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Many parents usually try to avoid sharing too much information about their kids on social media.

But many parents also want to share cute pictures, funny stories, or their kids’ accomplishments. And online communities can be great places to share stories or trade parenting tips. 

It can be tricky to tell where to draw the line — how much is too much? This is especially true as kids get older and start using social media and the internet for themselves.  

For this episode of In It, hosts Gretchen Vierstra and Rachel Bozek talk about their own experiences with using social media — or not using it — to talk about their kids, and to find support from other parents.

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Episode transcript

Gretchen: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "In It," a podcast about the ins and outs...

Rache: The ups and downs...

Gretchen: Of supporting kids who learn and think differently. I'm Gretchen Vierstra, a former classroom teacher and an editor here at Understood.

Rachel: And I'm Rachel Bozek, a writer and editor with a family that's definitely in it. Today we're breaking from our usual form.

Gretchen: It's just you and me, Rachel. No guest. And the thing we want to talk about is something called "sharenting."

Rachel: So, if you've never heard this word before, it refers to parents sharing pictures, videos, or other info involving their kids online.

Gretchen: It can be so tempting to post about our kids because we're proud of them, because they're just so darn cute. But how much information is too much to share?

Rachel: This dilemma can be especially tricky for parents of kids with learning and thinking differences. We want to find community, share our experiences, seek advice. But we also want to be careful not to overshare.

So, Gretchen, is this something that you've run into or how do you feel about sharenting?

Gretchen: Well, first of all, sharenting is a funny word.

Rachel: It is.

Gretchen: Well, secondly, I haven't really wrestled with this, per se, or just kind of made a decision. So, I'm not a real social media person. I don't do Facebook. I don't do any of the things. So, when I had kids, it wasn't like I was going to start. And because I'm a private person, it kind of made me think, "Well, they might be too. So why would I be making this choice when they're just small beings, to post about them and share them with the world, when this might be something that they're very uncomfortable with as adults?"

So, I just decided it wasn't really my place, and I just had like a private, like, Google Photos album sharing with family and friends. That's it though, like, you know, with grandma and like a few other people. And even as they got older with that, I would sometimes ask them, "Is it OK if I invite so-and-so to look at these photos?" Because sometimes they'll be like, "No, I don't want you to."

But, the one caveat to all this is just that it's made me feel slightly bad sometimes because I am a parent who wants to learn information and find out things. And so, I've been a lurker on some, like if you can look at something without joining, like going on Reddit, for example, and finding answers, I've done that, but I've never shared myself. So, I'm guilty of lurking and not giving anything back. And so sometimes that feels bad. That's me. What about you, Rachel?

Rachel: Well, I totally hear all of that. I love just the idea of a lurker, being how you think of yourself. You know, it's interesting because I use some social media. I don't use all of the things, but over time, I have definitely, come to think about it differently, like, as my kids are getting older and I don't even think this has so much to do with learning and thinking differences.

I feel like this is kind of an everybody thing, but something that came to mind when we started talking about doing this episode was, you know, when my older child was a baby, I made a blogspot because at the time that was like kind of a new thing.

And some people listening might be like, "What's a blogspot?" But it was an old blogging platform when blogging was kind of a really big thing, and it was a little bit before a lot of the social media platforms that everybody uses now were even around. And I even set it up, like using my kid's name, which now like seems like a terrible idea.

And I posted on it pretty diligently for like two years, and it was baby pictures and bathtub pictures, and the only people I shared it with was family. I was definitely not a mommy blogger. I just would send the link out to like, grandparents and aunts and uncles.

And then I forgot about it. I'm sure. Like life got crazy and it's probably around when I had another kid and not too long ago, one of my child's friends did a Google search. You know, kids googled each other's names, they google themselves, like we all do it. And that was not hard to find. It created a little strife in the house. "What are you doing? What is this? Why is this out there? Why is it my name? Why don't I know about it?" And these are all super fair questions. And I was like, "Oh, I am so sorry."

And then I had to figure out how to, like, undo that, right? Like either take it down or change the name to be something that is not like findable by anyone. I did end up getting it removed and it does not exist anymore. And I just like having the pictures myself in a folder, and that's lovely. But, it was a definite lesson because it like ended up being fine, but it could have been really embarrassing for my kid. And, you know, that was never my goal.

Gretchen: Well, Rachel, that story is hilarious. And yes, sometimes what we post is going to come back to bite us later. But people find a lot of value in parenting posts. And so, there are some positive aspects. In fact, in 2023, Mott Children's Hospital did a national poll and Mott Children's Hospital is out of University of Michigan. And they found that most parents of young children, 80%, use social media to discuss parenting topics.

Rachel: Yes, they use it to look for advice, to share experiences about things like toilet training, or how to get their child to get along with other kids. So, we asked our Understood community how they think about social media and what benefits they get from sharing that way. And here's one response we got from a different Rachel. She wrote, "I'm an open book when it comes to struggles with my son.

Sharing online has helped me realize I'm not alone and anything I've gone through, no matter how crazy or personal I think it may be, someone can relate. I will say that my son is nine and has come over my shoulder while I was posting. That led to an uncomfortable conversation, but I realized it's OK to let our kids know we struggle with their behavior."

Gretchen: So, we've been talking about some of the positive aspects of sharing. But we all know that there are also negative aspects. And some of those things might be, for example, having difficulty separating good from bad advice that you find online, sharing photos of your kids, other people's kids without consent, and just plain old oversharing.

Rachel: Yeah, those are really great points. And, you know, another, concern that's come up and that I think, a lot of parents might be thinking about even during this conversation, is the idea that when we're, as parents, sharing things that this could embarrass a kid later when they get older.

And The Atlantic did a really great article about this called "The first social media babies are growing up, and they're horrified." And it talks about how at the beginning of Facebook, which was like 2006 ish, that's when it opened up, where people started really using it in this way, those kids are adults now.

Gretchen: Yeah.

Rachel: And they're looking for jobs. And when somebody like, you know, kind of digs into them a little when they're considering them for a job or just kind of figuring out their life and, you know, maybe they start dating someone and that person's like, "Oh, what can I find out about this person?" They're finding out, you know, what their parents posted like 18, 19 years ago. And that is something really important to think about now.

And, you know, whether you have little kids and now you're posting their stuff or maybe you have some posts to go back and, you know, maybe change your privacy settings or edit how you talked about your child at that time and whether you use their full name and all of that kind of stuff is really worth thinking about. You know, I think, this article just kind of made me think about all of that.

Gretchen: Yeah. I mean, we teach kids, right? To build their digital footprint, to think about what they're putting out into the world. But then as parents, perhaps we put out things into the world and started their footprint long ago. And that's kind of not fair to them. I think.

Rachel: Yeah. And for some parents, that's really hard to stop doing.

Gretchen: Yeah. Parents might get validation, right? From how many views, how many likes. And then, you know, I always thought, well, if you're as a parent of doing that, then you're definitely perhaps showing your kids that that's one way to like get a little boost of, I don't know, energy, confidence is like looking for all the likes, looking for all of the reinforcement online.

So, another negative that, in my opinion, at least as a negative that I'd like to share about, you know, everything being posted and shared. I'm not talking about when you're asking for advice. I'm more talking about like sharing everything about our kids is that, I feel like it models for kids, like "Everything is to be shared. You're doing it to share and for someone else to consume rather than you to just enjoy."

And you know, I saw that when my kids became of age to have their own phones, and we went on a family vacation, and all of a sudden everyone was taking a picture and I was like, "Well, no. We'll just use one person's camera." "We'll no, but then I can't post that on Instagram." I'm like, "Well, why do you have to? You're on vacation. You're not doing that. You need to enjoy the moment." I got so mad and I was like, "No, no, no, no, no. Nobody's doing that."

And the other thing, I feel like it breeds and kids, as you know, here we are as educators, parents trying to get kids to have a growth mindset, right? To think that, like, you try and you work hard and you make mistakes and you keep getting better at something. But everything, for the most part, that's posted on social media is about perfection.

And so you're constantly aiming for perfect and only sharing perfect and not sharing with people like the struggles of the attempts that it took to get there. Like, you know, my daughter's a dancer, and she'll show me a post of these beautiful pirouettes and she's like, "I can't do that many." I'm like, "Yeah, but it probably took that kid all day to get that one shot." And so she spent all day doing that.

Rachel: Yeah, you're not getting the nine hours of video.

Gretchen: Right? Just to get like all those likes. Was that worth it? I don't really think so. So, that's just my little two cents on how I feel about posting everything about your life online.

So, Rachel, I'm not the best person to give up my best practice idea since I'm a lurker, not a sharer, but I think you share sometimes. So, what are some best practices you've thought of as a parent?

Rachel: Well, I have a few that I've thought about, and I, full disclosure, these are not from any vetted research.

Gretchen: Right.

Rachel: This is my own, like, this is what I think about when I'm posting, is, you know, I think about who's seeing this, right? And why am I posting. What is the intention behind it? And is that ultimately what's coming through? Like, sometimes something really funny can happen in your family, but when you explain it in a post or show a picture of just this one, like millisecond of that experience, it can end up looking like you're making fun of your kid.

And I think that's a really important thing for parents to think about, both in terms of like the longer term effects of that.

Gretchen: Yeah.

Rachel: You know, if somebody else sees it later or doesn't really understand the context, and then you seem kind of mean. But, you know, I do think there's a balance to find. I don't think it's always bad to share on social media. I have found it to be a really nice way to keep connected with members of our family who are in other parts of the country.

Gretchen: Yeah.

Rachel: But I think that's where it kind of making sure that there's privacy settings, and limitations on what we do and don't say, that's where I think that gets really important. But one thing I just want to address — because this is something that's been really helpful for me — is there are also a lot of quote like private or I hate the word "secret," but I try not to use it too much.

But there are groups that are actually kind of classified as secret groups where if you become aware of a community — I use Facebook as an example because that's the platform that I use, probably most frequently. I guess that means I'm kind of old-ish.

But, I have found some really helpful communities there where I've come to really get to know and trust the people within them, and they have pretty clear rules and guidelines where if you violate those recommendations, you're out.

And those kinds of groups have been how I've found what feels like a very safe space to ask advice, to talk about experiences, to share something that I would not want to put on my own page, but like, "Oh my God, this thing happened." Like, "Has this happened to anyone else?" Or "Has, you know, has anyone else's kid ever done this?"

Or, you know, conversations with teachers that I don't want to post on my page because all of my kids friends have the same teachers, and maybe they're having a much better or worse experience. And I'm not looking to, like, pass judgment on any of that, but it is a really helpful way to get some advice without being too public about it.

Gretchen: Yeah. You know, again, I don't share online, but I do seek advice and and just in terms of privacy and like thinking about where you're posting, like sometimes I don't even ask questions of like, friends in town anymore because I'm afraid that they might share with their child, who knows my child.

And so, I've actually gotten, in the habit of like, texting friends who live across the country and have kids as well, like my old high school friends. And like, we can share the heck out of questions that we have about things going on because, guess what? We don't live near each other and our kids aren't going to run into each other, and so it feels like a safe space to be able to ask questions there.

Rachel: Yeah, I think sometimes kind of like going back to basics and just like checking in with someone directly, it doesn't always have to be in front of, you know, an audience of 50 or 5,000 or whatever.

Gretchen: Yeah. And some other things to think about when you are posting, though, right? Is that yes, you want to get maybe answers to specific questions, but you don't have to share the real specifics, right? You don't have to use your child's name or their age, or give any kind of details that might indicate who they are and where they live. I mean, you can make up a vague story about somebody else, like in order to share so that it's not going to get back to the fact that, "Oh, maybe this is a kid I know who this question is about."

Rachel: Yeah. And I think it's worth noting that a lot of these things are probably good practice anyway, just for like, personal security.

Gretchen: Yeah.

Rachel: You know, from a privacy standpoint. And, you know, we're always talking about, you know, like I remember in the earlier days of social media, it was a really big deal not to post vacation pictures while you were still away, because then everybody knew you were away.

Gretchen: Right.

Rachel: Like, even though you can control your privacy settings, you know, if you have like 2,000 friends on Facebook that, you know, that's not that private. So, it's, I think it's still worth thinking about that part of it, too.

Gretchen: Or just be a social media hermit like me and live under a rock.

Rachel: So, what about all of you? What does everybody think about posting or oversharing? Or do you have any other suggestions that you'd like to share? We'd love to hear from you.

Gretchen: You can email us at init@understood.org to share your thoughts.

You've been listening to "In It" from the Understood Podcast network.

Rachel: This show is for you, so we want to make sure you're getting what you need. Email us at init@understood.org to share your thoughts. We love hearing from you.

Gretchen: If you want to learn more about the topics we covered today, check out our show notes. We include more resources as well as links to anything we mentioned in the episode.

Rachel: Understood.org is a resource dedicated to helping people who learn to think differently discover their potential and thrive. Learn more at Understood.org/mission.

Gretchen: "In It" is produced by Julie Subrin with help from Cody Nelson. Ilana Millner is our production director. Justin D. Wright mixes the show. Mike Ericco wrote our theme music.

Rachel: For the Understood Podcast Network, Laura Key is our editorial director, Scott Cocchiere is our creative director, and Seth Melnick is our executive producer. Thanks for listening.

Gretchen: And thanks for always being in it with us.

Hosts

  • Gretchen Vierstra, MA

    is the managing editor at Understood and co-host of the “In It” podcast. She’s a former educator with experience teaching and designing programs in schools, organizations, and online learning spaces.

    • Rachel Bozek

      is co-host of the “In It” podcast and the parent of two kids with ADHD. She has a background in writing and editing content for kids and parents. 

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