I was recently followed on Instagram by a one-month-old.
Well, technically I was followed by her parents who operate an account for their baby girl. Both parents are dear friends of mine and have been for several years. We live farther away from each other than we once did, so my chances to see their little girl are few and far between. In the past few days, I’ve enjoyed seeing pictures of her and recognizing her striking resemblance to her mom.
Having some amount of their lives shared online with their parents’ friends and family members is a normal part of most children’s lives in the online era. One study finds that the average parent posts 116 photos of their kids by the time their child turns eight.
However, for a small but growing number of kids, their online footprint is much more noticeable and far-reaching. The past several years have seen the rise of “kidfluencers” – children whose social media presence has garnered enough attention that they attract advertisers and sponsors, turning their YouTube or Instagram into a money-making platform. Kidfleuncers range from children who have become an Instagram sensation, to children who star in videos of themselves opening and playing with toys.
How much do kidfluencers make? One family with kidfluencer identical twins said that a sponsored post could earn between $10,000 and $20,000. Another kidfluencer, a seven-year-old named Ryan, has made $22 million playing with toys on YouTube.
Such fame and money at a young age raises the question: Is all this really in the child’s best interest?
Some kidfluencer parents work to carefully establish boundaries between work and play for their kids. But this is not always the case, and sometimes child fame gets in the way of a child’s regular routine.
Concerns about the unhealthy effects of child fame are nothing new, but with social media becoming the means to fame, the game has changed. Anya Kamenetz points out in the New York Times,
For every moneymaking influencer, there are millions of less-successful stage parents and wannabes scratching for followers on YouTube and Instagram. They’re out there shoving cameras in children’s faces, using up their free time, killing spontaneity, warping the everyday rituals of childhood into long working shoots.
The rise of “sharenting” has generated concerns about children’s privacy, particularly when it comes to how parents’ social media sharing could affect their child later in life. Forbes argued in December that, “Parents are already some of the biggest violators of their children’s privacy, leaving potentially harmful digital footprints well before the age of consent.”
At the same time, social media became a part of the everyday lives of the majority of Americans, so the fact that children are the subject of their parents’ social media posts is hardly surprising. People post about what’s important to them, which means they post about their kids. Is that really so bad?
Responding to concerns over whether parents’ posts will cause future embarrassment to their children, Instagram influencer Mother Pukka writes,
…I think we should be more realistic about such fears – after all, a simple photo of your child where the subtext is ‘I love you’ may embarrass them down the line, but no more than a public declaration from my parents did when I was a young teenager. And while I realise sharing it publicly is a different matter, every child will have a digital footprint, so it’s not like their peers won’t be in the same position.
When it comes to protecting those we love, especially in the largely untrodden digital world, there are always shifting parameters and things to reflect on. But nobody knows their children better than their parents, and ultimately, whether we choose to post about them online isn’t something we should be chastised for.
Social media provides opportunities to connect with friends and family, even when physical distance provides a barrier. I enjoy being able to see my friends’ kids, my niece’s shenanigans, and my nephew’s first laugh via social media.
At the same time, those who raise concerns about “sharenting” might have some valid points. If nothing else, should we at least stop and consider that there hasn’t been much opportunity to see how childhood social media attention impacts kids long-term when they enter adulthood?
[Image Credit: PXHere]
Patience Griswold is a 2018 Alcuin Intern with Intellectual Takeout. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, reading, and spending time with family and friends.