Celebrities are not known for making sensible decisions, but this week Cheryl Cole and Liam Payne set an example by refusing to share multiple photographs of their newborn baby on social media.
Other than one grainy image the pair both posted to their Instagram accounts, the couple made a conscious choice not to publish any more photographs of their son on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, in order to protect his privacy.
Delve into the Facebook feed of anyone over 20, and you will find an endless supply of parents sharing photographs of cute children running into the sea, babies wrapped up in blankets or toddlers eating at their high chairs.
Shaping children’s digital identity
“Sharenting” continues until children reach the age of 13 – the minimum age Facebook requires for someone to create an account – and often beyond.
The Collins Dictionary – which named sharenting as one of its words of the year for 2016 – defines the term as “the habitual use of social media to share news images, etc of one’s children”.
One of the best things about social media is the ability to share fun pictures with friends and family around the world. The habitual sharing of one’s children is to be expected from a generation brought up with the internet. It is the natural side-effect of a society where adults now spend more time in front of their screens than they do asleep.
But sharenting also comes with complications that may be ignored in the eagerness to post photos of the latest bedtime saga. Potential harms include the increased possibility of having a child’s identity stolen online, or sharing revealing or embarrassing information that may be misused by others, according to findings in the Journal of American Paediatrics this week.
As I watch friends immortalise their newborns with personalised hashtags on public Instagram accounts, perhaps the most concerning aspect of sharenting is the control it gives parents to shape their child’s digital identity without their knowledge – or permission.
Not everyone aspires for their name to be the first search result on Google – not least when their online footprint has been shaped by their parents for 13 years or more.
In an era where the safeguarding of children online has never been higher up the political agenda, parents should be encouraged to set an example of how to use the internet responsibly as well.