Parenting & “Sharenting”

The opportunities and risks of parenting in the social media age

Sharenting - The opportunities & risks of parenting in the social media ageParenting – We all know that there is little real world preparation or training for the experience, even as a pediatrician, believe it or not. We therefore have to rely on others to help guide us as we raise our children.

It takes a family. We ask for advice from our moms and dads, our grandmothers and grandfathers, and our siblings with kids.

It takes a village. We get advice from friends who have their own kids, and from colleagues at our schools or in our local community.

It takes a social network? Yes that’s right, social media like Facebook, forums, and blogs are the new venue for parenting, according to a new study by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

The poll found that the majority of US parents of young children are using social media like Facebook, online forums, or blogs, and over half of mothers, and about a third of fathers, are discussing child health and parenting topics on social media.

What are parents talking about?
Topics like how to get the kids to sleep, nutrition and eating tips, discipline and behavior problems, and daycare/preschool. Think about it, when you’re up in the middle of the night with a young child who won’t sleep, where else can you go but online?

Why are parents on social media?
The majority of parents (60-70%) who are online report that social media is providing real benefits to them, in the form of knowledge and emotional support. In terms of knowledge, parents report that they are receiving advice from more experienced parents, and they are learning what not to do with their young children. In terms of support, parents report that social media helps them feel that they are not alone and helps them worry less. Social media has become the virtual village for parents, but with parenting online comes “sharenting” online.

mott blog - sharenting npch infogram“Sharenting”
Are you a “sharent”? The term “sharenting” refers to parents who: “blog, tweet and post pictures from their children’s lives – often simultaneously.” One study estimated that the average time it takes parents to share their newborns’ first photo on a social media site is 57.9 minutes. Starting from the 1st hour of life, children’s lives are now being meticulously documented on social media with potential consequences that could put kids at emotional or physical risk.

In the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital poll, close to three quarters of parents reported knowing of another parent who shared too much information about a child on social media, including parents who gave embarrassing information about a child (56%), parents who offered personal information that could identify a child’s location (51%), and parents who shared inappropriate photos of a child (27%). What are some examples of these types of sharing?

Posting embarrassing information about a child online.
Have you seen this Youtube video of a 7-year-old who was still under the effects of the anesthesia after his trip to the dentist? Although the video is humorous, it’s not clear that this child would want this digital footprint of himself to endure as he one day applies to college or a job in the future.

Sharing personal information that could identify a child’s location
Parents may not be aware that their social network posts are being tagged with their location, a feature common to Facebook as well as other social networks. In addition, Facebook privacy settings have changed dramatically over time, so parents may not realize that when they are posting pictures of their kids, they are sharing the photos with the general public rather than their smaller circle of friends and family. With the simple act of sharing a photo, parents may be revealing information about their child’s identity, school, and physical location, which could compromise their child’s safety.

Sharing inappropriate photos of children
What constitutes “inappropriate”? Well it depends. Family pictures are spontaneous and fun and may include pictures of kids in bikinis or in the bathtub, which could make for great memories in the family photo album, but may be considered inappropriate for posting on a social media community. Last year a mother of 4 children posted a photo on Instagram of one of her young daughters, lifting up her shirt and gazing at her own belly button in her diapers. However, Instagram decided to take down the photo because of their policies “to protect young children.”

And in a recent disturbing development, strangers may be stealing your kids’ photos and identity from your social media content, creating new social media accounts for the baby or young child and performing “role playing” with the false identity account.

Are you worried?
You are not alone if you are. A majority of parents in the poll were concerned about people finding private information about their child (68%), sharing photos of their child (67%), or embarrassing their child based on their social media sharing habits (52%).

So what’s a parent to do given the new reality we live in?

  • Carefully read the terms and conditions and privacy policies of social networks to understand who can see your content, and whether that content is linked with location information. In addition, understand what the companies are doing with your content. Did you know that Facebook reserves the right to use your family photos if you post them on their site? (“You grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content (like photos and videos) that you post on or in connection with Facebook.) I didn’t realize this and it makes me much more cautious about what I might be posting.
  • Any act of sharing has the potential to go viral and affect your child’s digital reputation, so before you post an embarrassing photo or event about your child, think carefully about how the posting might affect your child’s feelings in the future. An added twist is that posting a group photo of your kids with their friends and school mates could be considered a violation of privacy, unless you ask for permission from their parents to post.
  • By all means, you should absolutely participate in social media! Don’t be scared! Check out my recent blogpost to learn why “social media, Google, and the internet ARE medical therapy”, or in this case are “parenting” therapy. I believe that there are many benefits of social media, and I am always trying to encourage my colleagues and patients to join, but I am cautious when it comes to my kids. I don’t post photos of their faces, I don’t use their real names in posts, and if I do instagram activities with them, I will post the photos at a later time to remove the risk of people knowing about their whereabouts in real-time.

Parents, take advantage of the wisdom of the virtual village, but think before you oversharent!

Take the next step:

Joyce Lee MDJoyce Lee, MD, MPH, (“Doctor as Designer”) is a pediatrician, diabetes specialist, and researcher at the University of Michigan. She is a co-creator of HealthDesignby.us, a collaborative innovation network of individuals promoting participatory design and the creation or “making” of health by a community. She blogs about design and health at https://medium.com/@joyclee, encourages you to follow her on Twitter https://twitter.com/joyclee, and would love for you to join the health + design community here!


Best Children's Hospitals - C.S. Mott Children's HospitalUniversity of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.