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Are we oversharing our children on social media?
A Parent's Perspective

Most of us love sharing pictures on social media whether it’s a family party, a child’s first day at school, a First Communion or some other memorable occasion. I love photography and, since I was a little girl, I was fascinated by the idea of capturing moments in time that you could look back on and savour. 

Facebook has been the perfect platform for me to share my favourite pictures with close family and friends. I view it as a sort of social diary where I can store all my photographs, ideas and general impressions of life. I really like the memories feature where Facebook posts events and status updates from former years. It’s a real trip down memory lane; looking back at fond moments, happy and sad times, and pondering on how our lives are constantly changing.

Parents sometimes wonder if they are overdoing it with their Facebook posts and pictures. The topic of oversharing on social media is one that always provokes heated discussion and disagreement. In 2016, a photograph of a father, sitting in a shower, with his very-ill toddler in his arms was shared tens of thousands of times on Facebook and removed many times before being reinstated on each occasion. Both were naked and there were very strong views about whether it was a wise move to post it online. 

Tender moment

To some, it was a tender moment showing the loving care of a devoted father while others posted negatively about the invasion of the child’s privacy, the post being inappropriate and the fact that a young child couldn’t consent to such a picture being posted online. The little boy’s mother, photographer Heather Whitten from Arizona in the US, had posted the picture and was taken aback by the reaction to what she viewed as a lovely moment. She spoke afterwards of feeling compelled to capture on camera her husband’s patience and obvious love for their child as he lay cradled in his dad’s strong arms. The majority of people who commented on the picture didn’t take the view that the father’s behaviour was strange or unusual. Where the opinions seemed divided was on the subject of whether a very private family moment should be shared online or not.

Some of the concerns re social media sharing seem to focus on the issue of a child giving their consent to photos being posted online. Stacey Steinberg, a legal skills professor at the University of Florida, believes that, if possible, children should have a voice about what information is shared about them. Some go as far as suggesting that children as young as three or four years old should be able to veto a parent’s decision about posting their pictures. My own view is that this approach can lead to a dilution of the parental role. 

Most sensible parents have their child’s best interests at heart and I don’t believe that a very small child should have the final say as to whether a family shot can be shared with trusted social media friends and family. I’m uncomfortable with any image of vacuous parents who are viewed as less discerning than their young children.

It is important to educate ourselves about how best to protect our online information. It’s vital to take the time to understand and activate the various privacy settings. 

I think the Facebook groups feature is very useful as it enables friends or family to guard their privacy while still sharing family photos and stories. 

The website, www.parenting.com, suggests keeping certain types of photograph totally private: bath time pictures, pictures of sick or injured children, pictures showing a child being shamed, on the potty shots, private identifying details, group pictures with other people’s children, bullying fodder which may expose a child’s weaknesses or silly nickname, and unsafe activities. 

Differences

Even with this list there will be differences of opinion; many parents of children with chronic illnesses turn to online forums to find vital support and to seek out other parents who are facing similar challenges. Online networks can often act as powerful parenting tools. 

A recent survey by the website ‘Today’s Parent’ found that 60% of parents use online platforms to find parenting information and advice, 82% said that social media helped them to stay connected with grandparents and 24% used social media to seek emotional support for parenting issues. 

Some reported that social media had boosted their confidence as parents and one respondent, who’s a stay-at-home mother, said that the social media interaction was an important source of understanding and encouragement for her. 

Opportunity

For Christian parents, social media is more than just a way to interact with other parents; it’s also an opportunity to share Gospel values. 

Fr Thomas Rosica, of Salt and Light Television, describes social media as something that we don’t need to be afraid of or to shy away from. 

From my own experience, once we are sensible and careful, educating ourselves on some obvious risks, social media has a lot more positives than negatives. 

In the words of Pope Francis, “Social networks can facilitate relationships and promote the good of society….” He emphasises the “hefty responsibility” but the important message is that technology doesn’t determine how authentic our communication is. 

That, says Pope Francis, comes from the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal. Words to remember each time we post on social media.