Meet the sharents: 'I share photos because I want to show my son off'
'Sharenting' may have come in for some serious flack lately but our reporter discovers the act of posting pictures of your kids on social media can have many benefits
In the beginning I was determined I wasn't going to be one of those parents, rolling my eyes as my Facebook timeline turned into a saturated swamp of baby snaps. But of course that all changed before I'd even left the maternity ward.
He hasn't turned three yet and I've already had my son's image in this newspaper, on media websites and on TV. Most of my photos uploaded to Facebook feature him. He's in my tweets, my WhatsApp profile pic and on my screen saver. What's more, I don't even feel bad about it.
I'm stunned that this week's Ofcom report revealed just 46pc of parents share photos of their kids on social media. I'd thought a parent who isn't 'sharenting' - it's in the dictionary now, look it up - was a digital unicorn.
What I don't get is the negativity that abounds around the practice. There's been a wave of (decidedly snobbish) abuse heaped at David and Victoria Beckham for posting photos of their kids (particularly Harper) with the subtext that only a certain 'type' of parent parades his or her offspring online to strangers. And yet a vast spectrum of celebrities are at it: Reese Witherspoon, Olivia Wilde, David Arquette, Carrie Underwood, Liz Hurley, Neil Patrick Harris and Madonna, to name but a few.
What's more, plenty of people love celeb sharenting. Kim Kardashian's recent Instagram post on North's fourth birthday amassed 2.7 million likes; her niece, Dream, isn't one yet but already has one million followers of her own.
Whilst much has been written about children's right to privacy, right to be forgotten and the associated negative effects of spending time gazing at other people's lives on social media (all important issues), there has been much less time devoted to sharenting's positives. But they do exist. In her research paper 'Sharenting: Children's privacy in the age of digital media', legal scholar Stacey Steinberg found sharenting had many benefits, including building communities, giving a voice to parents struggling through difficult parenting experiences and connecting with friends and family around the world.
Maja Sonne Damkjaer, a Danish research assistant at the School of Communication and Culture, Aarhus University, found in her project 'Mediatised Parenthood' that posting online can help with developing parental identity and transitioning into this new role, particularly "for men to express their social role as parents".
Some 72pc of parents polled agree that online sharenting makes them feel as if they are not alone. "I like celebs and other bloggers 'sharenting' because often it shows they are normal parents like us, they have the same struggles dealing with toddler tantrums and feeling stressed in public like us," says blogger Yaz O. "It's nice not to feel alone and I suppose it's quite validating when a celebrity you admire says they have similar struggles."
Yaz, a stay-at-home mum to four (aged 10, six, three and nine months), set up her beauty, lifestyle and parenting blog, glittermamawishes.com, five years ago when childcare costs prevented her continuing employment as a beauty therapist.
Blogging about parenting while suffering from anxiety and depression has given her a voice that's resonated with her thousands of followers. "I've gotten some lovely feedback on posts or topics I've talked about on my social media and it's lovely to have helped someone feel they are not alone in their feelings," she says.
Fiona Naughton, the mum-of-two behind dollydowsie.com, sees her blog as an extension of the photo albums and baby books parents have always kept. "I use the blog as an online scrapbook of sorts, to share all our adventures as a family and to document our lives together," she explains. "Photography has become a big passion of mine and my sons are my favourite people to photograph."
This year, dad-of-one Jonny McCambridge set up his parenting blog, whatsadaddyfor.blog, after finding himself without a job for the first time in more than two decades. "I was looking after my son full-time and, while this was massively fulfilling, I wanted a medium to reach out to the rest of the world, something to fulfil my need to be creative, tell stories and connect with people," he explains. Most days, his posts will include a photo of his four-year-old, with the blog now getting about 300 visitors a day.
Internet psychologist Graham Jones agrees there are several benefits to sharenting. "These include the feeling of connection and being part of a community (a real bonus to parents who are at home all day) and also the fact that friends 'liking' or commenting positively on what a person shares will make them feel warm and positive too."
His concern isn't so much about sharenting as 'over-sharenting'. "It's about balance," he explains. "When all an individual does is post pictures of their children, they seem one-sided and without much depth to their personality. It's no different to going out to dinner with friends and one of the group talking constantly about one subject." Because it's such a new phenomenon, it's impossible to know what impact, if any, sharenting will have on our kids. But the vast majority of parents are responsible in what they choose to share online, with Ofcom's finding that 84pc of parents posting photos only shared things their children would be happy about.
It's worth considering other parents too - Stella McCartney was reportedly furious at David Beckham for posting a photo of her daughter, beside Harper, online - a big sharenting 'no-no'. "I always ask before posting pics of my friends' kids and I wouldn't put up a video or picture if a stranger's child's face was in the background," says Yaz.
She also won't share nude photos of her children or any anecdote she feels 'isn't my story to share'. On his private Facebook page Jonny shares straightforward snaps of his toddler, but on the public blog, his son's face is usually obscured.
"I'll never take pictures of them using the toilet or potty, pictures of 'poo explosions' or tantrums," adds Fiona. "If I wouldn't like it being done to myself, then it doesn't get shared."
It's an obvious but key point: parents share pictures of their kids because they think they're gorgeous and they love them. "I share photos online because I love my son dearly and can't stop myself from showing him off," admits Jonny. "I think that's a natural instinct in parents and so long as you're not forcing it on to an unwilling audience, I see no reason to rein it in."
He adds: "There is so much cynicism and negativity online that it can be dispiriting, but I would hope most people would exempt cute kids (and parents who just want to show them off) from that treatment."
At a time when there's already so much mummy (and daddy) guilt around, and many other much more valid things to get riled up about, can't we just leave off slating sharenting? If you don't like it, just don't 'like' it and scroll on by. As for me, I'll be getting my dopamine hit from the adorable video a pal's just posted of her baby laughing.
Five rules of 'sharenting' netiquette
1) Don't 'sharent' photos of other people's kids without getting permission first.
2) Consider how your children will feel down the line about what you're sharing. If you wouldn't like it done to you, don't do it to them. Nudity is best avoided, no matter how cute you think they are.
3) Think about safety - have you used your child's full name? Are location settings on? Be mindful of how the information you're sharing could be potentially used.
4) Don't post multiple photos of your child doing the same thing. Only post a pic if it tells a story.
5) Know your audience. If you're writing a parenting blog, it's fine to assume your followers want to know about your kids, but don't be a baby bore on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.