Parents should be aware of the consequences when posting photos of children online, say Irish psychologists
Documenting your child's life on social media is something many parents do - but oversharing can have consequences, writes Arlene Harris
Last month, Stella McCartney was reportedly livid when David Beckham posted a photo of her daughter alongside Harper Beckham at a private tea party in Buckingham Palace.
The fashion designer mistakenly believed that the event - which was attended by Princess Eugenie and supposedly hosted by her parents - was a personal affair, which her six-year-old daughter would be able to enjoy with friends, away from the prying eyes of the world.
But the Beckhams - who are known for their love of sharing many aspects of their lives with their legions of fans - had different ideas and uploaded a selection of photos from the day, which apparently not only upset Paul McCartney's daughter but also ruffled some royal feathers.
While some may shake their heads at this modern habit of constantly sharing the minutiae of our lives with the world, others seem to revel in the attention and adrenaline rush that come with garnering 'likes'. Some parents are accused of oversharing, which does not refer to the posting pictures of your children online, but to what others might consider as doing so excessively, with the term 'sharenting' used to describe social media overuse by parents, based around their children. Yet social media remains a great way to keep friends and family far away updated on your life, and privacy settings on sites like Facebook means parents can control who sees what.
Róisín McCarthy is no stranger to posting pictures of her children online and says she can't see what all the fuss is about.
"I am always putting photos of my kids on Facebook and Instagram," she says. "They are at a really fun stage (two and four) and are always doing silly things which make for great pictures. I get a lot of likes from friends and I'm sure seeing my children wearing fancy dress or making funny faces does a lot to brighten up someone's day.
"I try not to include other people's children without their permission, as I don't think that is right, and I believe the Beckhams were wrong to post a photo of a group of girls without asking their parents first - but when it comes to my own kids, I am never happier than when I am uploading pictures and waiting to see the comments."
But not all of McCarthy's friends are enamoured with the daily photo feed and the Waterford woman has been at the receiving end of some negative feedback.
"For the most part, people are really positive about the stuff I put up, but I have had a few mean comments," she admits. "A friend of a friend told me that she has had to block me from her newsfeed because she is sick of all of the pictures of my kids - she implied that she wasn't the only one who felt that way and said if everyone put up as many photos, there would be nothing else there but all of our children.
"But I wasn't bothered. I don't care who else puts up photos of their kids, I just like sharing pictures of mine. I know we all think our own children are great, but mine are actually very photogenic and really enjoy being in front of the camera. Some people may say they are too young to be up there but, until they say otherwise, I will continue what I am doing."
Child psychologist Peadar Maxwell advises parents to be cautious about posting too much. "While most parents love sharing their children's achievement and fun times, oversharing photos of them online is not a good idea," he says. "Parents need to consider who can see these pictures - if their family snaps are available to the whole world, then keep in mind they can be copied and shared on with strangers."
The Wexford-based expert says parents need to be the guardians of their children's privacy, until such time as they are able to give their own permission.
"In years to come, parents may face a backlash for sharing pictures that seemed adorable in early childhood such as photos taken in the bath, cuddling or not fully dressed - indeed, any picture that could be seen as embarrassing, or cause children to feel anxious as they wonder who will see it, laugh at it or share it with others," he says.
"Parents do not want their child to be cyberbullied, or to cyberbully another, so we need to model dignity, respect and consent by keeping anything uncomfortable offline and asking them if they are okay with us sharing a reasonable photo.
"If an adult said, 'Please do NOT put that on Facebook,' we would respect their wishes, so we also have a responsibility to respect the wishes of our child.
"In fact, a study by the University of Michigan found that many children feel parents violated their privacy when sharing photos online. In France it is possible to be prosecuted for sharing without a child's consent."
Peadar Maxwell's advice on how parents can reduce risks:
• Never post pictures that could inadvertently be interpreted as sexy or sexual in any way, even playing with make-up or some kinds of dress-up.
• Avoid sharing videos of your children pretending to be coy or adult in any way.
• Parents should never share photos or videos of their child misbehaving or having a tantrum. This is shaming and highly disrespectful to your child.
Clinical psychotherapist Joanna Fortune says she has first-hand experience of youngsters feeling violated by their parents' constant photo-sharing.
"The children and young teens I work with often strongly object to parents sharing their photos without consent," Fortune says, adding that they are sometimes concerned as to where these images can end up. "This is not a surprise, given the emphasis we place on teaching children to be respectful online.
"They take their behavioural lead from us as parents, so we must lead by positive and respectful example."
Fortune, who specialises in working with families at her Solamh clinic in Dublin, understands that parents are proud of their children but says they must respect their individual lives and opinions.
"Oversharing comes from a place of pride within parents and anticipation that all others will find our kids as endearing and adorable as we do," she says. "But I also think some parents will post funny videos with the hopes of a viral success that can lead to an appearance on Ellen - although, for every one family that happens to, there are thousands of videos of strangers' children that clog up our social media streams.
"Some parents are, whether they realise it or not, living vicariously through their children, and post videos or photos of them as extensions of themselves, rather than considering how it affects or reflects on the child in their own right.