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Oversharing is not caring: basic principles to teach your children

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 post anything that's on their minds, 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 differ for everyone and often depends on the context.

  • Sharing more than listening. This applies to online chats, messaging apps, and 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 emphasise that safe behaviour leads to safer online space. Your children should know there are reasons for not sharing too much information online. Several risks 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, your children's posts can become the centre of mocking or cyberbullying, either from their peers or cyberbullying, either from their peers or from strangers online.

  • Some posts may negatively impact your child in the future if seen, for instance, by their teachers or a future employer.

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

Tips 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 why your children desire to share something. For instance, when they feel excited about an upcoming vacation, they may 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, each offering 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 can 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 retroactively delete a post, it is always better to think twice before sharing. Your children should view the internet as a universe of opportunities and a space with a long memory and vast reach. To keep their online and offline lives secure, children should avoid sharing sensitive pictures of themselves or others and 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, please give it a dry run. Your child can create a private social media profile 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 on 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. Besides sensitive data or revealing pictures, your children should also think twice before posting anything controversial or polarising. Especially for older children, it is natural to have opinions on topics such as politics, religion, health (be it their own or their family members), drugs, or sexuality. Still, 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 straightforward 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 not to 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; 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 these people will also view their post? This exercise is helpful to children and adults, as we sometimes forget that our posts have a great reach and won’t be seen only by those on our minds when we create them.

5. The background also matters. Sometimes, your children may accidentally share sensitive information without even knowing it. For instance, posting a selfie from their room with a window in the back may reveal 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 about the main object of their posts and the background.

6. Share exciting experiences, but not real-time whereabouts. Ideally, children should refrain from sharing their activities in real-time. Posts like “I’m at the park right now” can be risky, especially if shared on a public profile. Instead, teach your kids to document exciting 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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