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How Much Is Too Much: Are Parents Oversharing Their Children On Social Media?

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Videos of flips, photos of elaborate costumes and aerial leaps frozen in time make up the public Instagram account of nine-year-old Charlotte Russell. But dispersed through the frequent dance posts are more personal ones — photos of Charlotte hugging her mom, decorating cookies during the holidays and on vacation with family. For Charlotte’s mom, Krisanne Russell, posting updates online is a bonding activity for her and her two daughters.

Russell, who lives in High Springs, runs and monitors the public account, @blondtornado5678, alongside her older daughter Zoe, 14. She said there are many people in the dance community who hold these accounts to share their dancing activity. It’s a way for her to teach her children about social media responsibility and ethics.

“I think being with them on social media helps me monitor things,” Russell said. “It has given me an opportunity. It really is incumbent on us as parents to teach our children appropriate social media.”

Krisanne Russell and her daughter Charlotte Russell. The photo was originally posted on the instagram account that Krisanne and her daughter Zoe manage for Charlotte. (Photo courtesy of Krisanne Russell)

Russell is a part of a growing social media community of parent sharers. With a growth in social media networks, the concept of of “sharenting,”or the oversharing of information about children by parents is gaining traction. “Sharenting” has led to questions about children’s safety, welfare and the child’s rights of consent.

Stacey Steinberg, a legal skills professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, researched the concept of “sharenting.” Steinberg said her research with UF College of Medicine doctor and professor Bahareh Keith was a mix between both the legal and public health aspects of parents sharing content about children on social media networks.

“I was really focused on my own kids, and how much control they should have on their digital footprint, so I recognized that there perhaps was a tension between a parent’s right to share and a child’s interest in privacy,” Steinberg said. “I wanted to focus my research on exploring that tension and seeing if there were any ways that we can empower parents to make better online decisions.”

Steinberg and Keith presented their research at the 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics conference and focused mostly on the pediatrician’s role in online sharing, children’s privacy and the positive ways to share on social media outlets.

“I recognize that untangling a parent’s right to share his or her own story, and a child’s right to enter adulthood free to create his or her own digital footprint is a very challenging task,” Steinberg said.

Steinberg was initially interested in this issue because she posts on social media, and also takes photos of children with chronic illnesses. Steinberg sees the support from the community when these photos she takes are shared.

“It creates communities, it helps them gain support, and for parents with children of chronic illnesses, it is also a way to advocate for additional funding or for research for those children’s special areas that they are struggling with,” she said.

Although there are positives to sharing on social media, there are also risks, Steinberg said. She said there are risks of identity theft, images used for unintended purposes and the future dislike of the posts by the child.

Conclusions that she and Keith determined are safer practices in parental online behavior. Steinberg suggested for parents to be aware of the privacy settings on social media websites, and for parents to use caution if sharing the child’s actual location. She additionally urged parents to avoid posting pictures of children in any state of undress and let older children have veto power on a post.

“I recommend that parents consider the effect that sharing can have on their child’s future well-being,” Steinberg said. “It is prudent to consider what effect the disclosures we make today will have on our children tomorrow.”

University of Florida doctoral student Joshua Roe said he does not share any information about his daughter Islay on social media. He said it is a safety issue to share pictures of his daughter because of the advancement in technology that can allow for strangers to access location information.

“I think that one of our primary roles is to raise responsible citizens of the world and part of that is caring for their safety and well-being,” Roe said. “If we can do something that minimizes their risks and doesn’t expose them to things that they have no choice or say in, and especially while they are very young, I think that we should do those things to minimize the risks.”

Roe said that he sees minimal positive aspects when sharing on social media outlets, and the benefits do not outweigh the risks.

“My daughter is still her own human being, and even though she is not at an age to consent to things, I’m choosing right now in what I believe to be her best interests and within my capacity to protect her safety and well-being by not sharing those things,” Roe said.

Steinberg said it is important for parents who do share to be aware of their actions. After her research, she said she did not stop sharing on social media networks because she still sees the benefits that the online community offers.

“One of the things that surprised me was after doing all of this research [was] I have chosen to continue to share,” Steinberg said. “While I’ve changed the way that I share, I continue to share, and I don’t have any plans to stop in the future.”

About Jessica Schein

Jessica Schein is a reporter for WUFT News and can be reached at (352)-392-5551 or jschein@ufl.edu.

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