Wednesday, August 10, 2016

"Sharenting" and Social Media: Endangerment or celebration of a global community?

After signing onto Twitter for the first time in 2011, there have been two events that have triggered my absence. The first was the birth of my daughter, Sierra, in 2013, and the second has been the birth of my son, Orion, this past May. Both times I have found caring for a newborn to be all-consuming--swadling, nursing, and bathing the little one left no time for social media. Since the #ILookLikeASurgeon movement, it has been much more difficult being “away” from my social media community. When the #ILookLikeASurgeon hashtag was born, there was no question that I wanted to post a photo celebrating both surgery residency and motherhood. Some may be surprised to learn it was the first time I posted a photo of Sierra online. Until that moment I had shared very few photos of my personal life online.

After Orion was born, I was eager to celebrate the new addition to our family with my global network of social media friends, yet I found myself hesitating. I questioned the potential dangers of sharing photos of my children on social media. While it is generally accepted that there are “risks” involved in posting photos of one’s children online, I had seen very little in terms of specifics on these risks. Before jumping back into social media, I decided to do my own research in order to make an informed decision when it came to posting photos of my children. Given the popularity of the #SurgParenting hashtag, I thought others might be interested in what I found.

First, I would like to share some statistics on the elephant in the room--the vast majority of children born in the United States today find themselves online from the day they are born. Perhaps earlier, if we count ultrasound photos. Studies show that 92 percent of kids in the United States have an online identity by age 2.[1] On average, parents post nearly 1,000 photos of a child online before the child turns 5.[2] It’s no wonder non-parents can feel they are drowning in “cute” photos of their friends’ children. Why all the posts? According to a 2015 survey by Pew Internet Research, 74% of parents who use social media get support from their friends online.[3] Surgeons appear to be no exception.

Are we “oversharenting”? Oversharing seems to be judged in the eyes of the beholder. A survey by Parents magazine found that 79% of respondents said other parents overshare on social media -- yet only 32% felt that they overshared themselves.[4] Similarly, when asked to judge others, 80% of adults say they’ve seen parents put attempts to get the perfect photo ahead of their child’s enjoyment of an event.[5] While these statistics are striking, I argue it matters more that parents and their children are comfortable with the photos than what others think. For a great post on a parent and child who are both mindful and enthusiastic in their approach to social media, see here.

I had a difficult time finding examples of negative consequences of parents sharing photos of their children. Extensive googling and article skimming revealed only two examples of misappropriation of photos posted online.[6] Many of the dangers cited in articles discussing the cons of photo sharing seem ephemeral. While it’s true that future college admissions committees, employers, loan officers could peruse baby photos of my children someday, I can’t help but wonder why? Predatory behavior from pedophiles is also frequently cited as reason not to post photos of one’s children. However Prof. David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, says “this is not the way it happens” and that such dangers are falsely inflated. While it’s true predators seek victims in chat rooms, they do not peruse photos posted by adoring parents.
One study found that 58% of respondents admit posting the perfect picture has prevented them from enjoying life's experience. According to the study’s co-author, Joseph Grenny, “We enjoy important life moments less when we’re focused on capturing them rather than experiencing them.”[7] Does this mean we must put our phones away and forgo sharing the moment with friends and strangers? Not necessarily. Rather than being controlled technology, it can be used to draw us into an experience. A photo can become  memento to treasure and share.
A recent survey of children 10 to 17 found that nearly 1 in 5 wanted control over the information their parents posted about them online.[8]  Catherine Steiner-Adair, author of“The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age” and research associate at Harvard Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry, suggests that “Kids should have veto power over the pictures we take and post on social media. We need to teach children the message that we own our body and we own our image and ask questions like, ‘Would you mind me sending it to grandma or grandpa?’”[9]
Photo Credit

Rather than worrying about unrealistic dangers, I recommend three questions to ask yourself when posting photos of children.
  1. What is the purpose of a my post? (For a powerful example of a post with a clear purpose, see here.)
  2. Am I comfortable with this image/information becoming part of my child’s digital footprint?
  3. Would my child approve? And do I have their permission? (If consent is age-appropriate.)
If you are not a parent, and are considering posting a photo of a niece, nephew, or friend’s child, I recommend asking yourself same questions and then checking with their parent for permission.
What are the benefits of posting online photos? Many parents find that virtual sharing allows them to build an online community and connect with other parents. Particularly for parents living away from family, sharing special moments through social media can foster a sense of community and support, providing a network of “friends” they would never have access to otherwise. While children may not directly benefit from this online community, they have a lot to learn from parents who include them in the process. Understanding the magnitude and significance of their digital footprint is a “life skill” that will serve them well as they enter adolescence and beyond.
What did I decide? For me and my family, the benefits of sharing outweigh the risks. While my husband chooses a very limited online presence for himself, he is comfortable with the thoughtful choices I make in posting photos of our children. I hope the snapshots and moments I chose to share make them feel cherished and celebrated. Rather than a detriment, I hope the posts serve as a sort of “virtual memory book” highlighting positive moments of their childhood. As they grow, I will involve them more and more in the process of choosing which photos and moments are appropriate for sharing.
In the meantime, I am excited to share special family snapshots with our global friends and family. I never dreamed I would celebrate my newborn son hiking with a surgeon, @dr_imogen, I met through #ILookLikeASurgeon and now affectionately refer to as his Australian Godmother.

Welcome to the world Orion. #AdventureAwaitsYou

[1] "American Girls - Time." 2016. 28 Jul. 2016 <>
[2] "Read this before posting photos of your kids on Facebook - MarketWatch." 2015. 29 Jul. 2016 <>
[3] "Parents and Social Media | Pew Research Center - Pew Internet ..." 23 Jul. 2016 <>
[4] "How Social Media Is Affecting Your Parenting - Parents." 2015. 23 Jul. 2016 <>
[6] "Guardians of Their Smiles - The New York Times." 2009. 5 Aug. 2016 <>
[7] "Society's New Addiction: Getting a “Like” over Having a Life - Press ..." 2015. 8 Aug. 2016 <>
[9] "Read this before posting photos of your kids on Facebook - MarketWatch." 2015. 4 Aug. 2016 <