It’s a weird time to be a parent these days.
On top of responsibilities like raising an actual human being, parents are now asking themselves, “how much of my child’s life should be available on social media?”. When does it become too much?
The rise of the Internet, and its growing accessibility worldwide, is one of today’s most defining phenomena. Back in the good ol’ 1990s and early 2000s, the internet was just becoming a thing. I still have vivid memories of times when my brother and I would fight for our time on the family computer, only to be kicked off when someone called the home phone. Oh, how times have changed.
Now, the internet is everywhere. It’s estimated that 26% of global media consumption will be accounted for by mobile internet use in 2019. The internet, and social media, has affected every aspect of our lives: how we consume media, communicate with each other, even how we get from one destination to another.
Safe to say, it will undeniably shape a new generation of children growing in a digital world, with as many as one in three children worldwide using the internet. As the internet becomes more interwoven in our society, it’s hardly a surprise that many children perceive it as a part of their human rights. Even though most social media services require users to be 13 years or older to join, it is simply too easy to get past these barriers. All you need is a fake email account, and to lie about your date of birth. I did it once, your children are doing it now, and your children’s children will do it too. In fact, 60 to 70% of primary school kids are on social media today.
But I have another concern. Have you ever heard of the word ‘sharenting’? It basically just refers to a parent who is prone to sharing posts and pictures about their children’s lives online. In fact, research is showing that the average parent will share one thousand images of their child by the time they’re five years old.
But my question is, why?
Is it simply a case of digital narcissism, in which parents are reliving their youth through the lives of their children online? Or is it a harmless extension of the insatiable need to portray our lives through a positive lense?
Another possible cause is the relentless occurance of “mummy-shaming” that takes place both in the real world and online. Around 60% of women claim that they have been shamed for their parenting choices, with new mothers especially feeling the heat. In a world where two thirds of mothers are feeling inadequate in their parenting skills due to being shamed by others, perhaps ‘sharenting’ has come about as a way to broadcast to the world “I’m a good parent!”.
Now I’m not saying it’s wrong to put up the occasional photo of your child on social media, but I think it’s important to ask the question: where should parents draw the line? In a world where social media has fast become a platform for individuals to monetise their content, it’s becoming more commonplace to see children being used as a means of making money.
Don’t believe me? Meet Heather Armstong, the woman behind the ultimate mummy blog dooce. Armstrong was one of the first to document the lives of her children online, and was earning so much money that her husband, Jon, even quit his job to help “run the business”.
And that’s where this whole phenomenon loses me. When did we let children become cash-cows for the family? Children reaction videos are some of the highest viewed content on Youtube, raking in millions of views per video. You can even find content of babies experiencing things for the first time, from their first rainfall to head massagers.
Dive a little deeper, and things get more sinister. Ever heard of the YouTube channel DaddyOFive? The channel was wildly popular for “prank” videos that parents, Mike and Heather Martin, performed on their children. While a harmless prank is all well and good, there’s something disturbing about watching two grown adults intentionally film their children sob on camera because they were tricked into thinking they were in trouble. However, what is most troubling is the uncovering of abuse that was particularly targeted towards their son Cody, which can be summarised by a distraught Philip DeFranco. The worst thing about this whole scenario? The DaddyOFive channel had approximately 750,000 subscribers and it was estimated that their videos generated $1,100 on a daily basis.
And how about this case, where 13-year-old “Allie” began monetising her channel that featured doll reviews, at her mother’s request. As her success skyrocketed, so did the pressure from her mother, leaving Allie with an anxiety disorder. This is unsurprising, especially considering the long list of concerns Professor John Oates outlines. From emotional distress, to panic attacks, it seems there are many potential effects to a child’s mental health at the expense of some “harmless” family vlogging.
Another big issue for me personally is the idea of consent. I grew up in an age where this was not a concern to me, and thank god! I would be mortified at the idea of my image circulating around the Internet for the world to see. I’m not alone in this opinion, and as Clementine Ford puts it, children can’t consent to their faces being shared with millions of people. To me, this seems obvious: a small child clearly could not comprehend the ramifications of uploading these images to the massive audience that lurks the Internet. Hell, they probably couldn’t fully understand it. Even the French national police are against it, claiming “parents are charged with protecting the image of their children”. Yet, why is it that 80% of children have an online presence by the time they’re two years old?
I’m not saying it’s wrong to share the image of your child on social media. But when you, as the parent, begin to profit from this, it makes me especialy uneasy. When every moment of childhood is meticulously recorded and shared, what’s happening to that childhood?
Call me old fashioned, but I think my (future) child has a right to their privacy online.