ERG SES E 03, ICT and Education
This research aimed at studying the phenomenon of Sharenting using an exploratory survey that examines how and why parents use Facebook Parenting Groups (FPGs) and share representations of their children and/or parenting online, on both FPGs and their Facebook pages. The study was conducted with a sample of Italian mothers. The metaphor of the showcase (Codeluppi, 2007) is proposed, as both an informal learning environment and a “stage” where parents can share their lives, in the broader scene of our current culture of oversharing (Agger, 2012).
Parents are active users of digital technology and social media, with mothers being more likely to seek and receive support online (Duggan, et.al. 2015). According to Blum-Ross and Livingstone, Sharenting can be defined as the act of “sharing representations of one’s parenting or children online” (Blum-Ross & Livingstone, 2017). Increased interest has been shown with regard to online self-representation of parenthood, in Europe and abroad (Das, 2017; Abidin, 2017). Virtual communities provide parents with the opportunity to share worries, doubts, and questions concerning daily problems, as well as exposing one’s achievements, and receiving feedbacks (Brady & Guerin, 2010). The use of SNSs like Facebook has been linked to both narcissistic behaviors (Mehdizadeh, 2010), as well as communitarians, with regard to bridging social capital as a source of social support (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007). Phenomena such as social atomism (Taylor, 2004) and the individualization of educational approaches within the family (Abrahmson & Wehner, 2004) present us with an ambivalent picture when considered in the light of the proliferation of blogs and online groups for parents (Gibson & Hanson, 2013). While parents’ life has been described as rarely shared with other actors on a “physical” level (McMurray, 1999), there are increasing opportunities to be in touch with online “educational communities,” as a part of what could be defined a “showcased parenthood.”
Sharenting comes with some controversy when it comes to children, with regard to their legal rights (Bessant, 2017), the privacy/openness paradox (Chalklen & Anderson, 2017), and their not being at ease with this practice (Hiniker, Schoenebeck, & Kientz, 2016). However, because technology is here to stay a deeper reflection is required to understand to what extent education can maximize the opportunities while minimizing the risks.
The present work had the purpose of exploring how Italian parents use FPGs and their Facebook pages with regard to parenting. The following questions led the study: Q1) How and why do participants use FPGs? Q2) Do they share images of their children on Facebook, and what do they think about this practice? Q3) Is the Like perceived to have a positive impact on Sharenting?
The results aim at opening a broader discussion about children’s rights in the Digital Age, risks that come with sharenting, but also positive impacts that an educated use of technology can have on parents and children.
One of the aims of this proposal is, indeed, to network with other European researchers to think about a possible comparative study. Apart from Italy, where these are the first data available on the topic, some of the countries where research on sharenting has been conducted are Poland (Brosch, 2016), Denmark (Damkjær, 2016), as well as the U.K. (Blum-Ross, & Livingstone, 2017). This makes a comparison between European countries desirable, hopefully involving both Eastern and Western countries to better frame this phenomenon and reflect, as a community, on how to actively cooperate with parents and children in this digital age and what education can do about it.
Because SNSs can function as informal learning environments we suggest the topic being discussed be considered among the educational challenges of contemporary society.
Procedure and participants: Using nonprobability convenience sampling, an online exploratory survey was administered to a sample of parents, posting the link to the survey on both a famous Italian FPG and a parenting blog, following authorization of the admins. Data were collected during December 2016, using the website Survio. Participants’ consent was gained assuring confidentiality and anonymity of data, as well as all of the ethical precautions required, with respect to the Italian Law on Privacy (L. 196/2003). Participation in the research was voluntary, and participants had the possibility to abandon the task at any time without informing the researchers. Only aggregated data were analyzed. The survey was visited 1544 times and completed 246. A total of 27 questionnaires were discarded, as they were incomplete. This led to a sample of 219 respondents. Because 99% of these were mothers, the remaining 1% of fathers were isolated from the analyses, for a final sample of 216. The majority of mothers reported to be aged 30-40 (58%). A great amount of the sample stated to live in the North of Italy (89%), being Italian (99%) and to be living with partner/spouse (95%). Mothers were generally well educated, with 42% of them holding a degree, 42% having a High-School diploma, and 16% having a Middle-School diploma. Most of them were employed (74%). Sixty percent of the mothers reported to have one child, with 40% having more than one. Children were aged 0-3 (66%), 4-6 (32%), 7-11 (21%), 12-14 (7%), and older (5%). Because of the nature of our sample, the results are not suitable for statistical generalization. The aim was to explore the phenomenon being studied to provide a base for further research in this area. Instrument: The questionnaire contained a total of 39 items, 35 of which were structured and 4 non-structured. Opinions on FPGs, frequency of access to these groups, Sharenting behavior and frequency (i.e. sharing pictures of one’s children on Facebook), and opinions about Sharenting and children’s rights online were measured through Likert Scales, dichotomous and multiple-choice questions. Data Analysis: Data were analyzed with SPSS employing descriptive statistics (crosstabs) and Chi-Square Test, to test the independence of categorical variables. Logistic regression was used to explore possible predictors of parents' photo-sharing behavior to be considered in further studies.
The majority of respondents are members of at least one FPG (89%). Mothers having at least a child aged 0-3 are more frequently members of these groups than those having older children (99% vs. 70%, χ² (1)= 43.077, p=.000). Most of the respondents access these groups daily (59%), in order to feel less alone, keep up with the evolution of technology, and find parenting, pediatrics and scholastic information. Sharing pictures of children on Facebook is quite common, especially on one’s personal page (68%). Most of the mothers state to post at least 1 to 4 pictures in 4 weeks (62%). Children are generally not notified of their pictures being posted online (88%). A relationship between mothers’ opinions on sharenting and their photo-sharing behavior was found, with mothers thinking it is a right of the parent being more likely to post pictures of their children than those who disagree (79% vs. 34%, χ² (1)=39.112, p=.000). In turn, respondents who perceive sharenting as early exposure to the Internet are less likely to do it than those who do not agree with this item (57% vs. 92%, χ² (1)=33.215, p=.000). Mothers are generally pleased to receive a “Like” to their children’s pictures (81%). They also share to a higher extent than those stating to be “indifferent” to it (χ² (1)=5.171, p=.023). Considering the entire sample, half of the respondents think that receiving many Likes may reinforce parents to share photos of their offspring. Sharing happy and important moments, as well as difficult ones to seek support, was also reported as a reason behind sharenting. Parents and children's age, as well as number of children were found to be associated with FPGs membership, while parent's age and opinions on sharenting predict parents' photo-sharing behavior. Although preliminary, these findings provide a base for further research.
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