When I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, there were many decisions to make.
Would I learn the baby’s sex? What kind of birth plan did I want? And would I be sharing this important and fundamental life-changer on social media?
For most of us, social media is part of everyday life. It’s a place we socialise, seek entertainment, meet partners and find jobs, so it’s no surprise it’s also a place where children’s milestones are meticulously recorded.
Scroll through Facebook and Instagram and you’ll see mealtimes, holidays, even bath time. You’ve probably seen kids in the minutes after they were born, umbilical cord still attached, or perhaps even before they embarked on this childhood of digital documentation, in a fuzzy black-and-white ultrasound picture.
But what are the ramifications of “sharenting” — parents sharing photos and stories about their kids via social media?
Is it a form of digital narcissism? Or is sharenting the easiest way of keeping in touch with friends and family, recording memories and seeking advice and support? What about the kids themselves? Generationally speaking, we are in uncharted territory: the internet is a world away from the carefully collated photograph albums of most of our childhoods.
The question of consent
The same research found a majority of parents lack basic knowledge to keep their photos private. There are many consequences parents should be considering.
Could that adorable picture of your toddler dressed as an angel be ammunition for bullies in the future? Will your account of a particularly horrendous nappy change continue to be searchable by a future employer? And how will social platforms treat these images in future?
It’s these potential long-term implications that led Sydney mum Lisa Railey, 40, to ensure there is no trace of her one-year-old online.
“I didn’t even post any pictures of me pregnant,” she says. “We wanted this to be a personal journey that was shared with people as individuals.”
Lisa, who works in web development, says she was most concerned about how images of her daughter might be misappropriated or reused.
She admits it will be difficult to maintain a complete absence of material about her daughter as she takes part in more activities, where organisers and other parents could unwittingly photograph her.
“I have been very direct in saying to anyone that they are not to share any images of her on social media.
“Family and friends, so far, everyone has been fine with that.”
When the advantages outweigh the negatives
In an increasingly fragmented society, social media can allow us to stay connected to friends and family, and get support that for many is not easily accessible.
Emma Caroon, a 28-year-old HR manager from the Sunshine Coast, uses social media to keep her husband’s family in the United States up to date with her children’s milestones.
A mother of a three-year-old and an eight-month old, she says she began sharing photos from the delivery of her first child.
“We spoke about it from two angles,” she says. “Firstly, half our family is on the other side of the world so it is the easiest way to keep them updated.
“Secondly, we are both extraverted people who like to share about our lives, whether that be in person or on social media, so it wouldn’t feel right to not share about our kids, which are such a large and important part of our lives.”
Emma does stop and consider what she posts, for example bath-time pictures, but overall feels the risks of posting online are not large enough to warrant censoring herself.
Emma also points to how effective social media can be in providing much needed support on what can be quite an isolating parenting journey. She says ‘Mummy’ Facebook pages were invaluable for getting feedback and support when she was suffering severe sleep deprivation while trying to get her first child to reach every parent’s Everest — sleeping through the night.
The pervasiveness of social media in everyday life seems to be intensifying, and for parents, the dilemmas surrounding social media will only increase.
Searching for information on this myself, I found that while much research around the behaviour of parents online has been undertaken in the US and UK, there has been no extensive study of Australian parents.
That’s why colleague at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Anna Potter, and I are undertaking a research project to investigate how and why parents use social media.
We’re asking Australian parents to complete a survey outlining what they believe are the risks and benefits for social media.
The results of the study will be used to paint a comprehensive picture of how Australian parents use social media and can help inform the development of strategies for parents to navigate a digital future.
Dr Renee Barnes teaches journalism at the University of the Sunshine Coast. She is the author of Uncovering Commenting Culture: Trolls, Fanboys and Lurkers, which examines the role of online commenting in society.