Sharenting - Proud Parents in The Age of Online Safety

For many of us, flicking through a dusty old photo album with sepia soaked photographs, on a Sunday afternoon at our parents’ house, is the only way to catch a glimpse of what our lives looked like as children. A pure hit of nostalgic warmth, post-roast dinner as your family trades stories of adolescent mishaps and laughter. Memories are a bit fuzzy around the edges, but they’re clear in their intention – to reconstruct lovely memories of times-gone-by.

The photos tend to be of special occasions though. Whether it be birthdays, holidays or weddings, it was any time celebratory enough for your Nan to get the Kodak out and ask the family to pose. As a kid, posing for a photo was the last thing on your mind, but it was a fairly rare occasion. Generation Z (1995-2010) however, are growing up in a world where cameras are strapped to every mobile device. There’s no winding the film along after each photo and checking if the flash went off - just for it to be blurry anyway. No, streams of high quality photos are now available to anyone with a smartphone.

Which is leaving Gen Z and their parents’ generation in a bit of a stalemate.

The ‘digital natives’ are becoming increasingly wary of their faces ending up online. Not through their friends or peers, but through their proud parents and enthusiastic schools. It’s becoming increasingly cemented in modern society, that our digital selves are forming an important part of shaping how we interact with the world. Schools use pictures of pupils to promote their website and events, creating an eternal digital footprint of that student – but who signs the consent form?

The stereotype suggests that the youth of today, are constantly over-sharing information whenever they log-in online; sending their home address to other players in Fortnite in return for a skin, or releasing personal details that make them vulnerable to bullying and online harassment. Of course, protecting children online from dangers they may not be savvy to is of the upmost priority, but let’s give credit where credit is due.

According to recent reports, over 55% of children who were interviewed, claimed that in the future, they’ll be sharing far less than their parents do. Many of them had asked their parents to share fewer photos of them online, with some even asking to stop doing so altogether.

As we discussed in our previous post, education surrounding online safety is one of the most important tools in keeping the kids of today, safe online in the future. As modern life progresses, our digital and ‘real’ selves will become increasingly interwoven, creating a difficult dynamic between the two. Claire Bessant is an associate professor of law at Northumbria University, who’s leading a project on ‘sharenting’. She believes in the idea of educating parents and children together, “so there can be a dialogue at an earlier age.” This would at least begin the process of equipping the generation of tomorrow, with the best tools and knowledge to navigate this changing landscape.

One of the most important pieces of advice to give, and keep in mind ourselves, is that whatever is posted online, is online forever. Accidentally tweet your own name on Twitter? Welcome to Ed Balls Day. Post a video of yourself on your 18th birthday party falling into a hedge? Be prepared for someone to show it during your wedding day a decade later. Instilling guidelines such as this within children today, will make them more mindful when sharing things in the future. It’s not a bad thing to remind ourselves every now and again, too.

Naturally, no matter how online savvy or careful somebody is being, malicious attacks that target online users are rife. But it’s up to us to learn, and teach, the more nuanced aspects of online safety. That way, these malicious attacks can be swiftly identified, and nipped in the bud by our future internet users. As we know, the internet is a vast resource, rife with wonderful communities and endless learning potential. We just all need to equip the next generation with the best mind-set and tools to navigate it. So, we’ll carry on providing support for schools, so they can concentrate on educating their pupils.

As for ‘sharenting’, it’s only set to become an increasingly tricky subject to navigate between parents and their children. However, we can only do what we can now. So maybe the next time we’re at a family party and take a group photo, we can ask the youngsters if it’s okay to post it online.

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