Sharenting risks and best practices must be considered when parents publicize content about their children on internet platforms.
In our modern-day digital society, children are making an internet debut even before they are born as they feature in their parents’ social media accounts as obscure ultrasound images. Although these children’s awareness of their online identity and digital footprint may come untimely, they remain powerless to assert their rights as parents assume the dual role of publisher and guardian. The scenario breeds conflict, pitting a child’s and parent’s right to privacy and freedom of expression, respectively. It is such misunderstandings that place the child’s upbringing at risk.
What is Sharenting?
Sharenting is a term coined from two words: share and parenting. It is a practice where an adult responsible for a child’s wellbeing shares private information about the child through social media platforms and other digital channels. Sharenting comes with many advantages, such as sharing a child’s accomplishments, parental advice, and parenting experiences and challenges. Moreover, it can be a means of economic gain for children and parents through blogging or viral video sessions on platforms like Facebook, YouTube or Twitch. Despite these upsides, when the practice involves sensitive information, it can threaten children’s wellbeing, damage their reputation, and expose them to defamation. The imperishability of online information exacerbates these risks because videos and pictures will be accessible throughout one’s lifetime without consent. Notwithstanding these well-known risks, it is difficult to quantify the impact of the practice because the effects of data permanency and harm caused are not instantaneous.
Child’s Right to Privacy
Sharenting comes with its share of drawbacks – parents share an enormous amount of their children’s sensitive information, which can be exploited for cyberbullying and humiliation and may be used to advance economic objectives and political opinions. The primary concern is that parents build their children’s online identities without consent. Although the child does not use social networks or may be unwilling to share part of the information, their information is already part of these platforms. The scenario mirrors parents who believe they have the right to share their children’s images and videos on social networks.
Parents become proprietors and narrators of their children’s stories when they share that information without their children’s consent. Children’s privacy also means respect and dignity. There will be a possible backlash from the present generation that desire autonomy and are not afraid to question their parents about damaging personas they create without their consent. Arguably, some parents sacrifice the privacy of their children in exchange for an enhanced online presence.
Rights to Freedom of Expression
Weighed against the right to privacy is the right to freedom of expression as enshrined in Article 13 of UNCRC. Parents are the primary custodians of their children and therefore act to safeguard their best interests. However, they must act responsibly and view their children as independent being rather than their attachments. When the child-parent relationship is viewed otherwise, a parent’s desires are likely to subsume or obscure a child’s interests. When parents ignore those interests through poor parenting choices, children’s right to privacy can be in jeopardy. Despite appreciating the value of the family unit’s independence, privacy, and harmony, it aggregates the children’s rights with the parents’. Therefore, it fails to provide them with necessary safeguards.
Safety and Legal Risks
Studies project that by 2030, two-thirds of identity theft cases will be attributable to sharenting. The sharing of children’s information exposes owners to the threat of cyber theft and other fraudulent activities. The economic costs associated with identity theft are tremendous, and it will have a significant impact on future financial outcomes. Some of the harms associated with sharenting include but are not limited to:
• Digital kidnapping, data misuse, and identity theft
• Child’s right violations, including infringement on privacy
• Infringement on the rights to data protection and digital citizenship
• Infliction of mental harms on children that adversely affect their developmental outcomes
Characteristically, parents play guardianship and supervisory roles over their children’s use and access to online space. Most often, they limit their children’s access to the online world and the information shared. Conversely, children do not have a voice in such decisions, and the ambiguity between private and public space opens the door to multiple forms of online and physical exploitation. Modern-day parents continue to cross the boundary between private and public life, altering the world’s landscape for developing children. While online information sharing presents numerous opportunities to parents, at the same time, it brings up new parenting responsibilities. Children’s interest in privacy is inherent, but parental rights trump it through free speech imperatives.
Sharenting Best Practices
The premature existence of children as online entities impacts the development of their sense of identity and self-awareness. For parents to safeguard their children from the threats associated with sharenting, they should appreciate the risk. Since complete abstinence from sharenting seems impossible, monitoring of privacy settings can mitigate these grave concerns. They should understand who can access and use their information. As responsible parents, they should be well-informed users of social networks, perusing relevant policies on privacy to guarantee they use their maturity to arrive at logical decisions on behalf of their children. Before sharing information, parents should exercise caution and refrain from details that may attract unwarranted attention. Similarly, the inclusion of physical locations could put children at risk of physical harm. Its is always best to not overshare information as stated in the Identity KAOS framework of the CIPA certification course in the first place but there may be some options if child information is already shared online.
Social media platforms have the option to select an audience for all information shared. Therefore, parents should consider hiding information from search algorithms and set notifications to aid monitoring. Most importantly, they should recognize children’s rights as they grow and grant them the freedom to exercise those rights. What might seem appropriate to post today about our children may be inappropriate in the future. As sharing is a new phenomenon, parents need to protect their children as policymakers establish ways to control and regulate the practice. They must accord children the privacy and respect they deserve and protect their best interests at all times. Sharenting is an opportunity but, at the same time, also a threat to children’s privacy. Consequently, parents should exercise caution and restraint when handling content about their children because their lives may be at stake.