| Social media

Why do kids overshare online? Insights from a child psychologist

Alžbeta Kovaľová | 06 Apr 2024

By sharing more we can prevent oversharing

Today's digital age presents a unique phenomenon that both parents and children must navigate - oversharing. Oversharing refers to the excessive sharing of oneself. This may include sensitive information but is not exclusive to it. The excess can be defined in the frequency or the depth and scope of the shared information according to the context and the situation. An indicator may be, that at the end of the day, a person, or in this instance a child, might regret sharing as much, and negative consequences may arise.

We sat down with Jarmila Tomková, a child psychologist focusing on the psychology of the internet, to discuss this phenomenon, its reasons, and ways to navigate from both the child´s and the parents´ perspectives.

Oversharing can be defined as the excessive sharing of personal information, whether it's sensitive details or simply the frequency or scope of what is shared. In the context of the digital world, oversharing can happen both privately and publicly.

One of the key things about oversharing online is that often children do not understand that what they are doing is oversharing. “Often they do not realise that a certain type of information may be considered not fit to be shared publicly, or with a certain individual,” says Jarmila, “They feel the need to share without taking into account the factors, or motivation.”

Kids can often feel motivated to share for different reasons

Children often get carried away and overshare online due to a myriad of reasons. Poor impulsivity control, the need to fit in, and the desire to be popular or bold can also contribute to oversharing. Sometimes, children may also overshare to establish intimate relationships. They want to be special and find themselves sharing online like the other kids do - or even celebrities. This can give them a sense of belonging, which for a child, who is trying to figure themselves out, can be very important. Their understanding of what is okay to share and what isn´t is shaped by the culture that they are living in.

The developmental stage and the toll of personality traits

Oversharing can happen in private as well. This may happen to younger kids, before the age of 12, when they meet someone through an online game and feel a sense of connection. They may even share personal information, without realising that this puts them at a risk and the person they are sharing with might be a predator.” says Jarmila, when asked about younger kids and their oversharing practices.
Younger children, aged 7-10, have concrete thinking and are naturally trusting (this is a very normal and healthy state), which makes them susceptible to oversharing, and unfortunately the negative outcomes of it as well. Older children, driven by the desire for popularity and emotional expressions, may also overshare. In both cases, oversharing can be triggered either due to emotional distress or as a form of self-reflection.
It is important to note, that oversharing in older children, does not only occur because of emotional distress. Sometimes the need to be different and find their unique place in this world can be a strong driver too,” says Jarmila.

Personality traits can be a factor as well, however, they are never the sole reason. “In my experience, the kids more susceptible to the need to overshare are kids that are extroverted and want to share themselves with the world. These kids need to be shown a way to do so safely and not resort to the online environment only,” Jarmila notes. She then continues to explain that some kids may be impulsive and do not yet possess the ability to regulate their emotions, hence the need to share in the only way they know how to. “It seems that adults have little control over the natural changes in personality traits or emotional states that occur during adolescence. The tendency to share a certain quantity, frequency, and type of content is just one of two main factors contributing to risky oversharing. The second factor is the knowledge and ability to control the breadth of privacy concerning shared information. It is up to parents and schools to provide this as clear knowledge and skills to children,” Jarmila urges.

Social media play a role in oversharing

Oversharing can lead to embarrassment, unintentional endangerment, and cyberbullying. Social media trends can also foster a culture of oversharing, further exacerbating the issue. Social media play a huge part in kids' lives, influencing what and how often they share. The “storytime” or “facts about me” trends are taking over social media, where discussing aspects of one's personal life, traumas, and difficulties are praised. “Kids notice what others are sharing and want to get in on the trend. Same for celebrities, where an influencer might post a certain type of content, and kids can feel convinced that they should be doing the same to fit in,” says Jarmila.

What can you do?

There are different strategies that parents can use to help their children. “For one, it is crucial to support the healthy development of the child. We need to help children be more aware of their own worth and uniqueness, raise them in a way they feel optional self-esteem, and support them in being conscious of their emotions. This is something parents should do regardless of oversharing. Another very important thing to remember is to show the kids which situations are risky and why they might be harmful,” says Jarmila when asked about practical steps for parents.

Parents should make sure their child grows to accept themselves and feel confident in their identity. It is also very important for the child to have enough space offline to share their emotions healthily. “Kids need to have enough space and social support to be able to share and feel connected to someone. Parents should foster skills in friend-making, and social skills, kids should be encouraged to join different communities, play sports, and have hobbies where they can make friends.” Jarmila encourages parents.

Build healthy habits

Early childhood is a good time to start developing healthy habits and rituals. Jarmila for example suggests having a ritual with the child, “parents can, for example, talk to their kids about their struggles and what happened to them that day. Later on, parents can show them ways to share their innermost feelings with their diary, draw, or other strategies to connect to their emotions. Children need to know that it is okay to be connected to their emotions and need to be shown strategies on how to be mindful and not overreact. Make sure the kid does not feel left alone with their emotions. Activities can be done collectively, for example during dinner, where all family members share their own good and bad thoughts and feelings.”

Kids need to be allowed to share and talk about their emotions. “The paradox is, that by sharing more, we can prevent oversharing.” Says Jarmila.

How to react to oversharing

If you discover that your child has been oversharing online, it's essential not to overreact or panic. “Take a deep breath and remember not to jeopardise your relationship with your child by reacting hastily or judgmentally. Instead, calmly and naturally, acknowledge that you've seen the inappropriate content they've posted. Don't let the issue go unaddressed but choose your words carefully to maintain your child's trust. You are their wise support system, and they must know that you understand the implications of oversharing and where it could lead.” Jarmila explains.

Being non-judgmental is more important than being overly supportive in this scenario. You can give them examples from your own life, where oversharing went badly, or examples of celebrities who regretted oversharing. Show genuine curiosity about your child's life and experiences, rather than jumping to conclusions or making assumptions. Jarmila then goes on to say, “Avoid confrontational questions like "Why did you do this?" Instead, foster an open dialogue by asking more exploratory questions such as "What were you hoping for from doing this?" or "What outcome were you expecting?" Above all, keep the focus on your child's well-being, not your own feelings or reactions. It's about them, not you.”

It´s very hard to draw a line between the child´s freedom to express themselves, and oversharing. It´s good to think about who might see this, and what they might think or do with that information. However, through understanding, open communication, and fostering a supportive environment, we can guide our children towards healthy and responsible sharing habits, which can then lead to creating a safer online environment for all.



About the author

Alžbeta Kovaľová /
Security writer

Alžbeta has worked at ESET for two years...

Read more
ESET Parental Control for Android ESET Parental Control for Android

Make the internet safer for your children

With ESET Parental Control for Android