The dangers of parental oversharing on social media

Social media is addictive by design. And our need to constantly share, dish, and find out what other people are up to begs the question: Have we become a society of “social media yentas?”

As you ponder that humorous concept, consider your own social networking activities and then ask yourself: Am I oversharing?

Actually, millions of people everywhere — regardless of their age and gender — are most likely addicts and don’t even realize it. In the old days, it was called gossiping, or being a busybody or a meddler. Nowadays, it’s called sharing, posting, commenting, following, liking, tweeting, retweeting, and hashtag-ing.

Everyone knows that social networking has many positives, that it can be a powerful force for good. Online communities help people, provide support, and inspire action. And how else can you connect with old friends and find hundreds of new ones (though chances are you won’t ever meet most of them)?

Thanks to the wonders of social networking, proud moms and dads can brag to the world about their adorable offspring and their amazing adventures, family vacations, and celebrations. And teens can publicly swoon over hot boyfriends and girlfriends, and dish about the Kardashians and their cool shenanigans. And mean kids can cruelly bash schoolmates they don’t like while casually posting and texting pouty, suggestive selfies that may one day come back to bite them in the arse.

The behemoth we call social media has a darker side. It feeds on human beings’ universal cravings for attention, recognition, love, excitement, and their desire to connect with others. After all, we are social animals.

Yet, too much social networking can lead to loneliness and depression because as social beings, we need to be around real people, and we enjoy one-on-one interactions. Cyber friends don’t fill that void.

And let’s not forget that since the behemoth can turn on a dime and transform itself into a hate mongering, no-holds-barred, pathological monster that harbors predators, we, as our children’s protectors, must be extra vigilant about oversharing. Along with cyber bullies, identity thieves, stalkers, and lying, sadistic internet trolls, burglars, vengeful spouses and neighbors, curious bosses and future employers (yours and your kids’) are roaming around as well.

By oversharing, are we allowing full access into our inner sanctums? And is that what we really want?

Experts are now confirming that “sharenting” can put your children at risk even when they’re older. You never know who may be Googling their names and checking out social media accounts down the road. So, consider whether you’re providing too much info when it comes to your children. Because, remember, the internet never forgets.

Controlling your presence

While it’s getting harder and harder to monitor kids’ digital lives, you do have the ability to control your own online presence. By gradually weaning yourself off social media — at least for a while or at regular intervals — it will result in more quality time spent with your family, and you’ll be setting a good example for your children as well.

Parental social media habits might also shape their kids’ social media habits, so we ought to be extra considerate about what we post and share.

The internet has become a predator’s playground, and according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center at New Hampshire University, one in 25 youth in one year received an online sexual solicitation where the solicitor tried to make offline contact.

In that same study, one-third of the children in this age group received what is called “aggressive sexual solicitation,” i.e., the predator asked to physically meet them, corresponded with them through regular mail (the child gave the predator his or her home address), or received gifts.

The Center suggests that parents educate their kids about criminal behavior and remind youngsters that many things they post about themselves or their friends may end up being viewed by others, and can prompt contact that could become a problem.

Tell your teen that using the internet or a cellphone to send or sext photos of yourself or friends can get you into trouble with the law. According to the Center, most young people don’t realize that sexual pictures of themselves and other minors can constitute child pornography, and its production and transmission are serious crimes. Teens may see such photos as romantic, fun, adventuresome, or even remunerative.

And it’s not just teens. Parents have been posting and sharing their young children’s photos for years. In this predatory climate, oversharing is just too risky. Did you know that children’s online photos have ended up in ads and on porn sites?

Perhaps all parents should pause, take a deep breath, and try to disconnect and unplug every now and then. And tell everyone in the household to do the same. Then take a few minutes and listen to what your kids are saying, ’cause they probably want you to dial back on that “sharenting.”

A piece titled “Kids Expect Parents to Follow Technology Rules Too” on shines a light on that common behavior. Based on researchers’ findings at the University of Washington and University of Michigan, this study is one of the first to explore children’s expectations for parents’ technology use.

After surveying 249 families with kids between the ages of 10 and 17, the study has revealed some surprising stuff about how kids felt about their parents’ online habits and oversharing. Turns out kids have high expectations — just like their parents.

Perhaps kids should be saying, “Don’t post my photos online without my approval.”

Here’s a suggestion: When your child turns 5, start asking: “Do you want other people to see this?”

Next month, we’ll speak with Michael Osakwe, a writer covering technology. He’ll offer some tips on how to stay safe on social media, so parents can share responsibly.