Why We Should Think before We Talk about Our Kids Online
- Harvard Club of Long Island Distinguished Author Award
240 pp., 6 x 9 in, 9 b&w illus.
- Published: December 8, 2020
- Published: September 10, 2019
- Published: August 16, 2019
From baby pictures in the cloud to a high school's digital surveillance system: how adults unwittingly compromise children's privacy online.
Our children's first digital footprints are made before they can walk—even before they are born—as parents use fertility apps to aid conception, post ultrasound images, and share their baby's hospital mug shot. Then, in rapid succession come terabytes of baby pictures stored in the cloud, digital baby monitors with built-in artificial intelligence, and real-time updates from daycare. When school starts, there are cafeteria cards that catalog food purchases, bus passes that track when kids are on and off the bus, electronic health records in the nurse's office, and a school surveillance system that has eyes everywhere. Unwittingly, parents, teachers, and other trusted adults are compiling digital dossiers for children that could be available to everyone—friends, employers, law enforcement—forever. In this incisive book, Leah Plunkett examines the implications of “sharenthood”—adults' excessive digital sharing of children's data. She outlines the mistakes adults make with kids' private information, the risks that result, and the legal system that enables “sharenting.”
Plunkett describes various modes of sharenting—including “commercial sharenting,” efforts by parents to use their families' private experiences to make money—and unpacks the faulty assumptions made by our legal system about children, parents, and privacy. She proposes a “thought compass” to guide adults in their decision making about children's digital data: play, forget, connect, and respect. Enshrining every false step and bad choice, Plunkett argues, can rob children of their chance to explore and learn lessons. The Internet needs to forget. We need to remember.
The open access edition of this book was made possible by generous funding from the MIT Libraries.
“Unlike accounts either demonizing or defending social media, Plunkett charts an original course in asking adults, and urging law, to embrace youth as a time for experimentation. This book offers tools to empower youth and a nuanced, cogent assessment of the challenges in protecting privacy in the digital age.”
Rachel Rebouché, Associate Dean for Research, Professor of Law, Temple University Beasley School of Law; author of Governance Feminism: An Introduction, and Family Law (6th edition).
“Plunkett, a lawyer with experience defending young clients, provides a much-needed perspective on the rise of 'sharenting,' which she defines as the sharing of a child's private information through digital platforms. With an eye for history, a critique of the US legal system, and a penchant for storytelling, in this book she offers parents, caregivers, educators, and citizens important insights on how best to navigate the digital terrain.”
Lynn Schofield Clark, author of The Parent App: Understanding Families in a Digital Age
“In Sharenthood, Leah Plunkett deftly explores the challenges inherent in raising children in the digital age, from the unique perspective of a legal scholar. Rather than fear-mongering about what anonymous bad guys might do to our children, she notes what we, ourselves, as parents already are doing every day—often for no reward greater than 'likes.' The book is a bracing and provocative look at the present and a prescient warning about our potential futures.”
Dorothy Fortenberry, writer/producer, The Handmaid's Tale on Hulu
“A fascinating and frightening addition to the literature on the technological reconstruction of childhood and parenting. Plunkett details how taken-for-granted adult data-sharing behaviors, legally sanctioned and cynically encouraged by tech companies, constrain what our children are and can become. She sounds a loud warning—and proposes a significant cultural reorientation. We would be wise to listen!”
Joshua Meyrowitz, Professor Emeritus of Media Studies, University of New Hampshire; author of No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior
Plunkett is describing a set of questions, about data and privacy, that many of us already grapple with. Yet it all seems particularly nefarious in the context of children, for whom a defining condition of life is that they are captive to forces they cannot possibly grasp.... [Sharenthood's] most gripping moments come when she imagines scenarios that seem both far-fetched and, when you think more deeply about the direction of technological innovation, a bit inevitable.
The New Yorker
Illuminating and common sense.... Reveals the alarming ways your family's data can be used and distributed, and advocates for a more thoughtful approach to how we parent your digital-era offspring.
Mary Elizabeth Williams
One of 13 Must-Read Books for Fall
Leah Plunkett illuminates children's digital footprints: the digital baby monitors, the daycare livestreams, the nurse's office health records, the bus and cafeteria passes recording their travel and consumption patterns—all part of an indelible dossier for anyone who knows how to look for it. Plunkett thinks the offspring surveillance ought to stop and has suggestions for how to kick the sharenting habit. They are worth considering.
Emma Grey Ellis
Presents, with humor, insight, and a laudable broad-mindedness, a look at all concerns, both hypothetical and glaringly real, that parents should consider....An engaging, interesting read, one that doesn't scold but rather encourages everyone to consider their own view of privacy and press pause for just a moment before they post, tweet, swipe, scan, or upload anything.
Must-Read Book for Fall 2019
Plunkett is describing a set of questions, about data and privacy, that many of us already grapple with.
Illuminating and common sense.
Funding provided by: MIT Libraries Experimental Collections Fund