Much has been said recently about the degree to which parents share images, anecdotes and information about their kids online, a practice that has become known as “sharenting.”
Writer Christie Tate wrote an essay for The Washington Post last month about the moment her fourth-grader discovered how much Tate had written about her throughout her childhood. When her daughter asked her to stop, Tate wrote that she couldn’t make such a promise. The response from readers was critical, to say the least.
As parents, we do a lot of hand-wringing over how our children will handle social media as they enter their tween and teen years. This sort of stuff wasn’t around when we were their age, we lament. They aren’t mature enough to handle the responsibility, they can’t yet understand the longterm ramifications of what they post, they won’t grasp that once it’s there, it’s there forever.
But even if you’ve managed to practice enough restraint to keep information and images of your kids offline, it doesn’t mean everyone else has. As The Atlantic reports, googling your own name has become a childhood rite of passage for our kids’ generation. And what they’re finding, while not always harmful or embarrassing, at least borders on intrusive.
When Ellen, an 11-year-old, finally decided to Google herself, she didn’t expect to find anything, because she doesn’t yet have her own social-media accounts. She was stunned when she found years of swim scores and sports statistics on the web. A personal story she wrote in third grade was also published on a class website with her name attached. “I didn’t think I would be out there like this on the internet,” she told me.
In the meantime, parents should be googling their kids’ names periodically to see what kind of digital identity is being created without their knowledge. Schools — particularly preschools and elementary schools — may be posting photos and videos on social media in an effort to keep parents informed and involved. A quick search of your child’s name, especially if it’s somewhat unique, may turn up their involvement in sports or after-school clubs. Or you might discover that your Aunt Mary’s Facebook profile is still public and those holiday party photos are on display for all the world to see.
Once you discover who or what is sharing information online about your child, you can start to figure out how to take back the control, whether by investigating the school’s social media policy or by sitting Aunt Mary down and helping to adjust her privacy settings.