I started “mommy blogging” in 2011. It was a time when it felt revolutionary to put some honest truths about parenting out there—to admit that it wasn’t always sunshine and giggles. More and more voices joined in the chorus; here were women who felt empowered to own their stories and share them to help others feel seen.
But somewhere along the line, being open about one’s family and experiences turned into putting children on full display to build a “brand.” The parenting bloggers of the past transformed into the Instagram influencers of the present—and so much of that world is based on how comfortable influencers are with letting their fans into their personal lives, visually. It’s a shift that many on social media are no longer okay with. And parenting influencers with very large audiences, built out of that willingness to share, are changing the way they do things.
“I literally think about it every single day,” Grant Khanbalinov, a TikTok personality with 3.2 million followers recently told The Washington Post. “Why we were doing it for so long and what impact this is going to have on the kids as they get older.” His TikTok profile now reads, “No longer a kids show.”
He’s one of the many parenting influencers who built a large online following by sharing day-to-day details of his kids’ lives—and now has some major regrets. “I went from this average person, this nobody, to getting brand deals,” Khanbalinov said. “All this money is coming in. People are inviting us to places and noticing us and our kids on the street.”
Then he became aware of Reddit forums accusing him and his wife of exploiting their kids, and he eventually started wondering if they were right. He told The Washington Post that his “breaking point” was when the family took a trip to Disney, and he noticed his kids weren’t enjoying it—instead, they were waiting for cues to pose for the camera. From that point on, Khanbalinov either made content that included his kids private—or stopped posting about them altogether.
Kristin Gallant, one-half of the duo behind wildly popular toddler parenting brand Big Little Feelings, has added herself to the list of influencers who no longer show their kids online. “Okay, so there’s going to be a little change here at Big Little Feelings,” Gallant shared to Instagram stories last year. “I don’t want to disappoint any of you… but I’ve taken a full year to weigh pros, cons, and do research. Starting tomorrow, I’m going to remove the girls’ faces from social media. I’m still going to share my real raw vulnerable life; that’s never going away. And this is no judgment on whether you share your kids on social media or you don’t, but sharing them with 2.7 million people is very, very different. And so now I have to consider their safety.”
Gallant explains that showing their faces and posting something as benign as their favorite snack or birth month could make it easy for a person they don’t know to walk up and start a conversation and establish a false sense of trust. Beyond physical safety considerations, launching this successful platform was Gallant’s dream come true, she says, not necessarily the path her kids would have chosen for themselves. She wants to wait until they get older to make that call.
As do plenty of celebrities who keep their children safely tucked away from the public eye. Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell are known for honoring their kids’ privacy. “My feeling is that I chose a career in the public eye. I chose to be quoted, I chose to have my picture taken,” Bell told Romper, about choosing to keep her kids off social media from infancy. “I don’t know them yet. I don’t know if they will want that. So I really don’t have the right to choose for them.” Even Mark Zuckerberg has decided to keep his kids’ faces off of social media. Might not be the worst idea to follow the lead of the person whose fortune was built off of the world’s willingness to share.
Respecting a child’s privacy seems like a good enough reason to question whether “sharenting” is appropriate for your family, but experts warn that there may even be larger dangers that lurk with the practice, as parents “unintentionally put their children at risk of hacking, facial recognition tracking, pedophilia and other online threats to privacy and security when oversharing on social media,” reports CBS.
Apart from those worst-case scenarios, though, is the everyday reality that parents are laying the groundwork for how to exist in a digital world that rewards over-exposure. “If we’re modeling appropriate use, as well as appropriate content that’s shared, how we share, and getting consent to share things, I think that’s going to… help children make that a part of their best practices when they’re using social media,” says child development and parenting expert Caron Irwin.
Social platforms have changed, as has our understanding of how to use them and what the implications of doing so are. If we equip our children with the knowledge that their image is theirs and they are allowed to decide how it’s shared, that has to be a step in the right direction.
“When we’re parents of young kids, it’s hard to see where they end and where we begin,” Stacey Steinberg, a professor at the University of Florida’s College of Law, who researches parental sharing and child privacy told The Post. “And as they get older, that becomes more and more apparent. But when we share so much about them in early childhood, it’s harder for them to create their own identity and become who they want to be.”
For those simply wanting to share moments with friends and family without making it a public display, there are safer options like the Tinybeans app (you can learn more and download it here!), which puts parents in total control of who can see and interact with photos and videos.