Even before Suzanne Jangda’s son was born, she was thinking about how she’d talk about him on Facebook or Instagram.
“I’ve talked about it with my husband a lot. It’s an ongoing discussion,” she says. “Early on, we decided that we wanted to agree on everything we shared, so we wanted to always talk to the other one before we shared any photos. We didn’t want to share something and have the other one not be comfortable with it.”
She admits that neither parent has ever actually nixed the other’s post. But just the act of checking in with her husband has made her more thoughtful about what she shares. And as social-media ‘oversharenting’– that is, oversharing of parenting content on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – becomes more common, that’s increasingly important.
Jangda works in social media, so she has seen many, many examples of what not to do. Think photos that are cute now, but will inevitably embarrass even the most well-adjusted teenager, or posts that go into a little too much detail around little Liam’s potty-training journey. But anyone who follows people with young kids has likely seen an example of parental oversharing, especially if those parents are part of the millennial generation.
To be fair, it’s not surprising that parents in this age group post so much about their kids. We’re all posting more. Kylie Rymanowicz, an early childhood educator at Michigan State University’s continuing education organization, Extension, points to data from Pew Research Centre, which found that in 2005, just 5 per cent of Americans used social media. By 2011, that number was closer to half the country, and today, 72 per cent of people use at least one platform. (According to the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, 60 per cent of Canadians use social media.) And one of the benefits of social media is the opportunity to share photos with far-flung loved ones or to connect with other parents for advice and support.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t downsides to using social media, especially if parents become too dependent on it. Oversharenting can easily become a pathway to unhealthy comparison, says Toronto-based parenting expert Samantha Kemp-Jackson. That’s especially true if you’re already struggling with mental health. “You used to have to take photos and wait to get them developed. Now, it’s that immediate gratification and that dopamine rush that people can get from the likes and shares and comments,” she says. “It can really have a negative effect for people who are already dealing with anxiety and depression.”
Parents should also ask themselves if they’re modelling the type of behaviour they want to see in their children. “We want to exemplify the types of lives and experiences and activities that we want our kids to replicate. So, if we’re sharing and posting every single aspect of our life online, then what’s going to happen? Our kids are going to do the same – and there are obviously potential issues with that,” Kemp-Jackson says.
That’s something Jangda has been thinking about, too. “I’m on my phone a lot. I work in social media, I write and edit, I freelance. And he’s watching. He’s almost two and he’s such a copycat. [So] I’m trying to cut that down, because I don’t think he needs to be on devices,” she says.
So, what’s a parent in an increasingly connected world to do? Experts know there’s no way people are going to stop using social media. But it’s worth trying to change how it’s used. “One of the best things that parents can do is to be really intentional,” Rymanowicz says. “We’re posting and not really thinking about it. Instead, [ask yourself questions before you post.] Will you regret sharing this information? Will somebody be embarrassed or hurt? Are you living by your values?”
She also recommends looking for meaningful engagement – engage with a community online, don’t just mindlessly scroll. And make sure you’re spending time with your real-life connections, too. “Social [media] itself isn’t a bad thing, but it’s important that it has balance,” she says.