How Parents Manage Disclosing Personal Information about their Children Online

Many researchers, educators, and policy makers have investigated the risks of children sharing their personal information online. However, little work has investigated the implications of parents sharing personal information about their children online. This study addresses that gap.

This study draws from 102 interviews with parents (64 fathers and 38 mothers) about their social network site (SNS) use as it relates to parenting. The questions we investigated were:

  1. Who posts content about children to social network sites and what do they post?
  2. How do parents negotiate what is appropriate to post?
  3. In what ways do the affordances of social network sites affect how and what parents decide to post?

Findings

  • In general, mothers take on the responsibility of sharing content about their children more than fathers do
  • Fathers are more restrictive about sharing to broad and professional audiences
  • Fathers are concerned about sharing content that could be perceived as sexually suggestive, especially related to daughters
  • Both mothers and fathers use features of SNSs to limit oversharing
  • Parents have to negotiate with each other what is okay or not okay to post online about their child, sometimes leading to tensions
  • Parents have to manage extended family and friends posting online about their child, which can be especially challenging if the parents themselves don’t agree on what is okay to post

Parental Disclosure Management
Building on prior work, we introduce the concept of parental disclosure management, which describes how parents decide what to share about their children online. Parents work especially hard to manage suggestive or appropriate content and evaluate potential audiences (e.g., what other might think of what they post online).

A Third Shift
In general, both mothers and fathers in our sample said that mothers did the majority of disclosure management work, which included deciding what to share, negotiating sharing policies with partners, and posting content online. We describe an emerging third shift of work (following on Hoschchild’s “Second Shift”) that highlights the additional work parents take on to manage children’s identities online. Our results suggest that many parents manage the work of sharing information about their children online by assigning de facto roles to one parent. Participants were always able to articulate who did the sharing and what kinds of sharing they did, though the roles tended to emerge organically. In the same way that one parent often does the cooking or the dishes, one parent seems to take on the primary responsibility of sharing about children online. Women often held this responsibility, perhaps because they are more active SNS users, or perhaps because their roles as primary caregiver are extended into these online spaces.

Future Directions
As online and offline family life becomes increasingly intertwined, understanding how parents negotiate roles is critical for the wellbeing of families and for designing the next generation of social platforms to support family life. We conclude with theoretical and practical implications for designing SNSs to better support family life online, including:

  • Joint accounts SNSs could create joint sharing features that allow one or more users to create an account and share responsibility of it. Such an account would allow parents to jointly control privacy settings and manage content.
  • Silent tagging Parents could engage in “silent tagging” practices so that profiles and content are stored for later use, if a child decides she wants her identity to be attached to this content.
  • Retroactive identity management Children could be given the opportunity to more easily and powerfully alter their online presence, after it has been established by their parents.

Data Sources

  • Interviews with 102 parents drawn from a convenience sample recruited across multiple studies
  • Interviewers conducted from early 2013 through early 2014

Limitations
This study’s sample contained only parents who were currently or had previously been married to a person of the opposite gender. We did not ask participants their household incomes and do not know how representative the results are to all income ranges.

This research is published in CHI 2015. For more details, please read the full paper.

The interview protocols for this study are available: Interview Protocol 1, Interview Protocol 2, and Interview Protocol 3.

Ammari, T., Kumar, P., Lampe, C., and Schoenebeck, S.Y. (2015). “Managing Children’s Online Identities: How Parents Decide what to Disclose about their Children Online.” In Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’15). Seoul, Korea. April 18-32, 2015.

This research was approved by University of Michigan’s Institutional Review Board HUM00080547 and HUM00074842.

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