Parents, sharing is not always caring!

  • Awareness
  • 16/01/2019
  • Estonian Safer Internet Centre

Andra Siibak, Professor of Media Studies at the University of Tartu, presents the result of a recent study on parents who (over)post about their children on social media – not always with the child's consent – and the consequences it can have on the parent-child relation.

"It is hugely important for every child to feel loved and cared for, to know that their parents are proud of them. Parents' warm and kind words are exactly as important to kids as hugs and kisses. Sweet nicknames (‘pumpkin', ‘my little princess', ‘my sunshine') used at home usually cheer them up and help maintain a good parent-child relationship. It is a whole other story when parents' cutesy behaviour goes beyond the four walls of a home and reaches the unknown masses of social media users. The interviews with Estonian pre-teens show that on Facebook and in front of the eyes of friends and peers, most youngsters want nothing to do with being someone's pumpkin or princess. And the ‘cute' photos parents post of their offspring should be kept to themselves, because children feel embarrassed and ashamed.

"We frequently hear adults complaining about youngsters' social media behaviour crossing all boundaries; they often post tasteless things that are inappropriate for being shared with millions. It is much less common to discuss adults' social media habits and the need to critically revise content creation. More importantly, parents should be especially critical because those social media mums and dads who actively share their kids' photos and posts about them have become the most negatively broadcast type of user. At the same time, these unfavourable opinions have not really stopped the parents from posting. For example, 74 per cent of American parents in the research knew someone who made so many posts about their children on social media, that their audience found it had crossed all boundaries. What is more, 56 per cent of participants knew someone whose posts embarrassed their children. Surveys both in the United States and in Europe show that parents have not become fully aware of their role in their children's digital footprint history.

"Estonian research proves that our kids would also sometimes like to prevent family photos from being shared or ban posts where parents tell everyone about their ‘little sunshines'. University of Tartu communication management MA student Merike Lipu's interviews with Facebook users aged 9-13 showed that just like everywhere else, Estonian parents do not usually ask children for their permission to post about them. The recruited parents consensually found that they do not even need children's consent to post about them or share photos – they know best what their kids like or do not like. Some parents did mention that children have sometimes wished a photo of them had not been published on Facebook or that they would delete the post. They also admitted they had not paid much attention to these requests. To put it another way, the parents who participated in the project often went by the law of the strongest when posting.

"As it turned out in Merike Lipu's work, parents tend to forget the fact that kids' perception of what is ‘cute' or ‘cool and hip' might drastically differ from their own opinions. One spot on a dress or slightly messed up hair may seem like nothing to the parent – nothing can ruin the overall tone or emotion – but children might find these details crucial. They might elicit ridiculing comments from peers, resulting in kids coming home sad and teary-eyed.
‘Children are not usually against their parents sharing fun family vacation or successful sports competition photos but they would like to have a say in the choice. They want their parents to take their proposals, pleas and recommendations seriously.

"For the child-parent relationship to be close and friendly, both parties need to agree upon certain rules, a strict netiquette everyone is willing to follow. If the rules are agreed upon, it is easier to understand one another and people become closer. However, if agreements are broken, issues might arise both in child-parent communication on Facebook (the child might change their privacy settings or block their parent) and outside the virtual realm. Sharing is not caring!"

Find out more information about the work of the Estonian Safer Internet Centre (SIC) generally, including its awareness raising, hotline and youth participation services, or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Better Internet for Kids Portal, European Schoolnet, the European Commission or any related organisations or parties.

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