Many parents love documenting their children’s milestones and antics on social media — but experts say the quest for the perfect post can surmount common sense, sometimes to the detriment of kids.
Several high-profile family vloggers have recently exemplified how easily this can happen: Last month, Jordan Cheyenne, a California-based creator with more than 500,000 YouTube subscribers, issued an apology after she accidentally uploaded a clip of herself coaching her 9-year-old son to cry over the family dog’s health diagnosis. “Act like you’re crying,” Cheyenne instructed the already-distressed boy who said, “Mom, I’m actually seriously crying.”
“Let them see your mouth…” she replied. “…Look at the camera.”
The clip went viral with social media users branding it “disturbing” and “disgusting” — descriptors Cheyenne didn’t exactly deny in a response on Today. “I want people to know that I’ve deleted my channel,” she said. “People think I deactivated my channel, but I deleted it. I have no sponsors, no pay, no monetization. I’ve given up all of that to be behind the scenes and extremely present with my child and get us both into counseling.”
Cheyenne is not the only parent influencer to make headlines. In 2020, Ohio vloggers Myka and James Stauffer, who have three children, published an Instagram apology for rehoming Huxley, their adopted 4-year-old child with autism, after publicly documenting their 2017 Chinese adoption journey because they weren’t “fully equipped or prepared” for the process. The incident sparked a Change.org petition with more than 154,000 signatures claiming the Stauffer’s actions were “unethical” and “emotionally abusive.” As the petition read, “We request that her videos featuring Huxley and/or any content concerning Huxley be immediately demonetized and removed from the platform. This boy has suffered enough; it should not be public and should not supplement her income any longer.” After social media users became concerned about Huxley’s whereabouts, the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office launched an investigation which ultimately determined the boy had been legally placed in a safe home and the Stauffers were not charged with a crime.
And in 2017, Heather and Mike Martin of Maryland, who ran the YouTube channels DaddyOFive and MommyOFive, apologized for “making poor parenting decisions” by pulling extreme pranks on their five children that sometimes resulted in hysterical tears. During a Good Morning America appearance, Mike admitted he was “ashamed” of the content and Heather insisted their kids enjoyed the pranks, some of which has been scripted. Later that year, the Martins lost temporary custody of two of their adopted kids and after entering Alford pleas (in which the party doesn’t plead guilty or innocent) to two counts of child neglect, they were sentenced to five years of supervised probation. “This was far beyond corporal punishment,” Frederick County State Attorney Charlie Smith said, according to CBS News. “This was egregious, abusive conduct, and I didn’t think it was funny from the beginning, and, obviously, the judge didn’t either.” SheKnows could not reach the aforementioned families for comment.
“The pressures of public life in this capacity are simply unsustainable for kids.”
There is so much positive family content on the internet and social media is an excellent tool to connect parents by offering support and resources. But engaging children in such a public manner poses a risk to their privacy and emotional development. According to the results of a 2020 study conducted by the VPN service Twingate, 79 percent of parents have posted about their children on social media, ranging from a few times per year to multiple times per day, though only 34.2 percent have asked their children for permission. And more than a quarter of parents surveyed had created accounts for their children on Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms — and ran it for them.
However, evidence suggests that social media can hurt children’s mental health, confidence, and body image along with increasing rates of depression and anxiety. Last month, Facebook (which owns Instagram) canceled plans to launch a platform called “Instagram Kids” for the under-13 set after a Wall Street Journal article revealed the company was educated on research that showed Instagram harmed the psychological development of teenage girls, before going ahead with the latest product.
Still, the desire to create click-worthy and monetized content can sometimes push parents with popular YouTube, Instagram, or TikTok accounts to make decisions, the impact of which might not be realized, even by those with the best intentions. “Children learn their value and morals through observing ‘influential others’ in their life,” clinical psychologist Tsoline Konialian, tells SheKnows. “This is referred to as ‘social’ or ‘observational’ learning. A teacher (in this case, a parent) demonstrates a particular construct and the learner (the child) mimics behaviors related to the construct.” In other words, a child being coached to “perform” for a video through their emotions may get the message that their real-life feelings don’t matter.
Another concern with the family vlogging trend is security. “The very nature of vlogging [which is to] allow the public to view everyday interactions means little-to-no privacy and [can] expose families to inherent risks of stalking, physical harm, and even identity theft,” cyber security expert Robert Siciliano, tells SheKnows. “Recognizing risk needs to be a significant consideration when exposing one’s physical life to the digital world.”
What’s more, vlogging is inviting external judgment. “Letting the world inside and see all of your messy bits has consequences,” says Siciliano. “The pressures of public life in this capacity usually prove too overwhelming and are simply unsustainable for kids.”
However, there are ways to share your family’s life on social media without going to extremes. “Parent vloggers who take a more academic approach by teaching valuable lessons without exposing or exploiting every aspect of their families’ lives stand to maintain a degree of control over public commentary, which facilitates a greater degree of control on its effects,” says Siciliano. “For example, a family disagreement caught on tape can devolve into a shouting match that makes for compelling footage but can also be embarrassing. So instead, curate the content in such a way that removes the worst parts but still provides positive outcomes.”
Siciliano also recommends taking the pressure off children by focusing content on a more neutral subject like the family pet. “This helps to create a baseline of how to use social media effectively without exposing all aspects of family life,” he says.
Life coach Kirsten Franklin suggests providing an educational pay-off in videos. “Write the business or marketing plan together and give your kids money from your earnings, even if it is only $5, or save it and and buy something you decide on as a family” says Franklin. “At the core of it, if they learn that building a business or having to pivot when Facebook/Instagram crash for the day are all fun and have some benefit, they will have a different core message.”
Finally, it’s important that parents let their children know they are included in content posted to social media, show them the final product before posting — and respect their wishes if they have objections. “I did this with my daughter and when she said to stop, I did,” says Franklin. “Remember these are children’s lives.”
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