As a parent, chances are you enjoy sharing photos, videos and stories featuring your children online. Sharenting — sharing content online based on children — has its alleged pros and cons and Parentology has previously explored both sides.
But what about other family members, specifically grandparents, who want to post photos and videos? Proud grandmothers and grandfathers excited to show off their grandchildren might be all too eager to document the kids’ lives for all to see. In some cases, oversharing grandparents might view such posts as a rite of passage.
This can lead to a necessary, but sometimes difficult-to-navigate conversation not seen in the grandparent-parent dynamic of previous generations. With this in mind, Parentology spoke with Cara Elliott, a marriage and family therapist based in Reno, Nevada, about how parents can approach the conversation and express their concerns and desires about limiting children’s exposure online.
What’s the Problem with Social Sharing?
Parents have recently grown reluctant about posting their children’s content. The reasons may stem from wanting to keep their children’s lives private, to preventing things they post today from following their kids into adulthood with possible adverse consequences.
Children are also speaking up about their hesitancy regarding parents’ sharing tendencies. An article from The Washington Post cites reasons for this, including children of adolescent age and older wanting to be in control of their online identity and image.
Whatever the reason, many new parents are limiting or completely abstaining from sharing such content. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that grandparents won’t overshare.
To simplify this discussion — and since consent and preference on this topic from children themselves is a different issue — Parentology is limiting this discussion to parents of children under the age of seven.
Exploring the Grandparent-Parent Dynamic
One scenario involves new parents feeling anxious about establishing boundaries with grandparents. Elliott says, “Those who’ve never set boundaries with their parents may be conflict-avoidant and don’t want to cause potential damage to their relationships with their parents.”
“There’s a family dynamic that becomes apparent when adult children attempt to talk maturely to their parents about boundaries,” she continues. “Without proper maintenance, boundaries laid out in the hopes of promoting structure and safety, eventually become meaningless because they were discussed once and never revisited.”
In another scenario, parents might have asserted their desires, but find grandparents continue to violate the boundaries. In this case, “grandparents may not take their adult children seriously or believe the issue of sharing photos of their grandchildren is harmful,” Elliott explains.
Understanding Oversharing Grandparents
Setting boundaries begins with understanding what grandparents hope to achieve by posting content. Excitement over their grandchildren is an obvious reason for the need to share, but there may be more to it. Elliott suggests pride about understanding and using technology could be a motivating factor, as well.
The best way to uncover the reasoning is to just ask. Elliott advises, “Simply ask them the question — what do they hope to achieve by posting photos of their grandchildren?”
What follows depends on how truthful and open the grandparents are with the initial question. If their response leads to deeper discussions, Elliott encourages parents to use empathic and validating statements. Some examples: “I bet you’re so proud to show off your grandchildren,” or “I can see it makes you so happy to talk to others and share stories about your grandchildren.”
She cautions if this type of approach isn’t used, grandparents could become defensive, subconsciously dismissing and minimizing the importance of the boundary.
Empathy, Empathy, Empathy
Elliott stresses awareness of both family and power dynamics at play. In doing so, “Empathy is a key component in such discussions.”
Acknowledging this relationship — adult children who have children are parents and grandparents are parents — can help level things out with the goal of setting the two groups of parents as a team.
The hope here, according to Elliott is “to continue to raise the grandchildren together instead of grandparents becoming the less responsible babysitters who exert power over adult children by refusing to abide by boundaries.”
Her other tip is family therapy, especially if the problem continues. Therapy can provide a setting where each family member can voice their perspective and be heard.
Picture calendars, albums of printed or digital photos controlled by a main user are possible solutions for meeting the needs of both parties. Parents may also consider relaxing certain rules — say, helping grandparents set up specific groups of trusted members from their friend lists, or allowing for pictures of a certain nature to be shared.
In the end, it’s important to remember everyone is ultimately on the same team and wants to enjoy, and do what’s best for, their young family member. Keeping this in mind, while being open and flexible to the other party’s needs and concerns, can help reach a happy medium for all.