x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

The pitfalls in the dark side of social media

Raising a child in the age of social media can be isolating, writes Sara Al Hameri

“Sharenters” live vicariously through their children.
“Sharenters” live vicariously through their children.

parenting

In the time before social media held sway, parents used to send pictures of their children to their relatives so they could carry them around in their wallets as a reminder of their loved ones. In those days, no one sent those pictures to strangers – that would have been considered absurd and dangerous. However, that is not the case these days for anyone with social media access and a child.

“Sharenters”, as they are sometimes called, live vicariously through their children, by putting them out there posing in cute outfits and sharing short videos of their children saying witty one-liners. They do this to gain more followers. In this context, “likes” are the modern-day equivalent of rank and status.   

Raising a child can be isolating. Once the first child is born a mother’s life is changed forever. But, by living through their child’s achievements, they bridge the gap that was once was filled with social activities. This is especially true now, when every household is a nuclear family and you rarely find a mother-in-law or aunt living in the same house, helping out with the day-to-day responsibilities of a child and sharing the joyful moments when a young kid says grown-up words. In this context, Facebook and Instagram bridges some of this sense of isolation.

However, sharenting is not entirely about inflated egos and a need for attention. The majority of parents find everything their children do to be special and nowadays, of course, capturing a special moment is easier and more accessible. But that doesn’t necessarily make it a wise idea.

The greater problem with all this is that children may grow up to care more about appearance than substance.

And there is also the dark side of the internet. According to the C S Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, 51 per cent of respondents said they had given out information that could be used to identify a child’s whereabouts. Even the most innocent of posts on social media could make it easier for predators to trace a child’s location.

“Parents are responsible for their child’s privacy and need to be thoughtful about how much they share on social media so they can enjoy the benefits of camaraderie but also protect their children’s privacy today and in the future,” according to Sarah J Clark, associate director of the University of Michigan, who is concerned by the overuse of sharenting and sharenters.

 The American actor Lena Dunham, who has spoken at length about the abuse she has experienced on social media, said that Twitter mentions “creates some really kind of cancerous stuff inside you”.

If an adult in the public eye with mature emotional health can’t handle harsh comments, what chance do the children of sharenters have?

Recently I stumbled across a post online, which contained hurtful remarks about a particular child’s appearance. This post criticised the child concerned for supposedly being overweight and having a weird-looking face.

When a parent unintentionally exposes their child to haters, I don’t think they realise the effect that those pictures and comments can have, particularly when the grown-up child stumbles upon them and read those negative comments, which can play a big damaging role in their confidence and self-image.

Sara Al Hemeiri is an Emirati writer who lives in Abu Dhabi