From the editor: It’s not children who overshare, it’s the parents

8th April 2016 at 11:00

Parents worry constantly about their children online. Consequently, there is plenty of advice for young people about posting on social media and on the internet, telling them to be careful what they share online, to be careful who they chat to, to think before they post and not to upload or share anything that they wouldn’t want their teachers, friends or parents to see.

But what if it’s the parents who are the problem? A recent study in the US on what rules there should be on the use of technology in families showed a broad consensus between adults and children. But there was one exception: the children were worried that their parents were oversharing online.

So many parents post identifiable photographs and candid stories about their offspring on social media that it’s more of a surprise when they don’t. Avid professional tweeter and physics professor Dame Athene Donald wanted to share the occasion of her daughter’s wedding with her followers on Twitter last week, but she did it with a photograph of her daughter’s back and with her new husband obscured, to protect her “anonymity”.

Her daughter is an adult, but what about a child? What right does a parent have to share information about them online? One woman recently put a photo of her son’s homework on Facebook for the amusement of her friends. One of her friend’s children saw it and told her son, who felt humiliated and demanded to know why she had not sought his permission before posting it. It’s a good question and one asked by children in the family technology survey.

“Twice as many children as parents expressed concerns about family members oversharing personal information about them on Facebook and other social media without permission,” said Sarita Schoenebeck, assistant professor in the University of Michigan’s School of Information and one of the report’s authors. Children, she said, found the content embarrassing and felt very frustrated when their parents continued to share it.

Image rights

That cute picture of your naked three-year-old that you have forgotten taking and posting will still be there when he or she has grown up because, unlike you, the internet remembers everything. We constantly lecture children and teenagers to control their digital footprint, but it’s hard for them to control one that has already been planted by someone else.

We go to great lengths to protect images of children in society, especially in education. In many schools, photographs and videos of concerts and plays are banned and teachers have to ask parents to sign a release form so that they can use any photographs of their child (as do magazines and newspapers). The assumption is that parents control the rights to their children’s image.

But can they control them in perpetuity? Should parents have to ask for their children’s permission before posting online? And if so, at what age?

This is the first generation born into and growing up with social media (Facebook has only been around for 12 years, Twitter for 10 and Instagram for six). They will have to live with its consequences, so it is no surprise that in the US study, far more children than adults wanted rules on the information that parents shared about them. And experts in France have warned parents that they could be sued in years to come for posting photos of their children on social media.

As parents, we can be confident that there are controls in place to protect our children from others; the question is, how do we protect them from ourselves?


This is an article from the 8 April edition of TESThis week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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