What is Sharenting And Is It Bad?

“Sharenting,” which is a portmanteau of the words “parenting” and “sharing,” is a relatively new pop psychology term that involves the act of a parent excessively posting pictures, videos, updates and stories about their child or teen’s life.   And while a lot of pop psychology terms aren’t very helpful, I think this one is.  As a psychologist that works a lot with children and teens, the topic of parents digitally oversharing sensitive information about their children comes up frequently in therapy and with the action at times causing real problems and emotional upset for the youth.

So, what does sharenting look like, and how can posting about your child or teen online be such a bad thing?

Examples of sharenting could include excessively posting about your child’s personally upsetting experiences (e.g., posting about your teen getting a speeding ticket), posting your child’s report card or posting other awards or acknowledgments, excessively posting baby pictures and information about developmental milestones (e.g., posting photos of your son or daughter potty training, their funny facial expressions, their first steps, their first tooth, etc.), posting about a prank or a gotcha moment involving your child, posting an X-ray of your child’s broken arm, excessively posting about your child’s hobbies, interests or personality style, posting about birthday parties or celebrations and posting stories about personal family moments involving activities, pets or friends.

Social Media

Of course, as parents it’s perfectly fine to provide updates about meaningful moments of our children to our family and friends on social media, so at first glance, the above list may not seem problematic to many parents.  When it comes to sharenting though, the issue isn’t simply about sharing the occasional photo or video, but rather, it’s about parents oversharing personal or sensitive information about their children, which can later lead to unintended consequences regarding a child’s social life, mental health, future endeavors and safety.

Again, as a psychologist, I have repeatedly seen, firsthand, the damaging impact a parent’s social media life can have on the parent-child relationship when the parent overshares information.  Oversharing can shame, embarrass or cause insecurities or unhealthy comparisons for children, which in turn can cause a rift in the parent-child relationship.  In extreme cases, and over time, oversharing information about your child can lead to a loss of privacy for your child, your child being cyberbullied or bullied at school, or to your child experiencing anxiety, sleep problems, depression, and reduced physical activity and social involvement.

Child getting award on social media

Regarding safety, there are serious risks and consequences to putting too much information about your child out there on-line for all to see.  Research in this area has shown that parents can share as many as 1000 pictures or more of their child online by age 5 years of age.  On Facebook, for example, many parents, also unknowingly, post confidential information – i.e. they reveal their child’s name, their child’s school’s name, their child’s date of birth, etc.  This sort of information can be later used to obtain even more information about your child by bad actors (e.g., someone obtaining a child’s social security number through the Dark Web for identify theft) or to digital kidnapping (i.e. someone obtaining photos of children or teens for personal use) or cyber-kidnapping (someone extorting someone vulnerable remotely and demanding ransom money from family members).  Sadly, predators are increasingly using information gathered from social media sites along with AI and evolving technologies to sexually exploit children.

So, how as a parent do you strike a balance between sharing meaningful moments regarding your child or teen with your loved ones and friends online without oversharing what could become problematic for your child now or later in life?  Here are a few thoughts to consider.

  • Before posting something about your child or teen online, be mindful of what’s motivating you to post. How does posting a certain photo or an update of your child add value and who’s benefiting from the posting?  Are you posting the photo or update more for you or for your child?
  • Before posting, consider including your child in your decision to post. If your child or teen asks that you not post something personal, be respectful of their feelings and needs.
  • Before posting, consider posting privately. Posting a family vacation photo online is one thing, but maybe you don’t need to post a photo online of your child crying after he got his tooth pulled or his looking horribly ill on the couch home from school for a sick day.
  • Before posting, ask yourself, how will my child or teen feel about my posting five or ten years from now? Remember, whatever you post today, may be accessible online for years to come.  Thus, your child may not want his high school or college friends or coworkers later in life to discover those once cute but now embarrassing childhood moments.
  • If you find yourself wanting to post photos or other information about your children a lot, I invite you to reflect on why that is. Perhaps your motivation is healthy, but it’s also possible that your posting is serving a deeper emotional need or problem you might want to address.

Be mindful, and remember most of us didn’t grow up with this challenge.  Consider your adult self and what you would want publicly available before you share.

Social Media

Michael Oberschneider, Psy.D. “Dr. Mike” is a clinical psychologist in private practice.
He can be reached at 703-723-2999, and is located at 44095 Pipeline Plaza, Suite 240, Ashburn