One of the first lessons we learn as kids is how to share. What’s mine is yours, what’s yours is mine. We take turns. We wait patiently. We share.
Somewhere between offering you one of my fishy crackers and Facebook, however, the lesson was learned too well. We now share all the time. We share blog links. We share photos. We like and share and repin. Sometimes you don’t even need to share to share. An original post of photos, experiences, and stories is sharing. And it is in that final leap when sharing becomes oversharing.
While it is fine to reblog, share, and like – when you take something of yourself and post it online, you risk crossing the TMI threshold. It’s worse if you’re a parent, locked in a world that, really and truly, revolves around your kids. Take that eager excitement of potty training and talk about it online and you are now a sharent.
The Guardian this weekend wrote about “sharents”, labelling the likes of parents who overshare online. The article named me as a parent who overshares and will likely face psychiatric bills for my children because of the articles I have written about them in the past.
In the fall, I wrote about the struggles I faced when trying to relate with my toddling son. I mentioned that I got along easier with my kindergartner, and when it came to splitting up the kids for chores, or what have you, I would take the oldest, my wife would take the youngest and things would go smoothly.
I talked about having “a favorite child,” and my post went viral. TV news, talk shows, newspapers, blogs, and more picked up on the unspeakable ‘favorite child’ topic. Truth is, many parents have a favorite. It ebbs and flows throughout parenthood, the issue being never to treat your children differently – and I never have.
Still, there is much Google juice attached to this story now, and whenever you search my name online the sensational articles related to the story will follow. So my kids, according to the author (and many anonymous comment trolls), will need therapy.
Except, no they won’t.
I, personally, have no problem sharing things online. I am a radio host by trade, an occupation that has had presenters make a living from over-sharing for decades. My favorite scene from Howard Stern‘s Private Parts is where he talks about his wife’s miscarriage. She gets upset that he brought it up on air, he explains to her that he has to be himself, and his life is his show.
In a 1994 Los Angeles Times article about the broadcast Dr. Elaine Rodino, a Santa Monica psychologist, noted that by talking about it on the air, Stern showed empathy with others going through the same problems.
“In exposing his anguish and horror and guilt and fear and sadness on the air, he was telling people it was OK to feel all these things–including the mentally sick-sounding feelings,” she said. “It makes it better for people to know events like a miscarriage can prompt these feelings.”
The difference between Howard Stern telling a story on the radio in 1994, and a blogger sharing personal stories in 2013? The internet. Now everything is magnified. Nothing goes away. It is all recycled. Instead of one Howard Stern talking about a personal parenting life struggle, there are now dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of us talking about potty training, the birds and the bees, breastfeeding, miscarriages, and other normal things that every parent talks about.
In 1994 it was one celebrity with a microphone, in 2013 we all have microphones and the noise we bloggers make can be deafening.
I’M NOT TALKING TO YOU
When sharing becomes oversharing is when we see the sharing all the time. Facebook has become a blurred line of connections. We are friends with parents, cousins, and siblings. But we are also friends with co-workers, colleagues, and contacts. We are friends with friends, and friends of friends we met at a barbecue or party. So the line of conversation has been extended beyond a normal social circle.
If I post pictures of my kids at the park, I’m not posting them for my boss to see, I’m posting them for my brother, sister, in-laws, and parents to see. But everyone in my stream sees them. Have enough friends who aren’t really intimate members of your life in your Facebook feed and you’ll soon be exposed to an entire world of information for which you probably weren’t the intended audience.
Still, we see it and it adds to the volume of voices that has made sharents a thing and STFU Parents a successful blog and book.
ARE YOU A SHARENT?
By The Guardian‘s definition, everyone who posts anything about their kids online is a sharent. Still, I bristle at the term being applied to me. I am paid by Babble to tell stories about parenting. I am paid by my radio station to engage the audience and be a personality. So this telling of stories about my family and experiences is my job. It’s what I do.
Now I may share stories, but I am not a reality show. In defesne of sharents, not all of us hang all our personal drama online the way many bloggers do.
For a month I was trying to blog every day in the style of many others who post every dramatic detail of their day, and I couldn’t do it. It’s not necessary to hang my dirty laundry in the street for everyone to look at everyday. I also don’t inundate Facebook and Instagram with galleries of my kids and family. The terms of service for using the images are terrible, and after having my son’s photo used for a Cheerios campaign without adequate compensation, I’ve learned my lesson.
The Guardian article quotes psychologist Aric Sigman, saying: “Part of the way a child forms their identity involves having private information about themselves that remains private. That is being eroded by social media. I think the idea of not differentiating between public and private is a very dangerous one.”
Still, if I am moved by something, or if an important experience happens to me, I’ll share it. I think my piece about having a favorite child rings true for many parents, and I’d write it again.
Mostly, though, my stories are camping adventures with my kids, milestones they reach, or discussions about my perspective on parenting issues. Howard Stern had a huge audience he was loyal to first and foremost, and in pursuit of that kind of fame, many blogging sharents are trying to sell out their kids to become “stars.” I don’t want to be like that.
I will link my blog posts on Twitter or Facebook every now and again, but I don’t expose the world to my entire catalog of daily photos. My parents and family have the links to where they can find that online.
IT’S GOOD TO BLOG ABOUT YOUR FAMILY
In defense of sharents, I think blogging about your kids is a great thing. I think creating a digital diary and archive of your family will be a valuable resource in the future. The line of sharenting, however, gets crossed when you’re oversharing in the hopes of getting attention.
If a blog is full of baby pictures, and nobody reads it, is it oversharing? No.
Hang all your drama out online, plug it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, and serve up more drama the next day to get more traffic for your giveaway, review, etc and you’re an oversharer, and giving all of us sharents a bad name.
The Guardian quotes Tony Anscombe of the internet security firm AVG as saying the digital footprint sharents are creating for their kids will be difficult to erase.
“When it comes to our children, we’re making the decision to put things out on their behalf, and what seems appropriate now may not be appropriate in ten years’ time.” .
Let’s agree it’s impossible to erase the internet.
The article points to stories of bedwetting being read by friends when your kids are older. That might happen, but guess what? That kid is going to be in the same boat. We’re already in an era where world leaders have admitted to drug use in their youth, and nobody bats an eye. Just wait 25 years and we can vette the President by everything they posted on Facebook when they were in college.
When everyone has a skeleton in the closet, the skeleton becomes less scary.
SHARE ON, SHARENTS – SORT OF
So share on, sharents, just remember who you’re sharing to. Get a blog, a Flickr account, maybe a private YouTube channel, and post the stuff you want your family to see. Sharenting is best when it’s an honest practice and you direct your oversharing to people who are actually interested in it.
If you have a particular niche of parenting you’re passionate about, share your stories and expertise and create a community.
But please remember you’re not Kim Kardashian. You can’t manufacture celebrity out of your daily drama in hopes your 3 dozen daily Instagrams of your kids will pay off your mortgage. Respect the privacy of your kids, respect your social media audiences, and slow down with the Facebooking of everything that happens in your kids’ lives. Yes, you need to save the experiences, but you don’t need to shout it to the world to see.