Not too long ago, Apple Martin, the daughter of Coldplay crooner Chris Martin and Hollywood actress Gwyneth Paltrow was once the most searched celebrity kid online all thanks to that unique name and her glamourous parents.
But Apple, now 16 and a budding singer and dancer, fiercely guards her privacy so much so that she went on to publicly ask her mom to refrain from posting anything online without her consent. What apparently irked Apple was a selfie taken at a ski resort that Gwyneth posted on the Gram.
Apple is not alone. An increasing number of tweens and teens are making it clear to their parents that they ought not to share their pictures or any details about them online without their consent.
Just in case you came in late, there is a term for this: sharenting – the sharing of information about children online by their parents.
For many parents, kids marking major milestones in their life, education, sports or other activities, is cause for celebration and in the modern world that means clicking a picture of the child and sharing it on the various online platforms.
But when you mix that euphoria with the almost obsessive need to chronicle every little milestone of an offspring online, the result is social media feeds of grainy sonograms, post birth selfies, first birthdays, beach dates, potty training conquests and tooth fairy surprises. And that is just for a kid who has just turned one.
As the tribe of sharenters grows worldwide, debates are happening – online and elsewhere – on whether parents should be allowed to post pictures of their children on social media as their kids don’t really have a say in this.
"When a parent posts a picture of a child on social media, the child’s permission or approval might not always be considered," says Farid Elazar, assistant clinical psychologist at Dubai’s Be Psychology Centre for Emotional Well-being. "In such instances their kids’ autonomy is not fully appreciated which might understandably upset the child [when he/she attains a certain age]. This pertains particularly to the overflooding of children’s pictures on parent’s accounts."
Sharing information on social media can get tricky and also put the child at risk of over exposure. Experts say, what many parents do not realise is that what starts as excited/innocent posts about a kid’s milestone can snowball quickly into more posts, creating a permanent digital footprint that remains on the internet for posterity.
Could such posts end up being a cause of concern and anxiety, let alone embarassment, for a teenager or an adult? To see so much of their life online – visible to college classmates, job recruiters and potential romantic partners – particularly when they were not even responsible for those posts?
"Posting a picture of your child is not considered a direct threat to their psychological well-being. The main concern is that posting a picture of a child without taking their permission sets a precedent that it is ok to do so," points out Farid. That may not be a right thing.
Instead, he suggests allowing your child to choose one or two of the pictures you plan to post. This generates a sense of control in the child and also enhances the relationship between the parent and the child.
Many experts advise that it is important to look beyond the present, particularly when posting pictures of their children.
Extension of life
For most social media savvy parents, sharenting is an extension of their life – documenting precious moments and sharing them online. When Eliane Chalhoub, a Dubai-based PR and marketing professional, had her son five years ago she was thrilled to capture every new antic of her baby on camera, and was happy to share pictures and videos on her Instagram page #elianesdiaries. She believes it was an easy way to compile a collection of all his milestones and family memories. "I feel really happy to relive these moments when I scroll through my page now. I post snapshots of our daily life, videos of my son and three-year-old daughter playing on weekends, family outings, special occasions," says Eliane.
She admits that she refrains from oversharing. "I do respect my family’s privacy," she says. She also makes sure to not post anything that would embarrass her kids. "Whenever my kids tell me not to post their photos, I stop," she explains. "I don’t think my kids will have a problem about their pictures being shared online, but if they do I will respect their choice."
The adrenaline rush for proud sharenters comes from the increasing number of likes and appreciative comments that they get for each post of their offspring. For the parent Instagrammers and content creators, this short-felt ecstasy leads them into a loop of sharing similar posts. Shahira Palliyan, better known as Mrs Noushad, a Dubai-based Indian mother, started her Instagram page #allaboutmommyandzayed a year ago to post the growing up moments of her two-year-old son Zayed.
In just a year, her page has garnered over 10.5k followers. At least twice a week, she posts pics of Zayed in trendy outfits, playing with his toys or eating his favourite snacks. "Zayed enjoys getting his pictures clicked, and his posts get many comments. There are always several requests from my followers to share [more of] his pics," she gushes.
Should we be worried?
According to a recent study, by the age of five, an average child in the developed world would have 1,500 photos online. In a collaborative study conducted by UK-based Parent Zone, an online family website with Nominet in 2016 found that Facebook was reported as the most popular social media platform with over 54 per cent of British parents reporting it as the social network they use to post pics on, 16 per cent named Instagram and 12 per cent used Twitter.
But what was interesting is that one in four parents said they never thought of seeking the permission of their child before uploading their images online.
In the book Sharenthood: Why We Should Think Before We Talk About Our Kids Online, Harvard University professor Leah Plunkett, cites a couple of reasons to be concerned about sharenting. She says sharenting exposes children to the large digital world without their consent, exposing them to platforms that they might have opted out of and deprives them of the choice to not be on social media. Besides privacy issues they could also be susceptible to cybercrimes, identity thefts, frauds and bullying.
Sharenting can also impact a child’s sense of self because, in many ways, their identity has been created for them, says Leah.
Nazmira, a South African mum, based in Dubai, who writes a blog and runs the Instagram page #mumspalette, says she is aware of the ramifications of sharenting but argues that one cannot live in a constant state of paranoia. "Having said that, we can’t be naive either. While I feel very safe in Dubai, I don’t post pictures or Insta stories of my children until after we have left a certain place. I never disclose where I live or my kid’s school, their uniform, where I am taking them or their bath pictures."
It is important, as Nazmira points out, for sharenters to establish boundaries.
For a parent paparazzi eager to capture every little twist and turn of their young one’s life, it is also time to make some mindful choices. Pause and think before posting a picture and maintain a balanced approach towards social media picture sharing.
"Involving children in the decision-making process is vital to having a balanced approach," says Farid. If a child doesn’t want you to post their pictures online for any reason, their wish should be respected.
"Parents can have designated days for posting a picture, perhaps once a week. Or they can have a private account that can only be viewed by close members of the family to reduce the risk of malicious use of these pictures," suggests Farid.
Keep in mind
It’s difficult if not impossible to control or delete information once it is shared online. For instance, anyone can take screen shot of your post just before you have deleted it and share it or save it in his/her files. The post could become a potential embarrassment for the subject in the picture in the future.
Also, remember, while you may have deleted your post from your social media profile, it may still live on in the archive websites and on social media servers.
Another major issue is that these pictures could be used for bullying. What might have been just a family joke could have potentially disastrous ramifications for the child when shared online.
Even a simple thing like a funny slogan on a tee shirt could be taken out of context and the child bullied in the future. So be judicious when sharing pictures and information online.