Scrolling through social media, it’s not hard to find it.
Photos of kids’ parties, a first day of school, a tweet seeking recommendations for the best backpacks for little ones.
Whether it’s a status asking for help, a tweet bemoaning the trials of parenthood or a happy holiday snap, parents are taking to social media to share their journeys.
It’s a phenomenon known as ‘sharenting’. But experts say this habitual use of social media to share every aspect of the parenting journey, may be damaging.
“Today’s parents, many of whom grew up sharing their own lives on social media, may not comprehend the full impact and potential consequences of posting personally identifiable information about their children. Many of these parents engage in ‘sharenting’,” Mariea Grubbs Hoy, co-author of the study and the DeForrest Jackson Professor in the School of Advertising and Public Relations in the College of Communication and Information at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, told Theravive.
In many social circles providing updates on a child’s progress, whether that be their first day of school, a win at athletics day, or other memorable photos and videos, is often seen as the norm. But Grubbs Hoy, along with her co-researcher Alexa K. Fox, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Akron, says the practice may actually be due to vulnerability experienced by new mothers.
In undertaking their research, Grubbs Hoy and Fox created two studies. In the first study, the researchers interviewed 15 mothers. Some were experienced and some were first-time mothers. They ranged in age from 24 to 40, were all Caucasian and highly educated. The women involved in the study said they used social media from anywhere from less than 30 minutes to more than two hours per day.
The women were asked how they felt about motherhood, as well as their tendency to post things about their children on social media. The women were also asked if they were willing to share the personally identifiable information of their children to brands through social media.
They found that the women saw posting on social media either about their motherhood experience or personal information of themselves or their children was a coping strategy. The mothers had reasons of seeking social support or affirmation from others, as well as finding relief from the stress or anxiety surrounding parenting.
“We found that the desire to be, and be seen as, a “Good Mother” motivated mothers’ behavior, including that of what and when to share about their children,” Grubbs Hoy told Theravive.
All of the mothers in the first study noted that they would at times post milestones like significant birthdays, a child’s first time doing something or other “cute” things and wait for likes or comments on their posts. They all identified different ways in which they felt vulnerable during their motherhood journey: new responsibilities, a changing body, or a change in the way they viewed themselves.
Although mothers were eager for affirmation and support through their use of social media, they also acknowledged they were concerned that other users of social media may share the information from their posts in unsavoury ways.
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act was enacted in 1998, six years before Facebook was launched. Under the act, marketers can’t collect data from children aged under 12 without their parents’ consent. However, the researchers argue that mothers are a vulnerable group who may be more susceptible to engagement marketing tactics, that cause them to share too much personally identifiable information about themselves or their children.
“In Study 2, we observed mothers of young children participating in a Twitter chat hosted by Carter’s, Inc., a major baby and children’s apparel company. 69 percent of participants posted commentary related to a risk factor for vulnerability, while 47 per cent shared at least one piece of personally identifiable information about her child, with the most common form being a picture,” Grubbs Hoy said.
Companies may sometimes use social media to provide engagement opportunities for consumers. They may use contests or ask parents to post photos and videos of their children, which the researchers say could further trigger habits of sharenting in parents.
The researchers found that in study two, if a mother did not share a risk factor of vulnerability during the chat, there was less shared of her child’s personally identifiable information.
The researchers say further studies are needed to explore how other caregivers like fathers and grandparents experience vulnerability, and how that may influence the protection of a child’s privacy online.
Elizabeth Pratt is a medical journalist and producer. Her work has appeared on Healthline, The Huffington Post, Fox News, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The Sydney Morning Herald, News.com.au, Escape, The Cusp and Skyscanner. You can read more of her articles here. Or learn more about Elizabeth and contact her via her LinkedIn and Twitter profiles.