| Social media

Oversharing is not caring: basic principles to teach your children

| 23 Sep 2023

When acting responsibly, your children can explore the online world and build their own identity without oversharing and exposing too much on the internet. How? In cooperation with a child psychologist Jarmila Tomkova, we have prepared some tips and activities that can help them do just that.

What is oversharing?

  • Sharing too often. If your children spend most of their time on their social media or messaging apps and they post anything that is on their mind, they are probably oversharing.
  • Sharing more information than what is appropriate. This can include personal data, but also opinions, experiences, or pictures. However, the line between acceptable and inappropriate can be different for everyone and often depends on the context.
  • Sharing more than listening. This applies not only for online chats and messaging apps, but also everyday conversations. If your children treat them as a place for a monologue rather than a dialogue, and they are not giving the others enough space to share as well, they may be oversharing.

1) Discuss the risks but emphasize that safe behavior leads to safer online space. Your children should know that there are reasons for not sharing too much information online. There are several risks that come along with posting on social media, such as: 

  • Public posts can be viewed by anyone, including online predators or criminals. These people may exploit the shared information to locate or manipulate the child, to know when their house is empty, or to use the data for password guessing.
  • In some cases, the posts of your children can become the center of mocking or even cyberbullying, either from their peers, or from strangers online.
  • Some posts may potentially have a negative impact on your child in the future, if seen, for instance, by their teachers or a future employer.

While being online comes with several risks, however, try not to alarm your child too much or make the internet seem scary. On the contrary, try to reassure your children that they may have significant control over the situation once they learn how to share wisely. When they behave safely and share cautiously, the internet can be a fun space.

Tip for parents: be open to communication
Instead of simply ordering your children not to post something, try to explain the reasoning behind your rules. You should also stay open and listen to the reasons why your children’s desire to share something. For instance, when they feel excited about an upcoming vacation, they may feel the need to tell their online friends. In this situation, you should carefully explain why posting this information can be risky and offer your child alternatives – such as letting them post photos from the vacation after they return or encouraging them to share this news with their closest friends. Be a good role-model to your children, consider their desires, and strive to make their social media experience safe and fun. 

2) Before sharing, get to know the apps, their settings, and terms and conditions. There are many social media platforms and each of them offers different options for creating and sharing content. Before becoming active on their social media profiles, your children should get familiar with the settings and principles of the apps, and know how to:

- set a post into a private or a public mode,
- turn their location off (and, ideally, keep it off at all times),
- add and delete posts as well as comments,
- and block or report someone.

Once they know how to manage the different settings of the apps, your children will be able to use the platforms with greater confidence and avoid unintentionally sharing something they didn’t want to, or regretting their posts later.

3) Treat anything that is posted online as potentially public and permanent. Even though children can adjust their settings to private mode, or even retroactively delete a post, it is always better to think twice before sharing. Your children should view the internet as a universe of opportunities, but also as a space with long memory and vast reach. To keep their online and offline lives secure, children should avoid sharing sensitive pictures of themselves or others, but also their private information, such as their address, location, or daily schedule

Activity tip
Social media for the closest circle

Before you allow your children to be active on social platforms, give it a dry run. Your child can create a private social media profile that will be visible only to their closest family members. They may then explore the possibilities of the given platform and try to create their own content without sharing it with the world just yet. Together, you may discuss the posts, establish whether they contain overly personal information, and try to find ways of sharing exciting things without revealing too much. Take this as a unique opportunity for learning together and bridging generational divides in the topic of safe internet use. Work together as a team and let your child enter the social media world prepared.

4) Some things are better shared in person – or kept private altogether. Apart from sensitive data or revealing pictures, your children should also think twice before posting anything controversial or polarizing. Especially for older children, it is natural to have some opinions on topics such as politics, religion, health (be it their own or their family member’s), drugs, or sexuality, but these are better shared in person with a family member or a friend rather than online. How to know whether a post is too revealing or controversial? A very simple way would be telling your child to ask themselves: “Would I share this with my grandmother? And my teachers?” If the answer is “no”, then it is probably better to not post it.

Activity tip
From closest friends to acquaintances

In this simple exercise, invite your children to imagine they are writing a cool post. The best post ever. In their head, who are they writing it for? Is it their closest group of friends? Or someone they like? They don’t need to reveal their answer, just picture these people as accurately as they can. Now, tell them to imagine all their online friends or followers, even those they don’t know that well. How does it feel, knowing that these people will also view their post? This exercise is helpful both to children and adults, as we sometimes forget that our posts have a great reach, and they won’t be seen only by those that are on our mind when we create them.

5) The background also matters. In some cases, your children may accidentally share sensitive information without even knowing it. For instance, by posting a selfie from their room with a window in the back, they may be revealing where they live. Similarly, taking a picture of a drawing with their notice board in the back may uncover their school schedule. Teach your children to think not only of the main object of their posts, but also of the background. 

6) Share exciting experiences, but not real-time whereabouts. Ideally, children should refrain from sharing their activities in real time. Posts such as “I’m at the park right now” can be potentially risky, especially if shared on a public profile. Rather, teach your kids to document interesting moments, but only post them once they are in a safe place. This way, they can express themselves without exposing too much.

Why should children wait before posting exciting news on their profiles? And how can they work with their urge to share – or overshare? Find out in the second part of the article

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