oversharingSince the advent of social media, efforts have been made to teach children the dangers of oversharing online. Shockingly though, it seems that it’s parents who might need to learn a thing or two about oversharing. A relatively new phenomenon dubbed sharenting or oversharenting reflects the trend of parents posting text, video, images or even entire blogs and vlogs (video blogs) about their children. Sharenting has been discussed as far back as 2013, but recent developments, such as new studies in the U.S. and privacy laws abroad, have kept the issue relevant. What exactly is sharenting and how does it hurt kids? We have the breakdown to help you determine if you’re guilty of sharenting.

What counts as oversharing?

When does a parent cross the boundary into non-acceptable sharing? It seems to depend on who you ask. Two studies, one from the University of Michigan and another from the University of Washington, talk about parents’ understanding of oversharing and children’s expectations for parents on social media.

The Michigan study reports that parents mostly share with one another as a means of seeking parenting support. Discussions can include anything from nutritional issues to behavioral problems. While parents thought that sharing for advice and support was fine, many expressed that inappropriate or embarrassing photos, as well as any identifying personal information were off-limits — over half of the parents surveyed knew of at least one other parent sharing this type of information. On the other hand, the Washington study highlighted the kids’ views of their parents’ online sharing — finding that compared to parents, twice as many kids (ages 10 to 17) thought that parents overshared. The study defined parental oversharing as content that was either embarrassing or posted without the child’s consent.

Oversharing is a bigger deal than you may think

While oversharing is almost the norm in the U.S., European lawmakers have a stricter stance when it comes to online privacy, so much so that some countries have created consequences for sharenting. For example, in March legal experts issued a warning that French parents posting pictures of children online, without consent, could be fined by their child or face jail time should their child demand compensation as an adult. In a similar vein, German law enforcement has made public announcements reiterating the consequences of oversharing information about minors.

How does oversharing hurt kids?

There are a number of ways which oversharing can affect kids, but some of the biggest consequences are:

An irrevocable online presence. Kids today might develop an online profile before their first teeth come in, meaning they’ll have to deal with the consequences of having an online identity before they can even say the word “Internet.” Just as embarrassing photos on social media could hurt your personal brand, it can also damage your child’s. By creating an extensive online identity for their children, especially one that’s unfiltered (or lacking privacy settings), parents could potentially be hurting the way future peers, teachers, employers, landlords and school admission officers see their child.

Identity theft. It goes without saying that an extensive online presence is not only hard to manage, but it makes you highly vulnerable to identity theft. Imagine how much easier it could be for the digital identity of a child to be stolen and then unknowingly used for years. Because children have limited options for monitoring and fighting identity theft, in many cases they don’t learn of their stolen identities until they’re adults.

Cyber-kidnapping and predators. There are many instances of children’s photos ending up in the hands of cyber-kidnappers who claim these images as their own. Although creepy, a large number of these cyber-kidnappers are merely people playing out their parenthood fantasies. That said, on the darker end of the spectrum, a child’s identity and photos could attract the attention of real predators and put their safety at risk.

Psychological effects. While there are no long-term studies regarding the effects of sharenting on children, a number of psychologists have individually voiced concerns. To start, child psychologist Dr. Susan Bartell indicated to CBS that sharenting-like behaviors circumvent a child’s consent and may teach your children that it’s acceptable behavior. Similarly, psychologist Aric Sigman articulated to The Guardian that children develop their identities by reflecting on private moments, and social media disrupts this process. Finally, there are real instances of children being cyberbullied over content on social media, such as this toddler with a rare condition who became the target of Internet memes.

Ways parents can share responsibly

It’s okay to share snippets of your life as a parent but, as with personal sharing, parental sharing should follow some key rules:

1. Limit what you share. Although it’s easy to share every special moment in your child’s life, doing so may be exposing your child to the threats detailed above. By limiting your sharing to specific life events, like graduations or their first job, and avoiding publicly posting any identifying information about your child (name, age, date of birth or gender), you are not only creating a positive online identity for your child, but also avoiding accidentally exposing them to potentially preying eyes.

2. Turn off geolocation. Another hidden danger that many aren’t aware of is geolocation, as it has the potential to expose your or your child’s location. As such, parents should avoid “checking in” to a location with their child on social media and consider disabling geolocation altogether. Visit our guide to geolocation to learn more.

3. Tighten privacy settings. In a lot of cases children’s identities get leaked, not because parents post a lot about them, but usually because of lax privacy settings. On sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other social media site, you’ll want to make sure you have the strongest privacy settings and ensure you’re only sharing with close friends and family. It also important to note that social media sites often make adjustments to their privacy settings, which means you should be sure to check in on your settings regularly (every couple months or so).

4. Monitor your child’s digital footprint. We made a case for Googling yourself, but the same goes for your kids too. If you’ve put any of their information out into the world, you’re going to want to monitor your child’s online presence by creating a Google search alert, which will email you whenever your child’s name is found online. If you find any information about your child, you’ll want to review it from the perspective of an admissions officer or a future employer and if it’s potentially embarrassing or inappropriate for the Internet, request that the search engine removes it.

For more information about privacy and safe Internet browsing practices, read our privacy blog. And check out our guide to child identity theft to learn more.