Over the past decades, grandparents have increasingly entered the world of social media and started to share information about their grandchildren with their online networks. The practice of sharing online information about grandchildren is what we call “grandsharenting”. However, research asking why grandparents engage in grandsharenting is lacking, and grandparents’ opinions about their grandchildren’s online privacy have long remained unnoticed.
This study, published in the Journal of Children and Media, tackles grandparents’ motives for grandsharenting and jumps into the online privacy of grandchildren. Why do grandparents share content about their grandchildren on social media? And do grandparents ponder their grandchild’s online privacy when posting pictures of their naked grandchild bathing or winning their first football competition? By conducting 17 in-depth interviews with Flemish (Belgian) grandparents—aged between 52 and 83 and all active on Facebook—this study tried to figure it out!
Why grandparents engage in “grandsharenting”?
During the interviews, grandparents touched upon six reasons why they share the content of their grandchildren on social media, among which are showing pride, role confirmation, giving advice, saving memories, interacting with other grandparents, or informing others about the development of their grandchildren. As shown in the figure below, grandparents usually post content because they are proud of their offspring. One grandparent, for instance, said:
Why I share content of my grandchild? Yeah, because I am just so proud of the most beautiful grandchild in the universe.A Grandparent
Online privacy and the “dark side” of grandsharenting
Nevertheless, grandsharenting does not come without possible risks. Studies, for instance, point to possible privacy risks related to the practice of sharenting, such as digital kidnapping, the misuse of children’s images on child abuse websites, cyberbullying, cyber vetting, or the media content of children for data mining or other commercial purposes. The research findings show that grandparents are aware of the possible risks or “dark side” grandsharenting contains and therefore seek to apply cost-mitigating strategies to protect grandchildren’s privacy, solving their privacy dilemma.
Grandsharenting and privacy management strategies
Which privacy management strategies do grandparents adopt? Although privacy management strategies depended upon the grandchild’s age, four privacy management strategies were commonly used by grandparents to protect the grandchild’s online identity. First, grandparents considered the appropriateness of the content shared. Most grandparents, for example, said they refrained from sharing pictures on social media where their grandchild was portrayed as sad, angry or naked. Instead, almost all grandparents indicated they post only positive content about their grandchild, such as birthday parties or outdoor activities.
Second, grandparents involved the grandchild—or their parents—by asking permission. Third, grandparents mentioned they applied different privacy rules, such as anonymising the grandchild, limiting their posting frequency or changing their default privacy settings to reduce the audience’s reach. Some grandparents only shared pictures or videos of their grandchildren posted by the grandchild’s parent or the grandchild itself. In some cases, grandparents consciously deleted the content they shared about their grandchildren to reduce privacy risks.
Fourth, if grandsharenting led to conflictual situations, grandparents said they often switched to more private social media platforms—such as WhatsApp—, discussed the appropriateness of shared content, or deleted the picture where the grandchild was portrayed.
To wrap up…
This study dives into the motives and related privacy concerns regarding “grandsharenting”. It finds that grandparents mainly share the content of their grandchild(ren) online as they are proud of their grandchildren, but at the same time, seek to apply different privacy management strategies to reduce privacy risks using methods including anonymising the grandchild, limiting the frequency of grandsharenting, changing privacy settings, only sharing content posted by parents and grandchildren and deleting content of grandchildren.
Staes, L., Walrave, M., & Hallam, L. (2023). Grandsharenting: how grandparents in Belgium negotiate the sharing of personal information related to their grandchildren and engage in privacy management strategies on facebook. Journal of Children and Media, 17(2), 192-218. https://doi.org/10.1080/02667363.2022.2155932