Earlier this month, the Lymes’ Youth Services Bureau offered a program for parents on social media and internet safety. The focus, as is usually true of similar sessions in communities across the state, was on protecting children, and understanding how they are using social media. What is often overlooked in such community meetings is how parents – especially parents of young children - are using social media. Recent statistics from a national poll by the University of Michigan indicate that the parents of today’s youngsters are increasingly online using social media, often for reassurance, advice and guidance. And they are concerned about how other parents are using - or overusing - social media.
Most parents of young children (84% of mothers, 70% of fathers) report using social media like Facebook, online forums, or blogs, according to the national poll. Over half of mothers (56%), compared with only 34% of fathers, discuss child health and parenting topics on social media. When sharing parenting advice on social media, common topics include getting kids to sleep (28%), nutrition/eating tips (26%), discipline (19%), daycare/preschool (17%), and behavior problems (13%).
Parents rate social media as useful for making them feel like they are not alone (72%), learning what not to do (70%), getting advice from more experienced parents (67%), and helping them worry less (62%). In contrast, about two-thirds of parents are concerned about someone finding out private information about their child (68%) or sharing photos of their child (67%), while 52% are concerned that when older, their child might be embarrassed about what they have shared on social media.
The majority of parents who use social media (74%) know of another parent who has shared too much information about a child on social media, including parents who gave embarrassing information about a child (56%), offered personal information that could identify a child’s location (51%), or shared inappropriate photos of a child (27%).
Parents in this national poll cite many benefits of using social media to seek and share parenting advice, most notably around feeling that they are not alone with parenting concerns. In the poll analysis, it is pointed out that connecting with another parent who is awake in the middle of the night can help to counteract feelings of isolation. Asking for other parents’ recommendations can facilitate the choice of a new childcare provider. And hearing about strategies used by other parents can offer practical tips to deal with a toddler’s behavior problem.
Parents also recognize that there can be downsides to sharing too much information about children on social media. Although there are no hard and fast rules about what is appropriate to share, this poll found that three-fourths of parents think another parent has shared too much information about their child online.
Other concerns about social media use pertain to fears that postings could be used to identify a child’s home, childcare or play locations. In certain situations, such as child custody disputes or domestic violence cases, disclosure of identifying information could pose a significant risk. Many parents employ privacy settings on social media to control who can see their personal information; however, privacy settings are not well understood by all users, the poll indicates.
The University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital has coined the new term “sharenting,” the social media violation parents continue to commit with a simple keystroke and click.“By the time children are old enough to use social media themselves many already have a digital identity created for them by their parents,” research scientist in the U-M Department of Pediatrics Sarah J. Clark, associate director of the poll. “Parents are responsible for their child’s privacy and need to be thoughtful about how much they share on social media, so they can enjoy the benefits of camaraderie but also protect their children’s privacy today and in the future,” Clark said.
The survey, for the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, was administered in November/December 2014 to a randomly selected, stratified group of adults age 18 and older. Responses from parents with a child 0-4 were used for this report.