Are you an uploader? Lianne Kolirin embarks on a virtual venture, looking at the increasing popularity of the online phenomenon: sharenting.
The delivery suite was once a private space for parents to welcome their new addition into the world.
But no longer. Since the advent of social media, mothers and fathers have been inviting friends, family, colleagues and passing acquaintances to share this precious moment – not literally, but virtually.
Research shows babies born in Britain make their first appearance online within an hour of birth. Almost two thirds of parents (62 per cent) post pictures on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr and other sites, and they take an average of 57.9 minutes to do so.
As anyone on Facebook knows, more and more of us regularly upload images of our children and updates about their antics. Commissioned by print site Posterista, the poll of 2,367 parents of under-fives saw a whopping 64 per cent claim they upload such images at least three times a week. One in five do so at least three times a month, while only six per cent said they never post images of their children.
The motives for the phenomenon – dubbed sharenting – are varied. More than half (56 per cent) said they did so to keep distant friends and family updated; nearly as many (49 per cent) do it to express their love for their child; a third (34 per cent) believe it is an ideal way to store memories; while more than one in five (22 per cent) admit it is a form of bragging.
Back in September, American Amy Webb, head of digital strategy agency Webbmedia Group, posted a feature on web magazine Slate, about why she and her partner will never post information about their daughter online. She said it was the only way to protect her child against facial recognition, Facebook profiling, and corporate data mining, and suggested the tendency to sharent is robbing our children of their anonymity. Her article proved highly controversial, with many reacting angrily to the suggestion that they had compromised their children. So how much thought should we give this issue?
We asked psychologist and biologist Aric Sigman, who has written extensively on the health implications of excessive screen time.
The father-of-four said, “There are good things that can come from using a social tool to aid you in a healthy way, but it seems to be displacing a lot of social face to face interaction.
“As we all know, mothers encounter more of a sense of isolation, particularly as many do not have that extended support network around them anymore. A lot of women feel exposed and out of sync with the rest of society and social networking may fill some of those gaps. However, it has been overused by a lot of people from all different demographics in our society, from children to teenagers and new parents.”
Dr Sigman is less about the content, than the amount of time we spend online.
“Non-essential screen time is a huge health and mental health issue,” he says.
The physical down side of this sedentary pastime is obvious, but there is also an emotional aspect as a growing number of people develop a “dependency” on social media.
Dr Sigman says, “Facebook and social networking offers a form of social comparison. Previously people would do that with real people who lived nearby, but on Facebook you can big yourself up to anyone you want and people use it as a social marketing tool. It is the virtual version of keeping up with the Joneses – but it isn’t the same.”
“It leaves out a lot of nuances that might not go missing if you were speaking to your friend on the phone. One effect is competitiveness which leaves some people feeling like winners and others like losers.”
He adds, “There’s nothing wrong with using social networking to do what you used to do with an envelope and a stamp, like sending images of your baby to your loved ones, but what can be a tool also ends up being a burden if it’s misused or over-used.”
“We need to get the balance right. Screen time is a form of consumption, just like salt, sugar or anything else, so we should think carefully about the amount of our consumption.”
Part-time teacher Esther Bitan Spitzer has been a member of Facebook for more than a decade, but the 27-year-old rarely posts pictures or details of her toddler son.
She says, “There isn’t much good that can come of it. It can upset childless friends or those struggling with secondary infertility. I don’t see the point of sticking my little one’s pictures all over everyone’s screens. Children are too innocent for that.”
“I also steer away from the ‘young mum competition’, where they are obsessed with which baby reached the next milestone first and worry themselves silly if their baby is three weeks ‘late’.”
Privacy is also an important issue. Esther says, “Once a picture is online anyone can get hold of it, blow it up, use it to do what they want and the thoughts of someone using my baby’s innocent pictures for immoral purposes creep me out.”
Mother-of-two Charlotte Antoniou describes herself as a “fully fledged Facebook addict”, but her experience has not always been a positive one.
The horticultural therapist from north London was totally against the site and people who sharented, but all that changed with the arrival of her second daughter two years ago.
She says, “I thought it could be dangerous putting things up and opening yourself up to everybody. Those were my initial feelings, but then I realised there were lots of things happening that I didn’t know about because I wasn’t on Facebook, so I thought I should join.”
Charlotte posted regular updates about her children and how happy they all were. Or at least that was how it looked.
Speaking candidly, she admits, “Looking back on it, I was going through a difficult time with post-natal illness and perhaps looked to Facebook to portray this mummy who was having an amazing time with her children. Yet inside I wasn’t.”
“Coping with this double virtual life as well as public/private persona was physically and mentally exhausting. The more positive and happy my posts were, the more unhappy I was.”
When Charlotte was diagnosed with post natal depression, Facebook actually turned out to be her saviour as she discovered a private members’ group for women with the condition.
She says, “All the ladies on there had, or were going through, post-natal illness. It helped so much in my recovery.”
Fortunately Sarah Linton-Walls does not share Charlotte’s problem, but she has found the site equally helpful as a first time mum. She belongs to Monster Mummies, a private group for women who had all expected their babies in September 2011.
More than two years later, many regularly meet or update each other about their children’s progress.
She says, “I do post pictures of my son on Facebook, but I might just post them on the Monster Mummies group rather than my own page, as I’m not sure they’d be very interesting for anyone else.”
She adds, “If I think back to all those sleepless nights, it was such a comfort to have loads of other mums on Facebook to chat to. It was so much more useful than any website or book.” ✿
Advice for parents on safe and sensible social networking
• Think twice before accepting somebody as a friend. Would you want that person to access information and pictures of your children?
• Regularly check on your friends list to ensure that you are happy sharing private information with them. Only give information out to people you consider friends in the real world.
• Carefully consider each picture on its own merit. Is it really necessary to show toddlers on the potty or in the bath?
• Consider cropping or editing pictures to make them more suitable for online use.
• Are you posting too much about your children? Over-sharenting may lead people to defriend you.
• The same can be said for bragging. Avoid the temptation to tell everyone how you squeezed yourself into your skinny jeans two weeks after giving birth.
• Share your thoughts about sharenting with grandparents. If you do not want images of your children online, make sure they understand that.
• Avoid creating a sense of isolation by limiting the time you spend online. It will also set a good example for your children.