We need to talk about parents who exploit their kids for clicks

Let’s explore the dark side of kidfluencing, family channels, and sharenting

PHOTO: Gudrun Wai-Gunnarsson / The Peak

By: C Icart, Staff Writer

Another day, another TikTok prank trend.

Prank videos do great online, with countless people joining in on the trend for laughs and likes. But how do we know when we’ve gone too far? 

Case in point, there’s so much content of parents pranking their children online. Last summer, a few adults nonsensically asked kids to put on special fighting shoes just to see how they’d react. Then, there are  more obvious extremes like the channel DaddyOFive. The channel featured “pranks”  consisting mostly of parents screaming at their children for supposedly getting into small accidents around the house — essentially abusing their kids  to the point where Child Protective Services had to get involved. Beyond the world of online pranks, there are many reasons why we should think twice about uploading content of children online. 

Generally, social media requires users, regardless of their country of origin, to be over 13 to create an account because of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The Act “prohibits American companies from collecting personal information from children under 13 without parental consent, or [from collecting] more personal information than they need to operate a service aimed at children under 13.” But as we know, children younger than 13 regularly create accounts anyways and parents regularly post content featuring their children online. 

Family vlogging is popular, but some of the content is exploitative. In general, pranking children needs to be done with consideration. Even without extreme cases like DaddyOFive, regularly upsetting children for views is standard on many family channels across social media platforms. While it may be funny for those who understand the prank, the kids may remember it as a scary or upsetting moment that undermines their trust in their parents. 

Is supporting family vloggers always negative? Well, it’s hard to tell. Monetizing this content puts parents in a situation where their children work for them, blurring the line between leisure and labour. But it technically exists in a grey area where children are not protected by child labour laws, like child performers working in more traditional industries. For example, Myka and James Stauffer’s channel exploded when they began sharing their adoption journey. But will Huxley, the autistic child who was ultimately “rehomed,” ever receive any compensation both for generating money for the family and for having to live with vulnerable moments like having a meltdown online? 

What about the kidfluencers? They advertise to children, and while this content usually includes disclosure, the kids watching don’t understand that.

And what about casually posting content about your children online? Just because your intentions for posting the content are innocent, does not mean that like-minded people are the ones viewing it. Some parents made the horrifying discovery that some of the videos they posted ended up on pedophile websites or that the primary demographic watching their young children was older men. There’s an endless stream of terrible possibilities associated with pushing your kids into social media. 

While a lot of this content can be cute and heartwarming, it’s important to remember that the children in these videos are at risk of identity theft, stalking, “cyberbullying, predators, or privacy violations.” However, unlike adult social media users, they don’t even know it. Children do not understand the implications of having content of themselves online and cannot consent to it. Digital footprints are forever, and some things do not need to be posted online for everyone to see. Imagine your mom pulling out your embarrassing childhood photos when your crush comes over, except it’s anyone being able to access them online just by knowing your name. 

Next time your young cousin does something cute, consider sharing the clip with your family instead of posting. They might thank you someday.