Parents’ posts shape child’s digital identity

Quick! Your son has just created a scene of destruction from the latest Star Wars movie on the lounge room floor and you have spotted him as he is about to launch himself from the couch into the abyss of carnage on the floor – do you a) stop him and say “wait a minute I need the camera for this one!” or b) stop him before he falls and tell him he does not have wings, will not survive the jump and needs to clean up his “fight to the death” before dinner?

With the advent of Facebook and other social media, the rise of the snap-happy parent continues to capture the downfall of unsuspecting kids who are just trying to be kids, pushing boundaries and having fun in their own individual way.

These parents can at times inadvertently blur the boundaries for their children when they opt to take a photo or video mid-tantrum, showing their latest mishap with play equipment or their latest do-it-yourself haircut – instead of disciplining their child when the incident takes place, frustrated, embarrassed or in fits of laughter they reach for the smartphone to capture the moment to post on social media for friends and family to see and comment on.

Researchers across the globe continue to study the effects of parental involvement in the development of a child’s digital identity.

According to research by UK domain registry host Nominet, parents average about 200 photo/video posts of their 0-5 year old children each year – about 1000 posts on social media before the age of five.

In an article for the Conversation “Think again before you post online those pics of your kids” Western Sydney University Technology and Learning researcher Joanne Orlando says this new behaviour norm means children can have a powerful digital identity created by someone else.

“This process can be likened to the manufacturing of celebrity identities, where parents can potentially shape the public persona of their child in any way they want: child genius, disobedient, fashionista, fussy eater and so on,” Ms Orlando says.

She questions whether parents skew posts of their children depending on how many likes and comments they believe may stem from them.

“There is also the issue of likes and comments on those photos. Without realising it, are we choosing to upload posts about our kids that we hope will get the most audience attention? If so, how is this skewing the identity we are shaping for them?”

Ms Orlando says parents need to remember the lasting nature of online content.

“Given the relative youth of social media, it’s hard to say exactly how growing up online could affect children’s privacy, safety and security. But social media has also been around long enough now (Facebook is now 14 years old) that it’s important to seriously consider the issue.”

“It’s time to question how individuals (both children and adults) should manage boundaries around sharing personal information, and how they can control information that is shared about them.”

“Posting embarrassing photos of others on Facebook without consent is definitely tricky territory, but what constitutes embarrassing is slightly different for everyone, which makes this new issue even more of a minefield.”