Written By: Security.org Team | Published: May 13, 2021

Most parents share content about their kids, be it photos or videos, on social media. In 2012, The Wall Street Journal first coined the term “sharenting” to describe this phenomenon. Sharenting has many benefits, according to Stacey Steinberg, University of Florida law professor and author of the book Growing Up Shared. Parents can connect with faraway family and friends and build communities, networks, and online relationships.

However, there are several risks that come with sharenting such as identity theft and cyberbullying. We surveyed over 1,000 parents and teens in the U.S. to find out about their sharenting habits. Here are our key findings:

  • Over three-quarters of parents have shared stories, videos, or images of their children or stepchildren on social media.
  • In these posts, over 80 percent of parents use their childrens’ real names.
  • Less than a quarter of parents always get their childrens’ permission before posting content about them on social media, and about a third never ask for their permission.
  • Nearly a quarter of parents have public settings on their social media apps, meaning that anyone can see what they post, even if they’re not friends.
  • Nearly eight in 10 parents have friends or followers on social media that they have never met in real life.

How Common Is Sharenting?

The vast majority of parents share stories, videos, or images of their children or stepchildren on social media, according to our research.

Have you ever shared stories, videos, or images of your child(ren) or step-child(ren) on social media? Responses
Yes 77%
No 23%

This correlates with data from Nominet that says that the average parent has posted almost 1,500 photos of their child before their fifth birthday.

Sharenting And Consent

Unfortunately, only about a quarter of parents ask their children for consent every time before posting about them on social media.

When sharing pictures, videos, or stories about your child(ren) or step-child(ren) on social media, how often do you ask them for permission before you publish it? Responses
Every time 24%
Most of the time 26%
Some of the time 21%
I never ask their permission 29%

We also surveyed teens, who confirmed that consent is usually not at the forefront of parents’ minds when it comes to sharenting.

Has your parent or step-parent ever shared a story, image, or video of you on social media after you asked them not to? Responses
Yes 32%
No 53%
I don't know 15%

Lack of consent in sharenting is a problem, according to Steinberg, as parents shape their childrens’ online reputations without their permission. If you can, ask for your child’s consent before you post about them.

The Sharenting Audience

Nearly a quarter of parents have public social media profiles, meaning that anyone can see what they post.

For the social media app that you use the most, what are your privacy settings? Responses
Public (anyone can see what I post) 24%
Private (only approved people can see what I post) 57%
Friends of friends (friends of my contacts can see what I post) 16%
I’m not sure 3%

More troublingly, only 22 percent of parents have met all of their social media friends or followers in real life.

When thinking of all your friends and followers across all social media apps (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, etc.), how many of those people do you know in real life (people that you've met in person at least once)? Responses 
100% 22%
75 – 99% 42%
50 – 74% 24%
25 – 49% 6%
Less than 25% 6%

Even for those with private profiles, if you haven’t gone through your followers in a while, it’s possible that strangers can see your sharenting posts.

Consequences Of Sharenting

Depending on the parents’ device settings and social media platforms’ privacy policies, sharenting posts can have much farther reaches than one might think. Additionally, many companies collect customer information to create targeted advertisements. Besides the data collection and lack of privacy, criminals can use sharenting posts for child pornography, digital kidnapping, identity theft and cyberbullying, in the worst-case scenarios.

Identity Theft 

Identity theft isn’t just a problem for adults. Our research on child identity theft found that 14 percent of U.S. parents said that their children had had their identities stolen. The biggest risk for child identity theft, according to 53 percent of parents, is social media, which is why 42 percent of parents said they limit the information they post about their kids on social media.

However, our research on sharenting found that over 80 percent of parents use their childrens’ real names on social media, personally identifiable information (PII) that thieves can use to steal identities.

When you post about your child(ren) or step-child(ren) on social media do you use their real names? Responses
Yes 81%
No 19%

Many parents may not realize that even posting their childrens’ full names puts them more at risk of identity theft, especially if they have public social media accounts.

Cyberbullying

Embarrassing posts can not only give kids anxiety, but other kids can also use them as ammunition for cyberbullying. When we researched cyberbullying during the COVID-19 pandemic, 21 percent of parents said that a child in their home had been cyberbullied. Unfortunately, rates of cyberbullying were higher for kids that used social media, with Snapchat being the social media platform that correlated the most with cyberbullying.

Has your child been cyberbullied on any of the following social media platforms? Not Sure No Yes
Tiktok 57% 51% 64%
Snapchat 63% 55% 69%
Facebook 49% 33% 49%
Twitter 31% 17% 28%

Learn more about cyberbullying statistics and cyberbullying resources.

Recap

Sharenting isn’t an inherently bad practice; rather, it makes sense that parents want to share information about their children with loved ones online. However, some practices, like posting children’s real names or posting without their consent, can lead to other online risks, like identity theft and cyberbullying, so parents on Facebook, Instagram, and the like should consider these before they post.

Methodology

We conducted two surveys of 622 parents and 386 teens ages 13 to 17 from April 12 to April 13, 2021. We also included information from sources including McAfee, the Wall Street Journal, and Nominet to supplement our original research.