Oversharing: Why We Do it and How to Stop

Lisa writes: I entered the world of social media much like entering my kitchen at night, in total darkness with my hands stretched out in front of me. I forged ahead in this global orgy of oversharing with the certain knowledge that I knew nothing and would soon be stubbing my toe, or worse.

Oversharing on social media

The first time a lightbulb went on was during The Social Network when I heard the words, “As if every thought that tumbles through your head is so clever it would be a crime for it not to be shared. The Internet’s not written in pencil, Mark, it’s written in ink.” Perhaps that brilliant turn of phrase should be stamped on every digital device, much like the warnings on the side of cigarette packages. Users of both products may need to be reminded of the dangers that lie ahead. While toxic fumes pose a very real threat to our health, oversharing and forgetting the permanent nature of our online musings comes with its own risks.

Oversharing is brave…or simply misguided?

This week alone I have seen photos of a young teen having her face stitched in the ER. Knowing how carefully most teens attend to their images, I wondered if she really wanted this one, showing her in extreme pain and covered in blood, spread widely across the pages of mother’s Facebook page. ER photos, in all their gory glory, seem to cross the line into oversharing. I have seen report cards, graphic potty training updates, disparagements about children’s weight and a mountain of medical complaints, gynecological and otherwise. Ignoring the gross factor, is there any chance that this is the digital footprint people hope to leave for themselves or their children? Is there any chance that parent’s don’t realize that their kids can read? Is talking about your children’s and your own problems online “brave” or simply misguided?

As a kid nothing scared us more than our “permanent record,” the mysterious record of everything we did. Social media is our permanent record writ large…a permanent digital record that will live on long after we are gone. Do we really want it clogged up with oversharing and complaints about our marriages, details of our sex lives and giant invasions into the privacy of our children?

Why do we share and then, at times, slip into oversharing? At what point are we invading our children’s privacy when we share the details of their lives? And, how do we stop?

Social media and television call to us to overshare.

We control the medium and the message, but sometimes it is hard to remember that it is not the other way around. Social media apps sit on our phones calling to us to join the fray. First, we post pictures of our kids being adorable, then losing a tooth, and later getting a scraped knee. Soon we are documenting other family ailments in painful and graphic detail and the oversharing has begun. It is a slippery slope with no clear markers along the way. It is easy to begin with the cute and to slip into the gross or invasive.

Reality TV is professional oversharing as we leer into others’ homes and lives, surveying all that was once considered private. Witnessing the private emotional meltdowns that are the staple of this genre may have signaled to the rest of us that not only is sharing and oversharing acceptable, it may even be desirable.

Finally, there is the thirst for fame, that little voice inside us crying out for our 15 minutes. Our desire to be noticed by the larger world, or at least a subset of it, lulls us into sharing attention grabbing information that our more measured selves might think twice about.

And let’s be honest, selfies are just so damn easy to take. Why not amuse your friends and the larger world with an unending stream of photos of yourself?

Computers, and worse, handheld devices, do not yet come equipped with a breathalyzer.

Some of the answer to the question of why we share has its roots in when we share. Recent research suggests that heightened emotions or physical arousal of any kind may fuel our oversharing. The decision to share or not share has less to do with the piece of information we are passing along and more to do with our own mental and physical state. Anger, pain, elation, or the adrenaline high from a good workout are all more likely to make us effuse online or in real life.

Drunk dialing used to be a problem. Have a few too many, dial an old flame and, bam, an ugly and very forgettable phone call. The good news, of course, was that in the morning there were only two people who knew about the indiscretion and both of you could work on the assumption that it never happened. Keyboards connected to 2.5 billion people are an entirely different story, one that is far harder to cover up in the morning. Venting our anger or pain or frustration online seems like a good idea, right up to the moment when it does not.

We care too much what others think.

Experts say that oversharing is fueled by our insecurities, the need to compensate for deficits, socially or professionally that we perceive in ourselves. We worry about what others think, try desperately to make ourselves look good, giving away far more information than we should. When it doesn’t work, which of course it wouldn’t, we share even more, Ouch. In person we are, at least, receiving the social clues that this is not working. Online, we are operating in a vacuum and the brakes that should be applied, that awkward look that someone gives you when you have said too much, just aren’t there.

Despite the constant barrage of exhortations to think of ourselves as a brand, we are not brands. We are neither brands nor products and thinking of ourselves as such can be dehumanizing; once that very human barrier is broken down, oversharing can begin.

It is fine, even funny, for Geico to look stupid, in their constant plea for our attention, but is the same true for us? We are people with complex lives that inevitably involve the privacy of others. Brands advertise and they spend billions of dollars in the unending quest for attention and for them almost any attention is good attention, not so for us.

Spilling online is strangely easy. Anyone who has even faced an angry parent, teacher, or boss knows how difficult it is to admit something while staring someone in the face. Admissions of guilt or misbehavior have always been easier to spill in a letter, without the eye contact that inhibits us. The internet has no eye contact, it is a letter to the world, thus far easier to write yet far from private. It may be one of the great ironies of the internet age – that it is easier to confess our misjudgments and misdoings to the world, than to a single person.

Is it right to write about our kids?

New parenthood is a time awash with new love, perhaps life’s most heightened emotional state. There is nothing more gorgeous than a new baby (in this mom’s opinion) so it is no wonder that we cannot wait to share this new-found love with everyone we know. We start writing about our kids before they can read somehow forgetting that is inevitable that they will see every word we have typed. And they will see these words through their highly critical, easily embarrassed 13-year-old eyes. What may seem loving to us, will be mortifying to them.

Many parents argue that they do not post without their children’s consent. But, of course, children cannot give consent and cannot begin to imagine how their futures selves will perceive their parents’ current blabberings. And in truth, as their parents, neither can we. We may have decided to live with any future consequences of our own oversharing, but is it fair to ask our children to do the same?

A larger and perhaps more insidious problem is that by recounting their lives online, we are creating their public persona. We are telling the world who our children are and because that record will never be erased that view of them, frozen in time, will live on. Is fair to do this? Is it fair to paint an ineradicable picture of them as a tantruming toddler or petulant teen? Just as we once did, I think our children need to have the opportunity create their own personas without trailing behind them the legacy of their parent’s views.

How to stop oversharing.

There is a great deal of advice out there about how to stop oversharing. But when looked at closely it all seems to boil down to just one thing. Think, or more specifically, think ahead. Imagine the ripple effect of the piece of information you are about to share. Imagine your mother, children, partner/spouse, boss and any other relevant person knowing what you are about to divulge. Imagine meeting new people who posses the piece of information you are about to disclose. Think about that information in the public domain today, and think about it in the public domain decades from now. Still okay with it? Then wait, and think again. Time, consideration and reflection are the antidotes to oversharing, so take and use all three.



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Comments

  1. My mother gave me some old photos from when I was a kid recently, and in them was one of me walking around the family room on Christmas morning, probably 14 years old, in my new ski boots, a yellow shirt and new navy blue vest, with no pants on. Only knee high ski socks and my underwear and a new vest that barely covered my bottom. She’d snapped a picture, which I remember, but on the back of the photo she’d written a note to her mother, my grandmother, about how much I love the boots, look at those long legs, and “Barbie would just die if she knew I sent you this.” Well, even now, decades later, that feels invasive. Just a small example and about the most harm you could have done back in the 70′s – so yes, I can only imagine the damage and sense of violation kids today might feel.

    My daughter just had twins and I asked her if it was okay for me to share a few of the pictures on FB (since she doesn’t participate in FB by choice) and she said, yes. And thanks for asking, Mom.”

    I love the quote in your photo. So wise.
    Barbara recently posted..November OptimismMy Profile

    • And I love the photos of your new grand babies, so beautifully and delicately done. Not surprised given your gorgeous photography. Thanks, Barbara.

  2. There should be a HIPPA for Parents
    lesli DeVito recently posted..Comment on MONDAY MAKEOVER – GO FOR THE GOLD! by GretchenMy Profile

    • Great, refreshing article! I especially love the thoughts you share regarding “why we use social media” It is all true in my eyes and my own experience. You wrote:”The decision to share or not share has less to do with the piece of information we are passing along and more to do with our own mental and physical state. Anger, pain, elation, or the adrenaline high from a good workout are all more likely to make us effuse online or in real life.”

      I also ask my children first if I could post grandchildren pictures, and usually get a go ahead, as I have limited access availablity in my privacy settings. LOL, they are friends with lots of mine, not including business associates. Yet, I am hoping that only they can see the pics, as only “friends” can see mine.

      BTW, I love your posts sharing your feelings regarding empty nesting. As an Empty Nester Life Coach, I can attest to the fact that you are providing a valuable service to those experiencing the same emotions. Please keep up your discreet work.

    • Very funny and probably true Lesli

  3. This is great and so relevant. I’m very careful about what I share about my kids on FB – in fact, I pretty much share nothing. Part of that (or mostly) is due my daughter’s swift reaction to me (privately) about some innocuous FB status I made about her overseas study trip. Really, it seemed innocuous to me. But to her it wasn’t. It was annoying. So…I just don’t go there. As parents, we really need to make an active effort to respect boundaries. As far as how to stop the oversharing? For me, lately, I’ve been going on FB less and less. There’s peer pressure to overshare; when you remove yourself from the situation, there’s less pressure. Kind of like kids and alcohol. Imagine that!
    Pam Houghton recently posted..Eight things I learned about freelance writing from people who make moviesMy Profile

    • I agree and share very little. I am also careful what I share about myself. Once it’s out there…… I rarely read the long comments of people’s day-to-day plights and how they could not find a parking space.

  4. I read somewhere recently (of course I can’t remember exactly where) that the sound of the “pin” of a text message affects us in the same place in our brain that sexual arousal does. We are all looking to be connected, and social media makes it easy.

    The problem is that no one thinks they’re the one oversharing, they think everyone else is doing it.

    I have said before and I’ll say again, I’m so glad there was no social media when I was raising my kids. It would have been a daily struggle for me to not overshare.
    Sharon Greenthal recently posted..Male Midlife Crisis – What I Learned From My FatherMy Profile

    • That is the problem Sharon. So easy to see it when others to it, so hard to recognize in ourselves. Agreed about raising the kids before the chaos began!

  5. Very thought provoking.
    I do write about my kids and they know it but so far nothing that has made them say “stop”. And nothing demoralizing, embarrassing or inappropriate. Mostly about how they think and how they are smarter than we (adults) give them credit for.
    Unfortunately the ones who read this are probably already the ones that know to stop and think.
    Nancie Bartley recently posted..Education as we know it.My Profile

  6. Emily says:

    Such a great post…and such good advice at the end. I try to be super careful with my blogging about my kids, never posting their photos, not using their real names, but there have been one or two posts where I’ve written things they didn’t like. So, now I’m even more careful. I try to write more about me as a parent, rather than focusing on my kids’ characters, but it’s still a hard balance. Going to share this post now!
    Emily recently posted..Waiting Rooms Can Mean More Than Just WaitingMy Profile

    • Emily you have had so much going on but I think you have found that balance with your writing and sharing. Nothing more searing than the look from a teen age boy when his mom has embarrassed him, is there?

  7. Thank you for posting this — I agree and share very little. I am also careful what I share about myself. I do not understand the necessity to post day to day occurrences.
    Carol Graham recently posted..Tell Me…….What’s It Like?My Profile

  8. Your preachin’ to the Choir here. I am constantly AMAZED at what people (mostly women, in my case) are ‘sharing’. I know of one woman who is having an affair, her husband is having an affair, and it’s all over their small town BECAUSE of her ‘sharing’. Now, her kids are hearing about it at school. WHAT THE HELL WAS SHE THINKING????
    A Pleasant House recently posted..Otis Reading ME Amanda ShawMy Profile

  9. It’s interesting that all of us who are commenting thus far agree with you Lisa. We’re sharing that too much sharing is a bad idea. Kinda funny.

    I have tried to be aware since I began not quite a year ago that this is my blog. Not my husband’s, not my son’s. Being a psychologist, I have been keeping confidences for years. Awareness of boundaries is part of my job. But I have deleted often when I am getting carried away with something and had to do just what you mention. Read it with empathy for how it might seem to someone else that I care about.

    It’s a nice reminder. Thank you.
    Margaret Rutherford recently posted..Birthday BalloonsMy Profile

    • As a professional keeper of secrets you are probably well versed in what the rest of us are just learning. I imagine you have much to add to the discussion of why we feel so compelled to divulge, particularly with the internet, to perfect strangers.

  10. I recently had the opportunity to hear a lecture on social media and kids. The take away message was to NOT post pics of children and it has nothing to do with their social footprint.
    There are creeps out there that are constantly scanning the ‘net for something that they can gaze at, photoshop, make their own, pin on their wall in their bedroom, or send on to other creeps with whom they cavort online.
    Would you like the image of a child that you love being distributed on the internet underground?
    Don’t think that Facebook security will keep your pics to yourself. If 10 of your friends “like” or “share”, it is then available to all of their friends, and all of theirs and so one.
    Keep your images sacred, especially those of your kids!
    Lori
    Lori Draper recently posted..Things That Didn’t Go Wrong TodayMy Profile

    • Lori, Very good point that I did not even thing to touch upon, thanks for brining it up and thanks for reading.

  11. Estelle says:

    Lisa,
    Boy did you hit the nail on the head with this post. I think key is to think of the big picture–how do you want your kids to view you-and themselves when they get older. Great article.
    Estelle
    Estelle recently posted..Drinking Wine…and BlossomingMy Profile

    • Thank you Estelle, very kind. Just saw some gruesome, nasty ER stuff in my FB feed, fairly sure I should be passing some of this along.

  12. Great post – so incredibly well-written. These days nothing is sacred. We writers forget to think about the ramifications of our words. Thanks for the reminder. Thinking twice is great advice. I remember reading Erma Bombeck back in the days and thinking – oh my gosh – I wonder if her kids are embarrassed that she writes stuff about them (much of it may have even been exaggerated for humor – but still….). And now – the stuff of Erma Bombeck is MILD compared to what we share these days.

    • I feel lucky that when my kids were tiny there was no social media. First I was less distracted than I would have been, but I would have been an overshareer I fear, and lived to regret it in their teen years!

  13. I know for myself I try very hard to write about my life as a parent from my perspective, and I avoid telling stories that aren’t really mine to tell. There are incredibly interesting stories about my kids that I would like to write about, but unless years from now they give me true consent I won’t touch them. I hope I’m doing a good enough job of avoiding material they will be embarrassed by later.

    Facebook scares me a bit. I once put up a link to a blog post about my daughter, Mona, and a photo appeared as a thumbnail next to the link that I had never put online. I eventually tracked the photo down as one I’d uploaded to my photo library at Babble when I used to blog there, but I’d never used it. Facebook has a longer reach than many realize.

    But I do wonder, going forward, if it will just be a new norm that people are able to look past more easily than we know. If everyone has a sea of such information out there, maybe it all becomes white noise.
    Korinthia Klein recently posted..For Love of a DogMy Profile

  14. I started to comment, and it got so long, I wrote a post instead. I think this piece was very well written, and of course– I’m totally and 100% guilty. I notice a lot of the oversharers aren’t commenting, but I think this is a good conversation to have – so I hope you are okay with me writing a whole piece in response to yours. I linked you guys up with mine! xo
    Julie Chenell DeNeen recently posted..A Response to Grown & Flown’s OversharingMy Profile

  15. Good post, with excellent advice. Though I now use Facebook, I am regularly thankful that social media did not exist when I was the age of the college students I now teach. I teach media criticism, and am regularly appalled at what kids post about themselves (and about others).

    On the other hand, now I’m doing a blog — sharing songs and stories about my marriage — which I’m trying to keep a secret from my wife (but no one else) until our 33rd anniversary. I’m hoping she will appreciate it (I may be an egomaniac, but she’s not), though of course I am not including anything that I think will embarrass her. And since I can’t exactly get her permission and keep it a surprise, I am getting her grown daughter’s permission, and decided against using any photos. And we’re in a position where nothing I write is likely to have much effect on our lives. Thanks.
    James McPherson recently posted..On sabbaticalMy Profile

    • Sounds like a lovely gift. Our digital world has become a gorgeous scrap book and well sometimes more. Thanks for sharing your thought, glad to see you here.

  16. Great post – I share ALOT about myself, but try not to share too much about the kids and when I do, I am very mindful of THEM before I actually hit the post button. Mine are teenagers and at that age where it just wouldn’t be right if I told the whole world about their angst and drama, so when I’m doing a blog or FB post about them, I try to write it with the lens of how it affects ME vs lots of detail about how it’s affecting THEM. And, I draw the line at pictures of them – they would defriend me on FB if I did that :) Just found your blog recently and am loving it, will be back to see more!

    • So glad you found us, really thrilled. Do you write a blog, leave us a link if you do. Your approach seems a sound one with teenagers, but the lines can become blurry at times where our experiences speak directly to their actions and edge into their privacy, such difficult line to walk. Thanks for sharing your approach!

  17. I really agree with your blog post. So true. I once had facebook and I just ended up deactivating. I’m a private person and it’s hard for me to share and engage, I try though. I do have a twitter & a blog, because I do like to write. As a matter of fact, it is through twitter that I saw this post since I follow Grown & Flown on twitter. I don’t share about my children or post pictures of them, for same reasons that I agree in your post. I’m thankful social media was not around when I was a child. Thank you for writing and sharing.
    Natalie recently posted..The Harsh TruthMy Profile

    • So glad that we are connected on Twitter. So much wonderful stuff comes from all these wonderful new ways to share. So many of us are able to become writers and have a real readership when that just would not have been possible, but we are really on untested ground. So so so happy to hear from you.

  18. mike says:

    I cringe at some of the things that people write. I assume it is a type of therapy for some people, to get it all out there. some I can read, some I end up skipping because it is more than I want or need to hear. thanks for a nice article.
    mike recently posted..Why do men eat so damn loud? That and more on Ask Joe!My Profile

    • Thanks Mike. I cringe to, but don’t really judge. I think that this is so new that we are all just figuring it out. Hands outstretched, walking in the dark.

  19. This is a great post.
    I have always felt very wary of posting about my kids online for many of the reasons you give. I do have a parenting blog (and another which isn’t.) My blog is about ways to become more aware and compassionate as parent and with ourselves, so there’s really nothing that would be shameful for my kids. But still, I have been very careful what I write about them, use aliases and only post photos that are from the back or from a distance so it’s not obvious who they are.

    I’ve often wondered if I am being over-cautious, but I’d rather err that way.
    Yvonne recently posted..Random Acts of ThankfulnessMy Profile

  20. This is really excellent and well thought out. There are so many repercussions of acting too soon – in general, in ordinary life, but more so on social media, where it will live on. A simple statement or photo that seems so innocent can become very, very complicated if it’s shared too soon, or at all.
    Sheryl recently posted..C’mon, Brain: Help Me RememberMy Profile

  21. Carpool Goddess says:

    I have yet to share one photo of my husband or kids. As much as I’m on social media, I’m still not totally comfortable with what’s here and shared. I also rarely write about my kids, because it’s not my story to tell. They were in their teens when I started blogging and made it very clear they wanted to maintain their privacy (and dignity). I’m so thankful online sharing wasn’t around when my kids were little and it was commonplace to share so much. I don’t think they would have appreciated it as they got older. Maybe I’m just old fashioned. My dad used to say, “Think before you speak.” Now it’s “Think before you tweet!”
    Carpool Goddess recently posted..10 Things You Don’t Know About MeMy Profile

  22. Social media (I’m including blogging) is today’s version of the 50′s coffe clatch. We’re such a mobile society, yet we still have the need to belong. Our neighborhoods now are inhabited by people that don’t even know each other. So we develop relationships online and think of them as friends. We share private information thinking we’re talking to “a friend” when in reality we’re talking to the planet.
    Barbara Coleman recently posted..Shaming Children Is Emotionally Abusive | Dr. Karyl McBrideMy Profile

  23. Very important post! While I don’t understand why some people feel the need to over-share and spill their family’s private business all over the internet, I usually just ignore any TMI I find on my social media feeds. I’ve always tried to be super cautious about what I post/share (I’m probably more sensitive than most after spending 10 yrs working as a privacy officer).
    However, I am one that wishes there had been social media when my kids were growing up. My family was so poor (didn’t even have a phone or tv) I had no way to connect with my far-away family. I so regret that we missed out on sharing so many of our family’s milestones and happy occasions the way I see my friends and family do now.
    Kate recently posted..Help! I’ve Fallen, And I Can’t Get Up!My Profile

  24. Antionette Blake says:

    This is so true and sometimes I wonder what people are thinking, but then again, I have a blog so what am I thinking. Hopefully my (unborn) grands, great grands and great great grands will appreciate it – lol Happy New Year.
    Antionette Blake recently posted..Snow Storm, Sunshine, and a Sunset in Summit FarmsMy Profile

  25. Great post, although the over-sharers who need to read it will never see it!

    I write a blog and a forthcoming book about the bad things that happen when people mix their friends, family, and finances.

    The stories are based on my experiences plus anecdotes that dozens of people shared with me. I am fastidious about changing names, places, professions, ethnicity, and sometimes even the gender of the players — to protect both the innocent and the guilty. I am amazed and grateful that these volunteers are willing to open up to a total stranger about their intimate lives while knowing that their stories will be immortalized online and in print.
    Valerie Rind recently posted..How to Loan Money to a FriendMy Profile

    • Great Valerie, come back and post a link to the book when it comes out so that we can share it.

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  1. A Response to Grown & Flown’s Oversharing says:

    […] by two amazing people that I’ve had the honor of meeting. Today’s post was called, “Oversharing: Why We Do it and How to Stop”. They are worth following so check them […]

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