The flip side of fame: influencer parents and kids whose childhoods were turned into content

For the generation of zoomers, social networks have always been something ordinary. Many believe that the first social network appeared in 1997, the same year that Pew Research marks the beginning of the zoomer generation. For them, it is a common thing to publish their ups and downs and wanderings on the Internet. But some parents also shared intimate details of their children’s lives — and videos of them crying or their parents punishing them were shared and sometimes monetized without their consent.

Influencer Claire (name changed to protect her anonymity) has never known life without a camera. A video of her first went viral when she was still a baby. When their family channel began to gain views, Claire says that both her parents quit their jobs because the income from the YouTube channel was enough to support the family, as well as a nice house and a new car.

“That’s not fair that I have to support everyone,” she said. “I try not to be resentful but I kind of [am].”

One day she told her dad that she didn’t want to make YouTube videos anymore and he said that they would have to move out and her parents would have to go back to work and not to have money for “nice things”.

When Claire turns 18 and can live on her own, she considers having no-contact with her parents. Claire wants people to know that her childhood was overshadowed by social media fame she didn’t choose. And she wants her parents to know:

”Nothing they do now is going to take back the years of work I had to put in.”

Although Claire’s parents tell her they are saving some money for her college, she doesn’t know how much, and the law that would protect the earnings of children of influencers does not exist .

Bobbi Althoff is a 25-year-old mother of two who has over 3.6 million followers on TikTok. You might call her a mom influencer, but most of her content is satirical, and she and her husband poke fun at current trends with intentionally awkward videos.

One major difference between Althoff and many other mom influencers is that you won’t see her two children on her page. However, with her eldest daughter Richard, who is 2 years old, she published everything. Among her deleted posts are Richard’s real name, her date of birth, first and last name, hospital where she was born, and photos of her.

But once Althoff posted a satirical video about Richard learning to speak at the age of six months, and comments poured in on her: people called Richard ugly and dumb. What if she could read these comments when she grows up? That same night, Althoff deleted every detail related to her daughter.

For young moms like Althoff, social media can be reflexive — many of them have been doing it since high school. But when they grow up and become mothers, they may change their minds. And similar decisions seem to be gaining popularity.

Maia Knight, a young mother who has 8.5 million followers on TikTok, as of December 2022, no longer shows her children’s faces (although she occasionally posts retro videos of their faces when they were younger). She films them from behind or puts emojis on their faces:

“I have decided not to show them anymore… I’m making a choice for my daughters to protect them.”

In March, Laura Fritz, a mom influencer with 2.7 million followers, wrote on Instagram:

“It’s going to be hard to give [TikTok] up… but this is what’s best for our family. I want my kids to have a regular life growing up, without the pressures of social media.””

24-year-old Cam with the nickname softscorpio shares with her 160 thousand subscribers videos about the need to protect children’s privacy. As a child, Cam says, their mother posted personal information about them to about 10,000 Facebook followers.

One day, when Cam was 12 years old, they and their mother came home from a bike ride and received a message from a man who claimed to have seen them. Cam began to worry as they left the house. It got to the point that they didn’t want to tell their mother anything about their life, because they knew it would turn into content. In high school, children sent them “embarrassing photos” from her mother’s Facebook page.

They don’t use their legal names anymore because they don’t want people to be able to trace their digital footprint.

Sarah from mom.uncharted believes that the changing trend towards protecting children’s privacy is a positive development. She has amassed more than 208,000 followers thanks to her account dedicated to “Exploring Generation Shared & Calling Out Child Exploitation on [Social Media].” The birth of her second child coincided with a pandemic that brought millions of new users to TikTok and caused an explosion of content about motherhood.

Sarah began to feel strange about the amount of information about the children. In response, she downloaded TikTok and started talking about it. Her videos are harsh – she speaks directly into the camera, waving her arms, talking about the harm of too much information about children on the Internet. Now people are tagging her in the video, urging her to comment on what they see as over-sharing at best and exploitation at worst.

Caroline, the 28-year-old creator of the popular TikTok, where she posts satirical sketches, lost her humorous tone when the child of a family vlogger sent her a letter and asked to share it with her 2.3 million followers:

“To any parents that are considering starting a family vlog or monetizing your children’s lives on the public internet, here is my advice: you shouldn’t do it,” the letter read. “Any money you get will be greatly overshadowed by years of suffering… your child will never be normal… I never consented to being online.”