Kid Internet Stars: Adorable or appalling?

I recently saw a video by a sassy and hilarious little girl sharing her feelings about about her mother signing her up for pre-school:

The girl, Mila Stauffer, is one of the newest child “stars” taking social media by storm.  With 3.4 million followers on Instagram account run by her mother Katie Stauffer, and more than 3 million views of the above video on Youtube, she is certifiably a viral star.  With Internet fame inevitably comes paid sponsorships and endorsement deals and Mila is no exception, doing paid partnerships with brands like Amazon, Thule Strollers and Volvo.  Mila’s mother acts as Mila’s manager and is the driving force behind Mila’s fame.  She has been so successful that she recently was able to quit her job and is now receiving a salary from the work Mila does (she says she puts the money in a trust for Mila, her twin sister Emma and her three older children).  

Mila’s mom is just one of a growing number of “sharents” on the Internet, defined as “a term to describe parents who actively share their kids’ digital identities online” (Stadmiller, 2017).  While it usually starts harmlessly — the mom of Ava Ryan posted a clip on Vine of her as a baby saying “I smell like beef” — once families start to realize monetary benefits, that can change.  Brands looking to tap into family friendly markets have begun to offer huge sums of money for sponsored videos, posts and experiences and now being the parent of an Internet star is a legitimate profession.

All this attention has led some to question the ethics of this model that thrusts children into the spotlight while advertisers reap the benefits, sometimes to their psychological detriment.  For example, YouTuber DaddyOFive recently lost custody of two of his children after people started taking issue with his cruel pranks often aimed at his 9 year old and 12 year old that involved him yelling in their faces or purposely making them cry.  According to UNICEF, one in four kids indicated that their parents’ online sharing made them feel anxious, sad, embarrassed or worried and nearly fifty percent of all images shared on pedophile sites are taken from social media sites.  Not to mention that unlike traditional third party child star situations where there are rules about what must be done with the money and limits on how much children can work, the waters are murkier when their parents are running the show.  Additionally, the Internet can be a cruel place and putting kids out in such a fashion can invite extreme criticism, pedophiles or unsavory characters could be putting their mental health or even their physical health at risk.  This unfettered child labor has made some parenting groups and psychologists nervous about the longterm effects of being a viral video start.  Unfortunately, it’s just too early to tell.

So, given these statistics, what does that mean for advertisers looking to take advantage of this new wealth of kid influencers?  Working with Internet stars is enticing for brands because they usually have well-defined personalities, built in established audiences and are guaranteed to draw views.  However, there is clearly a seedy underbelly to this world where it’s not always clear that this is in the best interests of the children. As the New York Times put it, it is now a common question to ask “Why isn’t your toddler paying the mortgage?”

What do you all think? Do you think there should be laws or limits on these types of sponsored postings? Do you think this is much ado about nothing? Share your thoughts in the comments!

References

Luscombe, B. (2017, May 18). The YouTube Parents Who are Turning Family Moments into Big Bucks. Time. Retrieved from www.time.com

Rosman, K. (2017, September 27). Why Isn’t Your Toddler Paying the Mortgage? New York Times. Retrieved from www.nytimes.com

Smidt, R. (2018, January 25). Heres What Its Like To Have A Toddler Who Is Famous On Instagram. Retrieved from https://www.buzzfeed.com/remysmidt/mila-emma-katie-stauffer?utm_term=.mvBDZx6VD#.blxQmz7DQ

Stadtmiller, M. (2017, December 24). Kids Don’t Have Parents Anymore-They Have ‘Sharents’. Retrieved from https://www.thedailybeast.com/kids-dont-have-parents-anymorethey-have-sharents

 

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6 Responses to Kid Internet Stars: Adorable or appalling?

  1. Bobby Borg says:

    Hi there, Bobby Borg from section A here…

    Ha ha. Wow. Great find. This is an incredible story and it illustrates something that I just read on the YouTube Video Creator Academy (https://creatoracademy.youtube.com/page/education)

    The most likely way to create videos that become an instant hit, is to just be yourself. This little girl is certainly just being “her,” but I do wonder—-given her Mom’s involvement—-whether they are egging her on to say things about “going to law” school. and other funny tidbits.

    I agree that this can really get into a gray and ethical murky area. While I am sure that the money can potentially do a lot of great things for the child’s future (if it is truly going to be used for the kid’s future), I know many parents that would absolutely NOT allow their kids to be exposed in such a way. There are so many examples of kids who experience fame at a younger age only to become complete mess as they get older and the spotlight fades.

    One thing is for sure. Advertisers are in it to win it, and they are only throwing sponsor dollars while the getting is good. As soon as the hits on these videos diminish and the public is on to someone else, I’m sure we’ll hear that Thule Strollers and Amazon will pull the plug just as fast.

    Nice post,

    Bobby Borg

  2. Ani Bedrosian says:

    Hi Raquel, thank you for sharing this! I have to admit I have watched a handful of clips of Mila and I have to say that I am always so entertained by her. She is exactly what you said, sassy! While these clips are fun to watch and we know children are always doing something worth sharing (I once tried to circulate a video of my 3 year old nephew playing the harmonica….it failed), I find myself questioning the intentions behind some of the recent posts. With the paid ads and sponsorships, it is turning parents into seeing their children as a form of an income rather than just being children and for that, I do not agree and think it is appalling. I think we should stop glorifying these viral videos and shed light on children who are actually doing positive and notable things!

  3. This is a great topic to bring up. Social media is such a viral ongoing self made industry where kids and their parents are able to post randomness and who knows if it will catch on or not. As a paraent and my kid posted a video that went viral and I they were being paid for videos, I would say why not? My concern would be putting my child out and fear for their safety. With the internet one never knows who is watching and what their intentions maybe.
    In terms of paid ads and sponsorships I feel that more and more parents are trying to turn a quick buck and use their kids a finical pawn. I feel that there should be a stipulation put into play to prevent this from happening.
    It happened this Super Bowl Sunday when a teenager took a selfie with Justin Timberlake. One act of spontinuity the kid jumped in and took a photo and it went viral and now this young kid has been inundated with followers. A act so simple has made this kid a star, taking over the Super Bowl half time show. Seems as if we live in a different time where being at the right place and the right time can make one a whole lot of money.

  4. Ashton Edwards says:

    Raquel, this is a conversation that needs to be started. Before starting my career in the technology space, I managed and ran social media accounts for physique competitors and fitness models, expanding their social media presence while managing their sponsorships. From my work, I have seen the stress, anxiety, sadness, that comes with a career that is centered on “likes” and “comments.” Surprisingly enough theres much more that goes into the posts you may find while scrolling through the discover section and it can cause a number of mental health issues, especially adding intrinsic identity issues. “Sharents” putting this type of stress on children at a young age could lead to major issues further down the line. We can see the issues that stem from child actors and actresses that have been in the limelight for so long that they eventually snap and spiral out of control. Thanks for starting the convo!

  5. Robyn Wang says:

    There is a definite ethical issue here because parents absolutely should not be exploiting their children for fame or money. But at the same time, I think that there are many factors involved. For one, there has been a shift in what society finds acceptable. For example, look at the Kardashians. About ten years ago, many people criticized Kris Jenner was exploiting her children for money. Despite what people said, look at where they ended up. Nowadays, just as many people criticize them as defend them. Similarly, (I love Ellen) but look at all the internet sensation kids who end up on the show. This can definitely motivate a parent to exploit their children for fame. Secondly, the Internet has a way of blurring things. It is hard to say that parents are purposely using their children. All too often, I hear stories of how parents privately share a harmless and fun video of their children and by chance become viral sensations.

    I think it comes down to intention and what you do with your child if they have reached that fame. Parents shouldn’t be intentionally making videos hoping that they can bank on their kids. However things happen, and when they occur, parents should consider carefully, how that would affect the well being of their children.

    That said, there should be laws and limits on these types of sponsored postings to protect children for parents who see their kids as dollar signs. Advertisers and parents who do put children put to work should abide by child labor laws. Additionally, there should be a limit on how many child influencers a company can employee each year. Because doing so would force advertisers to consider whom they want to employ carefully, I believe that this would help limit the exploitation of children. It would send the message to parents that it’s not that easy to make your children famous, and the industry would become more in line with child actors’. However as I mentioned above, the Internet makes it difficult to enforce concrete boundaries.

  6. Rachael says:

    I am really on the fence with this one. On one hand, I love watching the viral videos with funny kids and the things they say, and on the other, I think that this is stripping their ability for a normal childhood. I think it sort of depends on the situation. I think that sometimes, kids gain fame by making their own videos, thus I have more confidence in them doing something they like. In the case of the video you posted however, it is clear that this child is very coerced by her mom to keep up her internet fame. In this situation, I wonder if this child really does want to be making videos everyday or if she would rather be out playing with her friends. I also think that there should be careful monitoring on the monetization that comes from popular accounts like these. I know that child stars often face fraud from their own parents so I would hope that is not the case with the child social media stars of today.

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