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!
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