Motivation and emotion/Book/2019/Sharenting motivation

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Sharenting motivation:
What motivates sharenting and what are the consequences?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Hypothetical scenario

Billy, age nine, is struggling to fit in at school. He has traditional symptoms of ADHD, and Billy has been sent to the principal’s office a lot this year. His mother, exasperated with his behaviour and searching for support, starts a blog detailing his misbehaviours in hope of finding mothers experiencing similar struggles. She has thousands of followers. Every Tuesday, she has coffee with Sally’s mum.

Sally is a seven year old girl with a chronic health condition, and call’s[grammar?] the local hospital her ‘home’. Sally’s mother sleeps on the sofa bed in the hospital room instead of in her own bed, as Sally is all she has. Sally’s mother also has a blog, sharing her experiences as a mother of a chronically ill child. Sally often contributes to the blog and loves receiving messages from the blogs supporters. As the two mothers chat about their personal blogs, they often run into Dean’s dad at the cafe.

Dean’s dad does not have an online blog. He does have a Facebook and Instagram page. He has kept his newsfeeds set to private, however he has accumulated quite the following of 809 friends on Facebook and 6,000 followers on his Instagram feed. His friends are mostly people from high school, some co-workers, some family, and other people he has met throughout his life. Dean’s dad uses his social networking platforms to share updates on his son’s life and milestones. He posts about Dean’s school achievements and posts funny photos of Dean or of him playing sport on the weekend, often ‘checking in’ to his location at the present time.

Parents like those of Billy, Sally and Dean use social networking sites not only to share information about their own lives, but also of their children’s. When updating their blogs and feeds, they will often share personal information about their children for the online world to see.

Sharenting is an activity outlined as a parent using social media to communicate detailed information about their children by the Collins Dictionary (Brosch, 2016). Research by Brosch (2016) indicated that the occurrence of sharenting is rapidly growing. This is suggested due to social networking sites (SNS) becoming a part of everyday lives for of parents (Brosch, 2016). Research by Davis et al (2015) suggested that 56% of mothers and 34% of fathers who had children from 0 to 4 years old had shared information online relating to parenting topics. In fact, some parents have even been known to start sharenting when their children have yet to be born (Brosch, 2016). Parents are known to use SNS's[grammar?] to share not just information on themselves and their parenting experiences, but also to discuss their children’s lives and share information about their child’s personal life (Brosch, 2016).

Focus questions: Crystal Clear app ktip.svg
  1. What motivates parents to share?
  2. What do psychological theories suggest?
  3. What effects does sharenting have on the child?
  4. What are the consequences for both parents and their children?
  5. What can be done to ensure both parents and children are happy?

Please note: the words 'social media' and 'SNS' will be used interchangeably throughout this chapter, both referring to social networking sites/online forums.

Let's start off by looking at the parents side of the story...

The Parent[edit | edit source]

Case study of a parent struggling to respect boundaries

A man named Harvey had his own online blog, which his six year old son Archie appeared on frequently. Archie began to ask his father what the photos he took were for, questioning “is this a photo for you, Daddy, or is it a photo for the blog?”. After a while, Archie would refuse to be photographed. Leading on from that, Archie began to take revenge by taking unflattering photos on Harvey’s phone and posting them to Harvey’s Instagram page. Harvey eventually tried to work with Archie and allowed him to have a say in what Harvey would post. Despite this, Harvey reported that he would try and persuade Archie to achieve the content Harvey desired for the blog. Harvey described that he felt a struggle between respecting his son’s limitations and keeping his blog the way he wanted it in order to satisfy his online readership (Blum-Ross & Livingstone, 2017).

Figure 1. Facebook is a commonly used social networking site.

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Parents will share information and photos on SNS's about their children in order to help their self-presentation as a parent (for e.g. Facebook, see figure 1) (Brosch, 2016). In doing this, they also create and shape the digital identity of their children (Ouvrein & Verswijvel, 2019). It has become relatively common for parents-to-be to create ‘digital shadows’ of their child before they are even born. This can be done through a number of ways, for instance, sharing the ultrasound image of the foetus on SNS’s (Ouvrein & Verswijvel, 2019).

Humble-bragging[edit | edit source]

Humble-bragging is a term invented by Harris Wittels. It is used to describe a particular type of brag that helps mask a part of a statement that is boastful by turning it into a faux-humble façade (Supple Bartels, 2015).

An example: A parent seeming to be aggrieved by something that in fact makes them appear admirable to others, such as posting a status or tweet on social media saying...

“I’m so exhausted. I’ve been up late every night this week helping Ellie study for the spelling bee finals. Shoot me.”

This statement translates to a parent who is awesome for investing their time in order to help their child achieve academically, but is worded in a way that claims hardship so you don’t ‘hate’ them for being a good parent.

Humiliation[edit | edit source]

Some parents intentionally use social media platforms to advertise content in order to embarrass and discipline their children (Supple Bartels, 2015). An example of this is a mother who uploaded a picture of her daughter holding a sign with text on it. The sign included the child’s first name, details of her wrong doing and her punishment for all her viewers to see (Supple Bartels, 2015).

However, not all parents agree with this behaviour. A participant in a study interview (Blum-Ross & Livingstone, 2017) commented on the humiliation that sharenting could cause a child in the future.

Sometimes it isn’t the picture or post itself that can humiliate the child, but the commentary from the people it is shared with (Brosch, 2018). An example given in the study by Brosch (2018) was about a mother who uploaded a photo of her child who had brown chocolate smeared over their face. This photo could be seen as cute and innocent, however one of the social media acquaintances commented saying “I hope its chocolate!”. This statement not only mocks the child, but could someday embarrass or humiliate them (Brosch, 2018).

Motivation for sharing[edit | edit source]

Humans are social creatures who instinctively act in ways that will implant an impression on other people (Supple Bartels, 2015). This practice is often referred to as self-presentation, identity performance, or impression management (Supple Bartels, 2015).

A survey by Brosch (2016) states that 56% of mothers and 34% of fathers will use social media to share information related to parenting. The survey also states that more than 70% of parents on social media could identify another parent who has shared information that: offers information that could identify a child’s location (51%), might embarrass the child (56%), or contains photos of a child that may be seen as inappropriate (27%) (Brosch, 2016).

Virtual communities, such as Facebook, are usually strongly influenced by the number of users a person has. These community platforms can provide sociability, information, a sense of belonging, social identity and support of non-hierarchical communication (Brosch, 2016). Parents can be strongly influenced by the ability the platforms have to instil a sense of belonging, social identity, and sociability. It allows individuals to express themselves and retain social relationships online (Brosch, 2016). Due to this, parents could potentially feel validated by the likes and comments they receive on their child’s photos or information shared about them, even if they come from people they hardly know (Brosch, 2016).

What do psychological motivation theories suggest?

Psychological theory[edit | edit source]

Figure 2. Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

[Provide more detail]

Maslow's hierarchy of needs[edit | edit source]

Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory describes five basic human needs hierarchically ordered, see figure 2.

Maslow suggested that once the needs for 'safety' and the 'physiological well-being' were satisfied, the next types of needs could emerge (Maslow, 1943). The third need is 'love and belonging', which Maslow described as the state that people long to be in to overcome feelings of loneliness and isolation (Maslow, 1943).

Following on from this, is the fourth basic need, esteem, which involves the need for self-esteem, as well as the esteem people get from others. When these needs are met, a person can feel self-confident and valuable to the world. When the needs are not met, a person can potentially feel inferior, helpless, weak, and worthless (Maslow, 1943)

These needs could very well explain why some parents overshare (sharenting), because of their need for socialisation and easy access to online platforms (Brosch, 2016).

It further talks about deficiency needs vs growth needs. Individuals must satisfy lower levels of deficits before progressing on to meet higher level growth needs. When a deficit need has been 'more or less' satisfied it will go away, and our activities become habitually directed towards meeting the next set of needs that we have yet to satisfy. These then become our salient needs. However, growth needs continue to be felt and may even become stronger once they have been engaged. mishael

Implicit motives theory

Implicit motives operate unconsciously and are difficult to obtain through self-reporting measures (Reeve, 2018). The definition of implicit motives is “Enduring, unconscious needs that motivate a person’s behaviour toward attaining specific social incentives. Inferred from a person’s characteristic thought, emotion, and behaviour” (Reeve, 2018). The types of implicit motivation that sharenting reflects is affiliation and intimacy. Affiliation allows the opportunity to gain approval from others and to please them. Intimacy is the involvement of a warm and secure relationship with others. It is said that what a person with a particular social incentive ‘needs’ is the need for affiliation, as this allows them to experience positive effects and emotions by engaging themselves in social relations (Reeve, 2018).

People learn to foresee the appearance of social incentives (Reeve, 2018). Particular sites and social networking platforms online give parents the opportunity to fulfil their social incentive needs. It allows them to showcase what they are doing well as a parent, and demonstrates their competence (Brosch, 2016). Sharenting also allows parents to participate in warm and secure online relationships and creates a sense of having an impact on others (Ouvrein & Verswijvel, 2019). Based on these experiences and the emotions attached, people gravitate towards environments such as this, as they are capable of activating “need-congenial” emotions that assist in satisfying peoples implicit motives (Reeve, 2018).

The fundamental question behind acquiring implicit motives is to ask what makes people happy (Reeve, 2018). If a person knows what makes them happy, they are considered to be self-aware of their own implicit motivation profile. However, implicit motives are not conscious and therefor people don’t commonly know what makes them happy (Reeve, 2018). Through observing the types of situations or environments that people show strong positive emotions in, you might gain an insight of what their implicit motivations are, which leads to the knowledge of what makes them happy (Reeve, 2018).

A nourishing pattern of positive emotion and positive affect with a strong need for affiliation can be seen through parents posting about their children online (Brosch, 2018). Parents appear to strive for high affiliation through using SNS’s[grammar?], which is said to create situations that offer comfort and interpersonal security (Ouvrein & Verswijvel, 2019). Parents feel happy when pursuing activities such as interacting online with other parents or their family (Brosch, 2018). High affiliation creates a sense of calmness and joy when you are in close contact with other people and when you are forming/maintaining positive personal relationships (Reeve, 2018).

Affiliation and intimacy can be combined in certain conditions; such as anxiety and fear, establishing interpersonal networks, and maintaining interpersonal networks (Reeve, 2018). When experiencing anxiety and fear, people search for help by exploring how others handle their own anxiety and fear, this is the desire to affiliate emotional support. People with a strong need for spending time with others and creating secure and long-lasting relationships fall under the condition of establishing interpersonal networks. There is also a need for maintaining these interpersonal networks once they have been established (Reeve, 2018).

Video break!

Watch this video to help understand social needs and implicit motives:

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The implicit motives theory focuses on affiliation and ___?


What does this mean for the child?

The Child[edit | edit source]

Figure 3. Footprints in the sand, symbolising the digital footprints that people's personal information posted online creates their digital identity.

Sharenting creates a digital footprint for a child before they have the opportunity to object (Steinberg, 2017) and has the ability to put the child's safety at risk (Brosch, 2016). What's worse, is children do not often have a say in what does and doesn't go online (Steinberg, 2017).

Digital footprint[edit | edit source]

Through sharenting, parents have the ability to create their child's digital identity well before they have the opportunity to do so themselves (see figure 3). What a parent discloses about their child online is sure to follow their children into adulthood (Steinberg, 2017). Adolescents have expressed their concerns about the long-term effects that embarrassing or 'ugly' photos may have on them. They stated that these photo's[grammar?] could be problematic when they are seeking employment due to recruiters using SNS's to screen potential candidates (Ouvrein & Verswijvel, 2019).

Safety risk[edit | edit source]

Parents have been known to share content about their children that may put them in harm’s way. This content includes a child’s date of birth, full name, and location (Brosch, 2016). In the study by Ouvrein and Verswijvel (2019) multiple participants mentioned that their own parents share too much personal information online. One participant stated that she knew somebody whose mother revealed personal information about her daughters new address after she moved out.

Legal rights[edit | edit source]

When a parent shares personal information about their child online, they might do so without their child consenting (Steinberg, 2017). This allows for little protection for their child as their online identity evolves. A downfall to sharenting is that a parents child may one day resent their mother or father for disclosing certain information about them.

Currently, most countries have no policy that secures the right to privacy online for children (Brosch, 2018). This allows parents to decide what kind of information is shared about their child, regardless of whether the child approves it or not. In Poland, any child under the age of 13 has no legal capacity. Not only do they have no rights to decide on what is uploaded online about them, but they are also not legally allowed to create any accounts on social networking sites (Brosch, 2018).

There is no ‘opt-out’ for children when it comes to their parents sharing information and photos online (Steinberg, 2017).

Nuvola apps korganizer.svg
Quiz Time!

What is a digital footprint? (Pick all correct answers)

contains information about a person online
parents have the ability to start their children's digital identity
a photo of a footprint
a digital identity

What harm could this cause both the parents and the child?

The Consequences[edit | edit source]

Research on sharenting has witnessed a number of consequential outcomes for both children and the parents posting (Brosch, 2018). These consequences include but are not limited to: digital kidnapping, oversharing backlash, and negative affects on the parent-child relationship.

Digital kidnapping[edit | edit source]

Digital kidnapping is a serious issue relating to parents who share photographs of their children online and strangers steal and repost them across the internet, claiming the child as their own (Brosch, 2016).

Case study on digital kidnapping

In 2016, the Grier family learned of their newborn son, Jack, having his photos digitally kidnapped. The digital kidnapping was occurred at an extremely sensitive time for the family, as Jack was born at 24 weeks and in NICU, away from his family more often than normal. Jack’s mother Mary received a comment on one of her Instagram photos telling her to put her account on private, as they had come across another account who was claiming Jack as their own and using his photo’s[grammar?]. In this particular case, the commenter warning the family was in fact the photo thief, who had three of her own children. The Grier family had no way of knowing whether this unknown woman might try and take this online fantasy a step further. Even though what this stranger did was extremely disturbing, it is not technically illegal. The only thing the Grier family could do was change how, what and where they chose to post. Children who are victims of digital kidnapping may not be physically harmed, but it can be a frightening experience for the families who are stolen from (Riopka, 2017).

Oversharing backlash[edit | edit source]

Parents have received online distaste from other individuals regarding sharenting. A site called STFU, Parents was created in devotion to shaming parents who overshare using online platforms (Supple Bartels, 2015). This website contains blogs about parents who talk about their child excessively online, and you can even purchase the 'STFU, Parents' book via the website. The site allows viewers to communicate and comment as well. Click here to be taken to the website.

Negative effects on the parent-child relationship[edit | edit source]

Could sharenting ruin the parent-child relationship? Studies are yet to longitudinally link this theory, however some evidence has indicated that it could cause several issues to the relationship. One participant of the Ouvrein and Verswijvel (2019) study has admitted that their parent has gone against their wishes and not deleted a post when they asked them too. This could potentially cause problems for the trust in their relationship in the future, as the child then angrily went behind the parent’s back and deleted the post themselves.

Parent violations of their children’s privacy can break trust, which is an essential factor of a healthy and safe parent-child relationship (Moser, Chen & Schoenebeck, 2017).

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Quiz Time!

Digital kidnapping is when somebody finds a child through images posted on social media and kidnaps them?


What could be done to compromise?

Permission[edit | edit source]

A study by Moser, Chen and Schoenebeck (2017) used a 4 point Likert scale to gage how often both children and parents believe permission should be granted for parents to share about their children on SNS’s. The results indicated that children believe their parents should ask for their permission before posting about them more often than the believes believe they should (Moser, Chen & Schoenebeck, 2017).

The parent[edit | edit source]

In the Moser et. al (2017) study, parents reported that they ask their children for permission to post about them online less often than they believe they should. The results also found a difference between permission beliefs among the different age groups of parents (Moser et. al., 2017). The older group of parents believe they should ask permission more often than the middle group of parents and the younger group of parents. The self-reported frequency of asking permission was also different across two of the age groups, the older group and middle group (Moser et. al., 2017).

The child[edit | edit source]

Children’s attitudes about their parents[grammar?] posting online was preferred when the content was positive and not negative (Moser et. al., 2017). Children were happy for their parents to post information that reflected a positive parent-child relationship and happy family content, such as parents praising them or posting about happy family moments. Negative content or information that is to revealing about the child was reported as being not okay for parents to post about by the children in the Moser et. al (2017) study. Any content perceived as embarrassing, such as naked baby photo’s[grammar?] or ugly pictures, and the child’s punishment was also considered unacceptable for parents to share. The children’s ages did not differ their attitudes towards how often their parent should ask permission before posting about them on SNS’s (Moser et. al., 2017). A similar study with adolescent participants resulted in most insisting that their parents should ask permission before posting about them, especially if it can create embarrassing situations (Ouvrein & Verswijvel, 2019). Some of the participants said that they don’t wait for their parents to seek permission because they grant or deny SNS uploads before they have a chance, for e.g.: right after a photo is taken. Adolescents like to have the opportunity to build their own online image, which means it would be good practice for a parent to think and discuss with their child before posting (Ouvrein & Verswijvel, 2019).

Taking it all together...

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

This book chapter has touched on the motivations that parents have when they share content about their children on SNS's. The largest motivation behind sharenting appears to be that parents feel a need to socially connect with their friends and family online, and to keep their viewers happy and amused. The implicit motives theory and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs have assisted in explaining these motives and why parents ‘sharent’.

Sharenting will continue to grow, especially without any policies stopping parents from excessively sharing online content regarding their children. Sharenting has been demonstrated as having the possibly[grammar?] of not only creating the child’s digital footprint, but may also put the child’s safety at risk if the content is too revealing. Both the parent and the child can face consequences from sharenting; such as digital kidnapping, online humiliation, parents receiving backlash online, and potentially causing problems for the parent-child relationship. One potential way to avoid damaging the relationship is for parents and their children to come to an agreement on permission.

Future research and studies need to assemble a better understanding of what adolescents attitudes and beliefs towards sharenting are will help build up the research, as well as help practitioners create awareness campaigns (Verswijvel, Walrave, Hardies & Heirman, 2019).

The Moser et. al (2017) [missing something?] proposed a number of promising takeaways using their results. Although parents are in a situation to be able to decide what is shared or not about their own children, based on this studies[grammar?] results, the following recommendations could help encourage a healthy relationship between parent and child.

  • "Okay to Post" recommendations from your child
  • Parent and child agree on the frequency of the posts
  • Permission-seeking from parent to child
  • Detecting your child’s tone (post only positive, achievement-oriented praise…not negative and embarrassing content)

It is important to remember that once you’ve uploaded something online, about yourself or about your loved ones, there is no guarantee that once you delete it, it’s actually gone for good.

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀  ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀  ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀                         Think twice before you post.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Blum-Ross, A., & Livingstone, S. (2017). “Sharenting,” parent blogging, and the boundaries of the digital self. Popular Communication, 15(2), 110-125. doi:

Brosch, A. (2018). Sharenting – Why Do Parents Violate Their Children’s Privacy? The New Educational Review, 54(4), 75–85. doi:

Brosch, A. (2016). When the child is born into the internet: sharenting as a growing trend among parents on facebook. The New Educational Review, 43(1), pp.225-235. doi:

Davis, M.M. (2015). Parents on Social Media: Likes and Dislikes of Sharenting, C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. University of Michigan System. 23 (2). Retrieved from

LaRossa, R. and Reitzes, D. (2009). Symbolic Interactionism and Family Studies. Sourcebook of Family Theories and Methods, pp.135-166.

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review,50, 370. doi:

Moser, C., Chen, T., & Schoenebeck, S. (2017). Parents? and Children?s Preferences about Parents Sharing about Children on Social Media. Proceedings Of The 2017 CHI Conference On Human Factors In Computing Systems - CHI '17. doi:

Ouvrein, G., & Verswijvel, K. (2019). Sharenting: Parental adoration or public humiliation? A focus group study on adolescents' experiences with sharenting against the background of their own impression management. Children And Youth Services Review, 99, 319-327. doi:

Reeve, J. (2018). Understanding Motivation and Emotion (7th ed., pp. 152-168). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.,.

Riopka, M. (2017). Digital Kidnapping: Madison family finds their child targeted by online photo thief. Retrieved 12 October 2019, from

Supple Bartels, J. (2015). Parents’ Growing Pains on Social Media. Digitalud, 1, pp.51-70.

Steinberg, S. (2017). Sharenting: Children's Privacy in the Age of Social Media. UF Law Faculty Publications, 66:839, pp.840-884.

Verswijvel, K., Walrave, M., Hardies, K., & Heirman, W. (2019). Sharenting, is it a good or a bad thing? Understanding how adolescents think and feel about sharenting on social network sites. Children And Youth Services Review, 104, 104401. doi:

External links[edit | edit source]