an interviewer googles them. I’m trying to be a mindful sharent, one click at a time.
In ten years, when they’re all teens, I’m sure my kids will find something to be angry about, but I don’t think it will be the laughing photo with their newborn baby cousin.
Andrea Mara is a shoe-obsessed, coffee-loving mother of three from Dublin. When she’s not working or looking after her three small kids, she’s simultaneously making tomorrow’s school lunches, eating Toblerone and letting off steam on her blog.