The Risks of Sharenting for Adolescents

Refresh your social media apps, scroll your timeline, and the chances are high that you’ll encounter sharenting. In other words, you’ll find pictures posted by your friends, family, and acquaintances of their children. Not only are these parents expressing pride in their children, but they are also archiving treasured memories and creating opportunities for receiving affirmation and support about the joys and hardships of parenting. For many millennial parents, social media documentation has been the norm since their own adolescence. In this sense, the rise of “sharenting” – the sharing of parenting experiences -- is of no surprise. However, a poll conducted by the Mott Children’s Hospital (2015) found that 75% of parents report knowing another parent who shares too much about a child on social media [1]. But what exactly is sharing too much? And should we be concerned about how these sharenting practices influence adolescents?

Security Concerns of Sharenting
Sharenting can pose significant risks for security, privacy, and development. Accordingly, parents should be mindful of what they share about their children. Stacey Steinberg, law professor at the University of Florida, observes that “parents act as both gatekeepers of their children’s personal information and as narrators of their children’s personal stories” [2]. One risk is that other users, some with ill-intentions, can discover birthdates from simple “happy birthday” posts, last names from parental profiles, and family addresses through online voter registration information. In turn, this information can be used for stalking or harassment of the adolescent. Geotagged locations and pictures in front of recognizable locations, such as schools or parks, can jeopardize youth physical safety and wellbeing. Moreover, parents who share embarrassing photos of their teens may unknowingly contribute to cyber or in-person bullying of their children [2].

Respecting Your Adolescent’s Privacy
Even posts that do not pose security risks can infringe on the privacy of adolescents. Adolescents largely find sharenting to be “embarrassing” and “useless” [3], and many adolescents want parents to ask for permission before posting [4, 5]. However, a major challenge is that although children have a right to privacy, this right often depends on their parents’ wishes [6]. For example, many parents initiate their children’s digital footprints by sharing ultrasound pictures, following up later with photos of potty training or bathing. These private moments, only meant to be shared within parents’ social networks, can be edited and disseminated widely by strangers. In adolescence, more “digital kidnapping” can occur when photos are reposted from parents’ accounts onto other social media pages [7]. In fact, an Australian poll found that half of the images shared on pedophile sites were obtained from social media sites [8].

Long-term Consequences of Sharenting
In addition to these short-term risks of sharenting, there may also be long-term effects of sharenting for adolescent development. A growing body of research continues to document the benefits and costs of adolescents’ own social media use (e.g., [9]), but the effects of sharenting on adolescents still remain largely unknown. Social media use allows individuals to explore and express their own identities. However, the digital identities expressed through sharenting are instead those of their parents, which may contradict the identities the adolescents are trying to cultivate themselves [4]. It is unclear if the way parents choose to portray their children on social media impacts adolescent identity development, or if sharenting reinforces external validation seeking among adolescents. In addition, photos on the internet can be retrievable for a lifetime, ready to be rediscovered years later by college admissions officers or employers.

Taking these considerations into account, how can parents share about their adolescents while minimizing these potential risks? First, parents can ask permission and use affirming tones when posting. Youth tend to be agreeable to parents sharing positive content, such as extracurricular and academic achievements. In contrast, they typically dislike parents posting content that can be embarrassing, unflattering, or private (e.g., their romantic crush) [5]. Second, parents should evaluate how their posts may be perceived by others who may be important in their adolescents’ current world, such as friends or teachers, as well as in the future (e.g., employers). Third, parents can consider posting anonymously and avoid sharing identifying information such as actual locations. Finally, it is always wise to verify the privacy policies of social media sites before posting [5, 10].


1.         Parents on social media: Likes and dislikes of sharenting. 2015, University of Michigan: CS Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

2.         Steinberg, S., Sharenting: Children's Privacy in the Age of Social Media. Emory law journal, 2016. 66: p. 839.

3.         Verswijvel, K., et al., Sharenting, is it a good or a bad thing? Understanding how adolescents think and feel about sharenting on social network sites. Children and Youth Services Review, 2019. 104: p. 104401.

4.         Ouvrein, G. and K. Verswijvel, Sharenting: Parental adoration or public humiliation? A focus group study on adolescents' experiences with sharenting against the background of their own impression management. Children and Youth Services Review, 2019. 99: p. 319-327.

5.         Moser, C., T. Chen, and S.Y. Schoenebeck, Parents’ and Children’s Preferences about Parents Sharing about Children on Social Media, in Proceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. 2017, Association for Computing Machinery: Denver, Colorado, USA. p. 5221–5225.

6.         Gligorijević, J., Children’s Privacy: The Role of Parental Control and Consent. Human Rights Law Review, 2019. 19(2): p. 201-229.

7.         O'Neill, J. The Disturbing Facebook Trend of Stolen Kids Photos. 2015  [cited 2021 April 15]; March 3, 2015:[Available from:

8.         Battersby, L. Millions of social media photos found on child exploitation sharing sites. 2015 September 30, 2015 [cited 2020 December 15]; Available from:

9.         Uhls, Y.T., N.B. Ellison, and K. Subrahmanyam, Benefits and Costs of Social Media in Adolescence. Pediatrics, 2017. 140(Suppl 2): p. S67-s70.

10.       Keith, B.E. and S. Steinberg, Parental Sharing on the Internet: Child Privacy in the Age of Social Media and the Pediatrician’s Role. JAMA Pediatrics, 2017. 171(5): p. 413-414.

Sara Miller is a graduate student in Human Development and Family Studies at Pennsylvania State University.

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