When her twin boys decided to play with their family chickens, Contessa Admire snapped a photo to share on Facebook. Their grinning faces looked back at her Facebook friends as they scrolled through their newsfeeds that morning, garnering likes and comments detailing how adorable the boys are.
Shannon Tankersly snapped a photo of her son for a side-by-side from last year to show how quickly he had grown. Her family and friends quickly began to like and comment, remarking on his boyish grin in the second photo.
When her daughter, Sammie, reaches milestones, Rebecca Gonzalez posts a photo with a caption detailing her newest feats. “Sammie loves to make noise when Papi is watching TV!”
For these moms, and millions of moms just like them, social media is the village that it takes to raise their children.
“I love the saying ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’” says Admire. “Social media is my village.”
Not only does social media provide the village needed to raise a child, but it can also be a tool to keep families that are not physically nearby, close. It gives extended family the opportunity to watch your child grow no matter where they are.
“I think sharing things is beneficial, at least for me,” says Tankersly. “I don’t have many friends and there is distance between family members. Social media and sharing moments allows family to feel emotionally close when they can’t always be physically. A selfie can’t replace a hug or a kiss, but it helps.”
Moms today are in uncharted territory when it comes to social media. This is the first generation where parents log on sometimes multiple times a day, and where family and friends log on as well.
“I have a friend that is at the opposite end of the sharing spectrum,” says Tankersly. “I share everything; she shares almost nothing. But we still are able to get along and speak on parenting. There is common ground with everyone if you want to find it. Parenthood is a community.”
The new wave of sharing about your children has been termed “sharenting” and only seems to be growing. In fact, 94 percent of parents on Facebook share, comment or post about their children, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center. Only 12 percent of parents on Facebook are concerned with what is posted about their children, with a very small number asking friends or family members to remove a post about their child.
“I worry about kids being embarrassed now and in the future,” says Dr. Wendy Rice, PsyD, owner of Rice Psychology. “We need boundaries. What is private? I wouldn’t want my mom to share all of my secrets or all of my private victories.”
A typical parent on Facebook has about 150 “friends,” but only considers about a third of them actual friends, according to the Pew Research study. This means that your child’s embarrassing photo in the bathtub, or a picture of their messy room could be exposed to dozens of people. This can also expose their successes to friends and family members, which can put added pressure on the child. For many parents, this has become a reason to scale back on sharenting.
“We are very particular about things that we post,” says Gonzalez. “We have a lot of “friends” on Facebook, but they aren’t really friends. So we post some milestones and on special occasions but definitely not on a daily basis. And we have to let our families know what we would like as well.”
For the parents who do choose to share their children’s personal successes or failures online frequently, there can be a risk of affecting the child’s on and offline identity.
“I think it [sharenting] can affect kids now– forget about later!” says Rice. “I saw today that somebody’s child got a great report card. And it used to be that you would put that on the refrigerator, but now they’ve shared it for the world to see. So now this child feels that they have to live up to those high expectations forever because they were capable of getting good grades for this one nine weeks or this one semester.”
Constantly posting about your child’s grades or sports can put pressure on the child and the children who may read the post in the future, according to Rice. Instead, consider using email newsletters or text messages to share with close family members and friends, or create a private group where you can share about your kids with trusted people.
When Admire’s son Logan had his first haircut, she posted his tear-streaked face. When her son Noah makes a funny face on the potty, she wasn’t worried about posting a picture because the joy it would bring her family and friends outweighed any risk of embarrassment. “Some of their embarrassing moments are treasured memories for me,” says Admire. “These memories I LOVE to share with my family and friends!”
Admire is not alone, with many parents echoing the sentiment of cute or silly posts. Many just chalk it up to the price of childhood– how many of us had parents show embarrassing bath time photos of us, after all? For the most part, an embarrassing post won’t scar your child for life, but if you post frequently with negative or embarrassing posts, there could be negative consequences.
Recent studies have shown that as the child grows, the more a parent posts, the more a social media and personal identity is being established for that child. With all of the algorithms and niches of Facebook, the opportunity for your child to establish their own online identity can quickly be taken. This is all something to take into consideration when posting anything from a child’s hobbies to failures.
“If a parent is always sharing about a child’s interest in something, like if the parent is always sharing about the child’s baseball pursuits, now the child is only known for their baseball,” says Rice. “Or maybe this child has trouble being neat and they are very messy, but the parent is always taking pictures of the child’s messes, that “oh my gosh, all my mom cares about is me being neat” or “everyone knows I am a slob” so the child thinks “well forget it, I will just be a slob.” So it is important to try to present things in moderation when you go online.”
In the case of older kids, what is posted online can sometimes lead to bullying. Victoria Fernandez is a school teacher and mother of a recently graduated high school senior and a daughter in her 20s. Because she is friends with so many of her children’s friends, she always tries to think twice before posting.
“I do believe that social media has an impact on a child’s self perception,” says Fernandez. “If a mother posts about her child doing something “funny,” it could cause the child to experience unexpressed embarrassment. Every picture, every anecdote, and every word should be positive about our children. Doing otherwise opens up “free ammunition” for children to bully and laugh at our children’s mistakes.”
Fernandez has also found that most parents who have teens on social media don’t intentionally try to embarrass their child on social media, which is why it is so important to pay close attention before you post, especially as the child ages.
“I don’t see too many parents trying to belittle their kids using social media,” says Fernandez. “It is more subtle than that. My son has rolled his eyes at times and said, “Mom, please tell me you are not going to put that online.”
Fortunately, there is a way to balance the good with the bad of social media.
Before you post, consider what you are posting and how it might impact your child as they age, other children and other parents. Remember: Facebook has a feature that shows old posts, so their past is easier to dredge up than ever before.
“I don’t want to embarrass [my daughter],” says Gonzalez. “A post is there FOREVER.”
If you are posting something that is potentially embarrassing, consider how you think it would look to future employers and classmates that your child may encounter. If you wouldn’t want it shown about you, then consider sending it via text to the people who you want to share it with instead.
Sharenting can have great benefits, and as the first generation to have a constant network of other parents it can be incredibly helpful.
“I think parents get support and they hear that they’re not alone, which is a benefit of sharenting,” says Rice. “I think parenting can be a pretty isolating activity. I think it [social media] gives you a bit more of a sense of community in that you’re not in it by yourself whether you are celebrating the victories or the challenges.”
“Belonging to groups on Facebook has helped me a lot,” says Gonzalez. “Between advice and shopping for diaper bags, it kind of helps to know that you are not alone and it does take a village.”
Some trial and error is inevitable before finding the right balance with this first generation of “sharenters.” To balance the good with the bad, Rice suggests to keep it all in perspective. She says: “Remember, when it comes to the kids’ personal challenges or stories, share in moderation.”