Locations:
Search IconSearch

Sharing Isn’t Always Caring: The Risks and Dangers of ‘Sharenting’

Posting intimate details of your child’s life on social media, like their birth date and school name, can have serious consequences

Child watching caregiver posting on phone and laptop

Have you ever heard of “sharenting”? It’s a combination of the words “sharing” and “parenting.” And it’s one of the unique challenges Millennials face when raising children.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD, first learned about sharenting online. But it also quickly popped up in counseling sessions between parents and children. “Teenagers, in particular, bring it up because their parents are sharing information they’re uncomfortable with,” Dr. Albers explains.

“Sharenting” is a pop-psychology term. But that doesn’t make it trivial.

“We need to understand the long-term emotional impact sharenting may have on children — impacts that we cannot see or fathom yet because they haven’t been researched,” she adds.

What is sharenting?

“Sharenting” refers to the act of digital oversharing, of excessively posting information, pictures, stories or updates about your child’s life. In most cases, parents engage in sharenting with the purest of motives. But it can have unintended consequences for their kid’s privacy, safety, mental health, social relationships and future prospects. It can also damage your relationship with them.

“Sharenting comes with lots of gray areas regarding a child’s privacy, autonomy, protection and right to informed consent,” Dr. Albers clarifies. “Some countries have put regulations in place to ensure parents are sharing safely. But we don’t have many laws in the U.S. that protect children online. Everyone has to figure out for themselves when their social media use crosses a line.”

Unfortunately, line crossing is becoming more common. A 2015 survey of parents found that 74% of parents using social media knew another parent engaged in sharenting behavior.

  • 56% said the parent shared embarrassing information about their kid.
  • 51% said the parent provided details that revealed their child’s location.
  • 27% said the parent circulated inappropriate photos.

Dr. Albers suspects those numbers have gone up in recent years.

“The sharenting trend accelerated during the pandemic because quarantine meant connecting mostly through the internet,” Dr. Albers explains. The growing popularity (and financial success) of parenting influencers hasn’t helped either.

Examples of sharenting

Dr. Albers says sharenting can start really early. Back in 2010, a widely reported study by AVG Technology found that 92% of American 2-year-olds already had an online presence. That number’s probably even higher now.

Think about posting a birth announcement on social media. You probably shouldn’t share your baby’s full name and birthdate if your posts aren’t protected. If you mention the hospital you’re staying in, you’re revealing your location — making it much easier to determine your home address. Sharing your baby’s health status is pretty standard stuff, but not ideal from a consent perspective.

Advertisement

You get the idea. The individual pieces of information you share online may seem harmless. But together, they paint a picture of your life you — and your child — might not want a stranger to see.

Here are some other examples of sharenting:

  • Sharing a photo of your kid’s report card because you’re so proud of them.
  • Putting video footage of the April Fool’s prank you played on your child online.
  • Writing a blog post with tips for potty training your toddler — complete with photos of them sitting, triumphant, on their porcelain throne.
  • Posting the gnarly-looking X-ray of your kiddo’s broken leg.
  • Using your teen’s personal experiences as evidence during a social media argument.
  • Shaming your child online after they got caught shoplifting.

How sharenting impacts your children

Your child doesn’t have to be “internet famous” for your social media sharing to have a negative impact because we all have to develop our own unique identity as we grow up. Sharenting can co-opt, delay or disrupt that process. Essentially, a kid’s self-representation has to compete with or conform to their parent’s representation of them. In some cases, that conflict damages their mental health and slows their development.

“Sometimes, parents unknowingly create pressure on their kids by crafting an idealized image online of who their child is,” Dr. Albers notes. “That can lead to dips in self-esteem and self-worth.”

And what about negative posts? Humiliating your child is harmful enough. But if you post about their performance, personality flaws or unbecoming conduct, you may impact your kid’s future educational and professional prospects. It can also do damage in the short term, by hurting their reputation at school and in their neighborhood. It could even lead to bullying.

And then, there’s the trust issue. Sharenting can create a culture of secrecy in your home, with your children withholding information from you for fear that you’ll broadcast it. If sharenting causes a breakdown in communication, the consequences for your relationship with your kid could be irreparable.

The dangers of sharenting

Sharenting doesn’t only put your child’s mental health at risk — it can also endanger them physically. We don’t always realize how much identifying information our posts and photos contain.

Advertisement

Dr. Albers offers an example. “Let’s say you take a picture of your kid posing in front of their new school,” she illustrates. “Now, suddenly, everybody with access to that image knows where they go to school and how to find them.” If your kid’s holding one of those first-day chalkboard signs, the photo is likely disclosing their age, their teacher’s name and more.

“Sharenting opens a window directly into a child’s life, which predators or those with ill intent can abuse,” Dr. Albers states. Putting your kid’s life online can enable identity theft, harassment, bullying, exploitation and even violence. And concepts like “stranger danger” get blurry when everybody seems to know who you are.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is only making the problem worse. The Associated Press recently reported that bad actors are using image generators to create sexually explicit content featuring children and teenagers. The source material: Photos of fully clothed kids posted on social media sites.

Another problem: Your content isn’t protected by copyright, so anybody who has access can take the material you post and represent it as their own. And remember, most social media platforms specify in their terms and conditions that they have a right to use anything you post for their own purposes.

If you’d be upset to find somebody else using it, you shouldn’t post it.

Why do parents engage in sharenting?

Sure, some parents deliberately engage in sharenting as part of a larger pattern of abuse, neglect or exploitation. But that’s not the norm. Most sharenting is well-intentioned. Parents share details about their children online because:

  • They’re proud of them. You love your child. And you want everybody else to love them, too! But what you see as adorable may be a source of embarrassment for your kid.
  • They want to build an archive. Having a digital record of your child’s life has benefits. But if you have it, other people may have it, too.
  • They want to connect with loved ones. Social media lets you bring friends and family from all over the world along on your parenting journey — and benefit from their advice and support. But your kid may not want their relatives to know about their newest crush.
  • They’re building camaraderie with other parents. Whether you need to vent, get ideas or just want to talk to somebody over the age of 2 for a change, there’s a forum or app for that. Unfortunately, anybody can join them.
  • They’re trying to help others. Maybe your child has a rare medical condition and you want to raise awareness. Maybe you want the world to know you love your nonbinary kid just as they are. Maybe you want to teach other parents how to spot self-harming behavior. These are admirable goals, but they require disclosing information your child may not want made public.

Some parents are more likely to struggle with sharenting than others. Take extra care in thinking through your social media presence if:

  • You’ve got a history of trauma. If your boundaries have been repeatedly violated in the past, you may need help understanding and respecting your child’s.
  • You have attention-seeking tendencies. Do you have a condition that makes regulating your mood or behavior difficult? That could impact your social media use. A 2020 study found people with traits associated with bipolar personality disorder (BPD) valued their social media image more than others. They also posted, edited, deleted — and regretted their digital interactions — more frequently.
  • You have low self-esteem. Studies show that as social media use goes up, self-esteem often goes down. And research suggests most sharenting posts aren’t truly about children. They’re about crafting (and validating) the parent’s self-image.
  • You’ve lost your sense of self. You’ve probably heard people say, “My kids are my whole life.” It’s a common saying. But if it feels true, boundaries may blur — and cause you to build your digital identity around your children.
  • You feel isolated or depressed. Dr. Albers says gaining followers and likes can feel extra good when you’re depressed, to the point of being addictive.

Advertisement

How to address sharenting

Whether you’ve engaged in sharenting or simply want to avoid it in the future, Dr. Albers recommends these best practices.

Admit mistakes, make changes and apologize sincerely

We all mess up. Maybe you’re lucky, and your whoopsie involves an errant comment or two. Maybe your whole digital footprint is problematic. Either way, Dr. Albers says that you should respond to your child’s concerns with care.

“Parents need to recognize and acknowledge when the things they’ve done online create emotional digital scars,” she urges. “It’s important to acknowledge the trespass, do your best to rectify it and learn from it.”

Be mindful of your social media use

If you’re trying to decide whether a post counts as sharenting, ask yourself these questions:

  • What’s the content?
  • Why am I posting it?
  • Who’s my intended audience? Have I set my permissions accordingly?
  • Is my child old enough to understand the concept of a digital footprint? If they are, did I ask their consent? If not, do I think they’d be happy to see this online when they’re older?
  • Did I remove any identifying information?
  • Could somebody use this content to harm my child?
  • Would I be upset to lose ownership of this content, or see the platform I post on use it for their own purposes?
  • Am I sharing anything that would be inappropriate or embarrassing for a stranger, romantic partner college admissions committee or future employer to know about my child?

Advertisement

When in doubt, don’t post.

Get creative

Avoiding sharenting doesn’t have to take the joy out of social media. Instead, see it as an opportunity to be creative!

Post close-ups of your baby’s precious hands and feet. Pose your child so you only see the back of their head. Instead of blogging under your real name, use that great pen name you came up with in middle school. Let your child choose a nickname or an emoji to cover their face with in photos.

Talk to your family and friends

Set boundaries with the other adults in your child’s life about how (or if) they should be representing your child online. It may save you some unpleasant conversations in the future.

Be a good role model

When we take responsibility for our online behavior, we aren’t just demonstrating respect for our kids. We’re teaching them, too.

“Parents really have an opportunity to role model what is and isn’t OK to share online,” Dr. Albers emphasizes. That’s why — even if you’ve never engaged in sharenting — you should take an uncompromising look at your digital footprint. Once you have, set boundaries together, as a family.

“Set really clear expectations,” she recommends. “Be specific. Can you share each other’s names or not? How much skin is appropriate in a photo that’s posted online?” Once you’ve made those decisions, stick to them — and hold each other accountable.

Social media can be difficult terrain to navigate. But if you do it in good faith, and with plenty of respectful communication, you and your child can enjoy its benefits while avoiding the risks.

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Parents applying sunscreen to their toddler at the beach
June 12, 2024/Children's Health
Sunscreen for Babies: When Can You Use Sunscreen and What Kind Is Safest?

Babies shouldn’t wear sunscreen before 6 months old, so opt for shade and cooler parts of the day for outdoor fun time

People biking, scootering and walking in a park
June 11, 2024/Children's Health
Cycle Smart: 8 Bike Safety Tips for Kids

Make sure their bike is the right size, find a helmet that fits properly and teach them the rules of the road

Smiling parent holding smiling baby in a pool
June 7, 2024/Children's Health
When Can Babies Go in the Pool?

Wait until they’re at least 6 months old before your little one takes their first dunk

Person relaxing in bubble bath, reading a book
May 21, 2024/Parenting
10 Ways to Practice Self-Care as a Parent

Move your body, spend time with other adults and practice gratitude to help regain your sense of self

Teen lying on bed holding cell phone up reading it
May 9, 2024/Parenting
Sexting: The Risks and How To Talk to Your Children About It

Sexting has become all too common among kids, putting them at risk for bullying, blackmailing and human trafficking

person looking at phone surrounded by whirlwind of bad news and negativity
May 6, 2024/Mental Health
How to Finally Stop Doomscrolling

Embrace mindfulness and practice checking your phone consciously, not compulsively

Teen sitting in window well staring out the window
May 3, 2024/Mental Health
Signs Your Teen Is Self-Harming

Unexplained injuries, mood changes and sudden isolation may be signs your child needs help

Two caregivers, with one holding a child on shoulders, walking happily outside
May 1, 2024/Parenting
Our Safe and Responsible Guide To Co-Parenting

Keeping open lines of communication and working together as a team for your children are key to co-parenting

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims

Ad