‘Sharenting’ at the American Academy of Pediatrics Annual Conference

Dr. Bahareh Keith and I presented our abstract on children’s privacy last weekend at the American Academy of Pediatrics Annual Conference. It was an incredible experience. Like us, many members of the audience have grappled with balancing parental sharing with children’s privacy. It was wonderful to share our research with such thoughtful professionals.

We received a significant amount of press coverage during the event. Here is a small sampling of the news features discussing our work.

CNN – The do’s and don’ts of posting about your kids online [link] October, 2016

CBS News – Something to consider before posting about your kids [link] October, 2016

“’Online sharing offers many positive benefits to both parents and children and to communities as a whole, but this message is all about finding a balance,’” Steinberg told CBS News. “’A parent’s right to share and the benefits of sharing is very important and by exploring this we can find a way to allow families to connect online but also to respect children’s privacy.’”

Protecting Kids in the Age of Sharenting – Interview with The Atlantic’s Adrienne LaFrance

I was thrilled to speak with The Atlantic’s Adrienne LaFrance about children’s privacy on social media. We had a wonderful discussion. The following excerpt provides some of the highlights. Ms. LaFrance made many excellent points, and she summarized the issues so well in her article.

“Parents make value-based choices for their children all the time. A toddler may want to opt out of wearing any clothing whatsoever to the playground, but the grown-ups of the house make the kid put on pants and a T-shirt anyway.

Parents often tell their kids what to believe about God, and which football team to root for. Even infants are outfitted in tiny rompers that declare partisan political affiliations. There is no ‘bright line,’ Steinberg says, that dictates when and how it’s appropriate for parents to express themselves through their children. That’s part of why, especially in the United States, there’s enormous cultural deference to parents to do what they believe is right. Yet when identity-shaping decisions—made by parents, then distributed online in ways that ultimately remove parental control—are digitally preserved for years or longer, such decisions potentially get in the way of a child’s self-actualization.”

Sharenting: Children’s Privacy on Social Media | quoted in Slate

I had the pleasure of sharing my research with Slate this week. Here are some quotes from the article:

“Steinberg suggests a focus on providing guidance that helps parents think through the implications of sharing information about their kids online.

In a forthcoming article in the Emory Law Journal, she considers how a public health–based approach to behavior change could address these concerns. For example, health professionals have mounted campaigns to educate parents and the general public about ways to combat secondhand smoke exposure and sudden infant death syndrome. In the article, Steinberg provides a list of recommendations for parents, including the suggestion that parents ask their children before posting pictures online and give children “veto power” over information, photos, or videos they don’t want to be shared. Steinberg, who along with pediatrician Bahareh Keith will present on this topic at next month’s national conference of the American Academy of Pediatrics, believes doctors could be a good source for parents to turn to get advice about online sharing decisions.”

You ca read the full article here.

Children’s Privacy on Social Media – Sharenting

I’ve written extensively about sharenting, or the practice of parents sharing about their children on social media. You can read my research here and my Washington Post essay here. You can also read my NY Times interview on the subject here.

I was interviewed by Redbook Magazine this week. Here are some highlights from the article:

“‘Most parents want to do the best for their kids, [but] when it comes to online sharing, there’s just not a lot of information out there — parents can be at a loss,'” she says. …

But while there may be a lack information, there’s an abundance of sharing from other parents. Steinberg says that a whopping 92 percent of 2-year-olds have a social media presence, and one-third of all kids appear on social media within the first twenty four hours of their lives. …

Steinberg pointed out that there are, indeed, lots of pluses to so-called ‘sharenting,’ such as how it can foster a sense of community.

‘I think that really, when we look at these issues, we’re going to have to find a way for society to value a parent’s right to share, and a child’s interest in privacy,’ Steinberg says.”

Rape Culture – Featured on NBC’s TODAY and the Washington Post

Last year, I wrote an essay with Dr. Jennifer Sager about parenting against rape culture for The Washington Post.  

We explained:

There is no way to inoculate our children from becoming victims or perpetrators of rape. But parents can help their children recognize and avoid the erroneous and harmful attitudes surrounding sex, power, control, and coercion. Teach children to respect their bodies, instincts, and emotions. At the same time, give them tools to recognize and respect the same thing in others. Perhaps by doing so, we can shift the dialog and begin to create a culture that fosters healthy boundaries and ends all forms sexual violence.

The essay was shared widely on social media this week, and we were interviewed on the topic by NBC’s TODAY. A link to the article, written by Allison Slater Tate, with our quotes on the topic can be viewed here.

“After the past week’s focus on the sexual assault case at Stanford, Steinberg said it is crucial that parents acknowledge that rape culture does exist and the part that parents can play in fighting it. ‘We owe it to our children to shift this culture,’ she said. ‘We all want our children to enter adulthood armed with the best tools to steer their life’s course.'”

Children’s Privacy on Social Media – Interview with The New York Times

On March 8, 2016, New York Times editor K.J. Dell’Antonia interviewed me regarding children’s privacy on social media. I’ve written a law review on this topic, forthcoming in the Emory Law Journal.

Read the full article here:

Don’t Post About Me on Social Media, Children Say

A few additional links to articles referring to this interview are here:

Women’s Day:

Kveller: Kids Wish Their Parents Would Stop Posting About Them on Social Media

Express: How the tables have turned: Kids now telling parents to ditch their phones

A draft of my forthcoming article, Children’s Privacy in the Age of Social Media, is available here. It will be published in the Emory Law Journal in Spring, 2017.

Parent Partnerships: A Better Way to Co-Parent – First published in the Washington Post

The essay first appeared in The Washington Post on March 8, 2016

As evidenced by many families I know, there are plenty of circumstances where children flourish in single-parent households and in family arrangements that involve active and engaged parents who live apart. When I worked as a child welfare attorney, however, I saw first-hand that this was not always the case.

Merle Weiner, a law professor at the University of Oregon, worries about the potential long-term harm to children in families where the parents are not supportive of, or cooperative with, one another.  Weiner suggests that the best way to prevent this harm is to encourage people to develop strong co-parenting relationships from the start. She calls this relationship a “parent-partnership.”

Children thrive when their parents work harmoniously to meet their needs. While laws establish each parent’s legal obligation to the child, they do not specify obligations between co-parents in the absence of a marriage. Weiner says that legal obligations should exist between the parents, as it is “the expectations of others that shape our identities and behavior, and the same would be true for parent-partners.”

Weiner proposes concrete legal obligations that would arise automatically between parents upon the birth or adoption of a child, but her recommendations also provide all parents (and potential parents) with guidelines they can consider now, regardless of whether these proposals are enacted as law.

The duties she suggests present a clear and much needed road map to help parents navigate their role as caregivers to their joint children. Her proposals offer tangible guidance for all parents — regardless of relationship status — and can improve cooperation, cohesiveness and collaboration in parenting and family life. By agreeing to these types of terms, parents would set the tone for their relationship and acknowledge that they are supposed to have a supportive family relationship throughout their offspring’s childhood.

Weiner proposes that parents should have the following core responsibilities to one another:

Obligation to give aid. When a spouse is in danger, most states have laws that require their partner to provide assistance. Weiner proposes that the same should apply to parent-partners.

Extension of abuse laws. Weiner recommends extending traditional domestic violence laws to protect to parent-partners. For example, her proposal includes allowing psychological abuse to qualify as grounds for obtaining a protection order. Additionally, she recommends that protection orders allow victims to have non-abusive contact with the other parent if the victim wants to. These obligations would be subject to any court order that would keep the parents apart or allocate custody to one parent over the other.

Counseling at the end of romantic relationships. Recognizing that many parent-partnerships begin as romantic relationships, Weiner proposes that counseling should be required when the romantic attachment ends, if one parent wants it but the other parent doesn’t. By encouraging such programs, Weiner “hopes that more parents would try programs that would help them reconcile or at least act like good friends at the end of the romantic relationship.” Parent-partners can agree, before there are even signs that a relationship is deteriorating, that counseling is in their child’s best interest, and therefore have a plan in place that recognizes this goal before the need arises.

Fair dealing when entering into contracts. Weiner proposes that parent-partners should be required to deal fairly with each other, in terms of creating contracts such as post-marital agreements, cohabitation agreements, etc. Under this plan, the parent-partner seeking enforcement of a contract would be required to demonstrate that both partners entered into the agreement fairly, without coercion and that it is fair.

Caring and sharing within the parent-partnership. Lastly, the obligations would recognize that one parent in a partnership often provides a substantial amount of the child and home care. Weiner suggests that parent-partners share equally in physical care responsibilities, and her proposal suggests that a parent who takes on a disproportionate share of this work should be entitled to compensation, to be enforced by the courts. Parent-partners could take steps to recognize the value of such contributions from the outset, perhaps by openly discussing this principle and incorporating it into daily life.

Weiner envisions that these core obligations will set a standard not only for how the law views co-parents, but also how co-parents view themselves. By acknowledging that the adults in a child’s life are intertwined in important ways, society can send an important message about the role partnership plays in the cycle of raising children.

While Weiner’s model specifically calls for system change through legal reform, children could benefit now if their parents adopted these principles — not because of a legal obligation, but because it is in the best interest of their children.

Star Wars vs NASA: The importance of the universe of a child’s imagination — First published in the Washington Post

This essay first appeared in The Washington Post.

Last month, my family embarked on a day trip to Kennedy Space Center. Since our house is currently experiencing somewhat of a Star Wars craze, our trip coincided with a week filled with Lightsaber battles, Starship Lego creations, and Crayola pictures depicting life from alternate universes. While my oldest child had no trouble differentiating the realities of our day trip to the Space Center from the imaginary world in the Star Wars movies, the task wasn’t easy for my younger children. After we watched the IMAX movie, Journey to Space, I did my best to explain the differences, but my efforts were lost on them. They stared at me with wide eyes glaring, shoulders back, and their jaws dropped low. I bought them Popsicles and decided not to push the issue.

Over the next two weeks, the kids asked many questions, trying to understand how space and interplanetary travel were real, but that Star Wars, Luke, and Darth Vader were only pretend characters in a movie. I think they now understand as much as they are developmentally able to process. And after our first awkward conversations, the kids seem fine with my short explanations.


I really struggled to find the right words to help my kids differentiate fact from fiction during this process. This difficulty has led me to the following question: What is the role of imagination in child development, and how can I best help my children navigate between the pretend worlds that make up most of their imaginative lives, and the real worlds they must traverse each day?

Discussing the issue of imagination with the Wall Street Journal, Paul Harris, a professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education explained “there is evidence that imagination and role play appears to have a key role in helping children take someone else’s perspective.” These experiences give them practical experience to learn how to process social cues. Playing pretend, it turns out, helps children navigate through reality as well.

The Star Wars series is not unique in that within its story, parents have an opportunity to teach children valuable lessons. For our family, we’ve enjoyed the depth of discussions that seem to take the story line past the actual plot and towards conversations centered at the deeper issues contained in the films. These conversations have made their way past the imaginary world depicted in the movie and into our day to day lives. For example, some of Yoda’s words are fantastic to help kids visualize smart choices. My current favorite is an old Yoda quote from The Empire Strikes Back. In that movie, Yoda smartly reminds young Luke, “You will know the good from the bad when you are calm.”

The conversations in our home still often center around imaginary Starships and follow almost instantaneously by dreams of one day traveling to the moon. I’ve assisted in building my fair share of Lego battle fleets and I am getting quite good at drawing Darth Vader. I still can’t fully explain the nuanced differences between space travel in Star Wars and the awesomeness of NASA rockets. But I can help my children by asking questions and helping them seek out the truth themselves. In the great words of Yoda, “Truly wonderful the mind of a child is.”

Stacey Steinberg is a legal skills professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. She is also a lifestyle photographer and a mom. Follow Stacey on Twitter @sgsteinberg or view Stacey’s photography on Facebook.

How to parent against rape culture (for one thing, start young) — First published in the Washington Post

co authored by Dr. Jennifer Sager, Ph.D.


This post was first published in The Washington Post.

In the news, we’ve recently been bombarded with outrageous examples of male dominance, sexual control and coercion, and the objectification of women in very public forums. For example, a fraternity was recently suspended in Virginia after hanging a sign off their front porch that read, “Hope your baby girl is ready for a good time.”

On Facebook, an accused rapist wrote, “women are not people god just put them here for mans entertainment [sic].”

And Bill Cosby nonchalantly discussed his abuse of women in an interview surrounding his recent sex abuse scandal.

Rape Culture is a term coined to explain the very public and often pervasive attitudes in society that highlight coercion and control as central to a culture where sexual objectification exists. And while many parents discuss with older children and teens how to improve their safety in this culture, families are often silent about these issues during the early stages of childhood development. Yet it is during this crucial period that parents can give children the most effective tools to recognize these high risk attitudes in society.

By incorporating the following lessons into daily life, parents can empower their children to understand and regulate their emotions, responses, and reactions, and can teach their children to appreciate these same feelings in others.

1. Teach children that all emotions are important and should be respected. Children must be allowed to cry, to sulk, and to be disappointed. When we rescue children rapidly (with promises of candy or another present), we rob them of the opportunity to learn how to accept these feelings. By doing so, we also demonstrate that we, as the parents, are uncomfortable with our natural range of emotions.

2. When you say no, mean it and don’t backtrack. It’s well documented that inconsistent parenting can exacerbate a child’s behavior problems, but it also means the child does not develop the self-soothing skills needed to accept disappointment. In that same vein, allow your child to occasionally say no, and in those instances, allow your child to stand firm. When a younger child wants to play a game with her sister and the sister wants to play alone, it is tempting to require the older child to share with her younger sibling. But by doing so consistently, this teaches the older child that she needs to change her mind and ignore her own needs as she instead focuses on pleasing someone else. This also misses an opportunity to teach the younger child how to cope when things don’t go her way.

3. Allow children to backtrack. And when you backtrack (as parents inevitably will do), use it as a learning opportunity to teach children that we all have the right to change our minds. It may sound counter-intuitive, but think about it. Imagine packing everything up in the car, finally paying and getting into the ice skating rink, lacing up the skates, and hearing your child say “I don’t want to skate.” Our initial thought would probably be to feel exasperated. We might reasonably think, “I took all this time to get us here. You begged to come here! I paid for your skates. Last time you enjoyed it.” But 10 years from now, as parents, we hope that our daughter’s date respects her feelings if she changes her mind about sexual activity. If your child changes his or her mind about something, respect your child’s instincts and encourage your child to talk about these thoughts and feelings. In the end, your instruction as the parent must prevail, but use these scenarios as opportunities to foster your child’s intuition and to teach your child how to appropriately be heard and respected.

4. Recognize sexual objectification. Do not engage in body shaming. Learn to recognize instances when advertising makes a woman’s (or man’s) body into an object. Discuss this reality with your children and encourage them to think about people’s thoughts and feelings when they see images in the media and other outlets.

There is no way to inoculate our children from becoming victims or perpetrators of rape. But parents can help their children recognize and avoid the erroneous and harmful attitudes surrounding sex, power, control, and coercion. Teach children to respect their bodies, instincts, and emotions. At the same time, give them tools to recognize and respect the same thing in others. Perhaps by doing so, we can shift the dialog and begin to create a culture that fosters healthy boundaries and ends all forms sexual violence.

School Discipline: Standing Up for All Children in the Public School System – First published in the Huffington Post

Two kindergartners were sent to the principal’s office during their second week of school. One hit a little girl after she refused to share a toy. The other smacked a little boy after he cut to the front in the lunch line.

At the principal’s office, each child was asked what happened in their respective confrontations. Both admitted they used their hands, and both knew they were in the wrong. As would happen in many American schools, both boys were issued two-day suspensions.

One child, Bobby, had been removed from his parents’ care and lived with a foster family. The other child, Sam, lived with his parents, both college educated and involved at the school.

That evening, Bobby received a brief lecture from his foster mother. He was sent to his room early, and the next morning he spent the day at his social worker’s office, watching television and playing video games, as his foster mother could not take off work to stay home with him. A week after the incident, Bobby’s regular social worker received an official letter from the school board, notifying her that Bobby’s suspension was now a part of his educational record. Next year, his new teacher would learn of the incident before even meeting Bobby. If Bobby one day applied to a magnet program, the admissions committee would not only consider his grades but would also review his disciplinary record.

Sam’s parents also took a stern tone with him that night, refused his request for dessert and sent him to bed early. Later that evening, their anger shifted away from their son, and they became outraged at the school’s disciplinary policy.

How could a kindergartner, yet to have taken a spelling test or bring home a report card, now have a permanent disciplinary record?

How could a school system create a policy that sets young children up to face such serious consequences for developmentally normal early childhood behaviors?

The next morning, Sam’s father made an appointment to speak with the school’s principal. At the meeting, he acknowledged that his son was in the wrong. Sam’s father suggested other options, like not letting Sam attend the school’s ice cream social, asking that Sam meet with the guidance counselor, or requiring his son to stay inside during recess for a few days. The principal agreed to the father’s request. She decided to change Sam’s punishment. The principal tore up the suspension paperwork and instead required Sam to miss a week’s worth of recess and to meet with the guidance counselor during his classroom’s monthly ice cream party.

A young school boy is standing with a book bag and looking at school buses in the background.

Because of his father’s intervention, Sam no longer had a disciplinary record. His first grade teacher would never hear of the incident. If Sam applied to a magnet program, it would be as if it never even happened.

The dichotomy of Sam’s time-out and counseling compared to Bobby’s suspension and permanent record might seem appalling, but these sorts of inequities occur in schools across the country every day. Clearly, Sam benefited from his parents having the skills, time, and motivation to challenge the status quo. But not all children have the benefit of confident, involved parents to help them navigate in the public school system.

Generally, parental involvement in a child’s school life decreases behavioral problems and enhances student achievement. While children living with family members may benefit from their support, children in foster care are at a significant disadvantage due to the transitional nature of foster care and the large caseloads of social workers. In addition to the difficulties foster care workers confront, researchers at Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago found that, “foster parents and child welfare caseworkers alike often do not feel empowered or times are not available to advocate for a child to be reinstated in school or receive necessary services.”

While one might be quick to point the finger at Sam’s father for “giving him an easy way out,” it could be argued that a five-year-old is more likely to feel the weight of a missed ice cream party than a day home from school. Unlike suspensions, which do little to stop repeated episodes of misbehavior, effective behavioral modifications reduce referrals to administrator offices which benefits a child’s academic performance. Though a child might not mind missing a day of school, research shows that suspending children actually has lasting, harmful effects.

Early childhood is a time for children to develop their social skills and gain respect for the educational process. Frustrating this process, suspension stigmatizes a child and “may also delay or interfere with the process of identifying and addressing underlying issues, which may include disabilities or mental health issues.” Unlike counseling or the disappointment of missing recess, suspension does little to address the underlying problematic behavior, like hitting another child in response to a stressful situation.

Many organizations are stepping up efforts to help foster children succeed in school. Volunteer Guardian ad Litems and Court Appointed Special Advocates speak on behalf of children both in court and in the school system. Many states have created laws allowing for the appointment of special educational surrogates to represent foster children and other at-risk youth. Similarly, some school districts train community members to serve as both mentors and advocates for all at-risk students.

These are great bandages to solve the problem of inequity in our school systems, but the permanent solution must lie in changing the landscape of school discipline in public education. Sam’s father wasn’t wrong in advocating on behalf of his son. As a parent and child welfare attorney, I also advocate for my own children (both biological and court appointed) in the same individualized manner. However, I recognize that true change will come not as the result of advocacy for the select few. Perhaps we can all resolve to not only look out for our own when faced with an antiquated or unfair policy but instead take these opportunities to engage policymakers in a meaningful discussion that could improve the lives of all children in our public school system.

This essay first appeared on the Huffington Post on September 3, 2015.

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