Ever see a post like this one on your Facebook newsfeed?
A post like this can have “friends” running for the “unfriend” button — or rushing to post sympathetic and supportive comments.
The line for parental oversharing is different for everyone, and not everyone sees the practice as a problem. But pervasive parental sharing online has become a widespread phenomenon, so much so that it’s spawning a backlash of sorts.
The Wall Street Journal’s Steven Leckart first coined the term “oversharenting” on his widely cited blog post, the Facebook-Free Baby, which essentially is a plea to parents to stop the chronic TMI (too much information). The wildly popular blog STFU Parents, which crowdsources and then pokes fun at bad parental online behavior, now gets 1.5 million page views per month and has 12,000–15,000 daily readers. (Tagline: “You used to be fun. Now you have a baby.”)
Reading posts about your friends’ babies’ potty habits, nursing mishaps (nipple biting!) and, yep, bath BMs might bother you … or it may not; one person’s overshare is another’s bid for support and sense of community. Still, as this generation of new parents rushes to “like” each other’s lice stories, the question persists: Can parental oversharing have consequences for kids?
“What are the implications of parents starting to define their children’s identities online — sometimes before the children are even born?” asks Katie Davis, assistant professor at the University of Washington’s Information School and the co-author, with Harvard professor Howard Gardner, of The App Generation: Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in Today’s Youth (to be released in October from Yale University Press).
She worries about potential impacts on children well down the road. “Adolescence is typically the time when you become aware of your individuality and figure out your own identity. What are the implications if your identity has largely been formed for you online by your parents?
“We know what children need to develop in a healthy way, and we know that they require some degree of autonomy and some degree of freedom to make mistakes. If every move is being recorded online, it’s constraining,” Davis says. “By documenting everything your child does — creating such an involved and detailed digital footprint before the child has any say in the matter — is that supporting or undermining the type of person that you want your child to grow into?”
Blair Koenig worries that oversharenting is creating a generation of kids with a warped concept of privacy. Koenig, the New York–based blogger and creator of STFU Parents, calls out “documoms” regularly on her blog, and she’s struck a chord in Seattle: Our city is her fourth-largest audience. (Her book, STFU Parents, comes out this month from Perigee Trade.)
“I do think some kids will grow up to be embarrassed by what their parents posted online,” she says, “but I also think many kids will grow up thinking that ‘oversharing’ is just ‘sharing.’ They may not ever apply a filter to their lives, because it’s what they grew up thinking is normal. I think, as time goes on, people will continue to live their lives in public (online), and children will be more inclined to overshare, having no real idea where the line for sharing ends and where the line for oversharing begins.”
The mommy penalty
Moms who share a lot about their kids online might want to consider a possible impact to their own identities. It isn’t fair, but it’s a fact: Moms earn less and are less likely to be promoted than their nonparent sisters. It’s the so-called “mommy penalty.”
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a woman without children earns 7 percent less than a man; that number drops to 22 percent less when that woman has kids. A woman should never, ever hide the fact that she has kids.
But if you’re a professional woman gunning for a promotion or planning to return to a career outside the home one day, think twice before you “friend” professional colleagues; your proud mommy posts could pigeonhole you in the workplace. Will the job go to you, whose comedic stylings about the twins’ tantrums always entertain, or to the mom who balances kid posts with commentary about the news, issues, trends and events?
It’s impossible to know what, if any, future impact all of this will have on today’s Facebook poster-babies — there simply isn’t any research, and precious little professional guidance.
But Caroline Knorr, parenting editor of Common Sense Media, a national nonprofit dedicated to advising parents on media issues, suggests parents think twice before sharing.
“Once something is out there, you can’t take it back. So consider the history and reputation you’re creating for your kid online. How will your kid feel about it in five years? How will it impact the way other people see him?”
Remember that parents are their kids’ biggest role models, Knorr says. “Your kids are going to look up to and emulate what you do — and that includes how you behave online. If you want your kids to be cautious, discerning and respectful when it comes to what they share about themselves and others, you need to set the example.”
Davis suggests parents take a moment to pause and assess their Internet practices this way: “Consider what kind of people you want your children to be. Presumably, you want your children to grow into independent people who can think for themselves and figure out an independent course, rather just follow in the life that was chosen by their parents.
“I know that all of this sharing comes from a very good place,” says Davis. “Parents are very proud of their children … but there is a question of when those kids grow up, how are they going to feel about having all of that documented? Is it going to feel like a burden, a lack of privacy? Or is it going to be a new paradigm?”
A new paradigm in which it seems normal to have your entire life, from ultrasound to ultra-old, indelibly documented for the world to see? In this fast-changing digital world — filled with tablet-toting toddlers — it’s not so hard to imagine, after all.
Kristen A. Russell is a Seattle-area writer and editor, and the co-author, with Laura S. Kastner, Ph.D., of the newly released Wise-Minded Parenting: 7 Essentials for Raising Successful Tweens + Teens.