As a person with no kids, it is a favourite hobby of mine, and I am sure of other people with no kids, to criticise parents. At least that is what some people with kids seem to think, especially those who broadcast their parenting skills online.
Parents are free to record their child and post videos for everyone to see with minimal laws regulating it. Child labour laws didn’t even apply to Youtube, until after the darkest side of family Youtube channels was shown.
In 2017, a Youtube channel that went by the name of DaddyOFive was involved in a huge controversy surrounding the abuse of the children who starred in the videos. The channel pumped out a series of vlogs and prank videos that featured the eldest child, being physically and verbally abusive to his younger siblings. This behaviour was not only permitted and uploaded for the world to see but actually encouraged by the father. Mike, the father, went even further by uploading a prank video where he blamed his son for spilling ink on the carpet. The child in the video is shown crying and screaming that he didn’t do it, which he didn’t, yet he continues to be verbally berated and screamed at. To no one’s surprise, the father recent lost custody of two of his children, was placed on probation, and had his channel is deleted.
The most unsettling aspect of all of this, and there are quite a few, is that somehow, the parents find it acceptable to put their kids under stress to gain views.
Though the exploitation of these kids is an extreme example, this is the same thought process that fuels a lot of family channels. The truth is, the main attraction of family channels are the children in them. Nobody would be watching these vlogs if it only included the adults. It is an enormous burden, whether it is realised by the child, to be the breadwinner for the whole family. A lot of these channels just have kids playing and althought this might not feel like work, it is very similar to the way that child stars are exploited. Unboxing toys, playing games and doing weird pranks may be fun for them in the beginning but in the end this is still work and this is how they fund their way of life. It is far too easy to imagine them being coerced into doing things by their parents. Some videos have details of the children’s wrongdoings and their tantrums which are innocent enough, but could be excruciatingly humiliating for the child when they are grown up.
DavidsTV has the kids “stealing” money from their dad to spend on Fortnite, and while the parents are not enraged by this obviously staged theft, it still gives an uneasy feeling. Even if we ignore the moral messages of this video, the kids are far too young to understand what they are doing, and that is why they are so easily manipulated. Naivety is an asset that runs out quickly. How do these channels sustain their money flow when the children start to question what they are coerced into doing?
What happens when they look back upon the raw cringe in these videos? Youth plays another part in the exploitation of these children because they cannot possibly comprehend what it means to live out ‘The Truman Show’.
The Ace family has an Instagram account for their eldest daughter that has almost five million followers. These videos reach millions of people and even if they are all well-intentioned, it is still a violation of the child’s privacy and are uploaded without their consent since they don’t understand what consent is. Even the family has admitted that they attract stalkers, meaning that some of their audience is a potential threat to their daughter. This is not to mention the psychological effects of having your whole life documented for the world. This is not the life this three-year old chose for herself.
The internet is forever, and even if they grow up one day and have their parents remove the videos, somewhere out there, there will always be a copy. There is no separation between personal family life and the life they portray on the internet. Everything is up for grabs from doctors visits and playdates, to the more intimate moments of your childhood that you probably wouldn’t want strangers viewing as they please.
There is no shortage of adorable kids on Instagram for people to awe at and obsessively attach themselves onto. Apart from the inherent problem with recording perfect moments of your child, whether it is “candid” or not, is that you project that image into the world. If the beauty culture prevalent in social media isn’t enough, it’s now latched itself onto the world of babies. Children are commodified in Youtube and on other platforms as they are shown wearing in Gucci sneakers in carefully retouched images. Beauty standards are enforced on people earlier and earlier in life thanks to the the onset of children’s Instagram accounts.
We can see the shifts in our culture with the fame of Millie Bobby Brown. Although her fame was primarily achieved through her role on the successful TV show ‘Stranger Things’, it has since been capitalised upon through her social media. In interviews and online, Millie looked like a glamorous woman in her late teens, and she was treated as such. As a thirteen year old child, she should not have had to contend with the world’s obsession around her body and her looks.
The other big question is what if your loins didn’t spurt forth pure excellence in terms of genetics? Would some family Youtube channels be as successful if the children that star in it weren’t so heartwarmingly cute? Children are not always cute, and they don’t have to be. They’re children! They shouldn’t have to be pushed into a constant state of perfection. People should not be dragging children into the chase for their superficial ideals and installing those ideals into them. It would be incredibly damaging to grow up, basing your worth on your physical self because that is what your parents are most proud of. That is what you get the most ‘likes’ on.
I can see why people find family Youtube channels so captivating. There is something so warm in seeing this image of this perfect functional family getting along so well, living out a Pinterest board of a life. But your faves are problematic and we need to accept that family channels are not a healthy thing to be fixated on. Not for them and not for us.