The issue of privacy and social media has become a matter of increasing concern raising questions about the need for legal constraints of some kind. One aspect of this has been whether children are able to appreciate the risks involved in their self-exposure on sites such as Facebook. What seems “cool” now may come back to haunt them later on in college or employment applications.

Of increasing concern to parents, has been children’s exposure to others on the internet, which leaves them open to cyber-bullying, or vulnerable to undesirable, inappropriate approaches from others.

A leading children’s advocacy group has challenged the educational technology software industry to develop national safeguards for the personal data collected about students from kindergarten through high school, to use student data only for educational purposes and not for marketing products to children or their families.

Schools have used digital technologies to collect a great deal of information about students, with the goal of achieving personalized, data-driven education that may improve graduation rates and career prospects. But in reality student assessment software has been used without placing sufficient restrictions on the use of children’s personal details; school districts may share student’s details with vendors who perform institutional functions without notifying parents or getting their consent.

Targeting advertising to children has for some time been a problem for parents, leading to struggles around children’s requests for products that are made to seem so appealing on TV and elsewhere. However, increasingly the concern about privacy for children entails matters of security, protecting them from their own immaturity as well as the commercial motivations and behavior of others.

Now a new book, “Sharenthood,” introduces a new word, sharenting to mean “the publication, transmission, storage, or other uses of private information about children through digital channels by parents, teachers, or other adult caregivers.” The term may refer to parents’ actions or be focused on social media.

The author, Leah A. Plunkett, a law professor and Faculty Associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, is concerned that children today grow up within a circle of trusted adults who routinely share details of their lives through an ever-expanding range of digital tools with an ever-growing number of other people and institutions. Although parents play a uniquely important role, they are not the only grown-ups with their fingers on the tech buttons.

Plunkett points out that adults give up valuable information about children to get devices and services, information then used by tech providers in various profit-oriented ways. It is startling to become aware of the many seemingly harmless things parents share about their children on Facebook and Instagram as social sharing that are actually an invasion of children’s privacy and may impact negatively on their lives later on.

Starting with those first sonograms during pregnancy that some post, to the many behavioral anecdotes that are shared with pleasure or at times concern, parents are unwittingly building a social media profile for a child that may be to his detriment later on. Increasingly, college admission officers and potential employers use google for background checks on individuals. A child’s reputation may have unintentionally been created by images from various earlier stages of development.

Underlying the author’s concern about the negatives of “sharenting,” is her strong belief in her vision of childhood, that “kids and teenagers should have room to play, to mess up, and to grow up better for having done so.” She asks how our children can discover who they are when “adults are tracking them, analyzing them and attempting to decide for them – based on the data we gather – who they are and should become.”

Plunkett raises provocative questions, important for parents and all who care about children to reflect upon.


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