By Kendyl Brower
Truman left the paradise and prison of Seahaven Island for a reason: his artificial, repetitive life was unfulfilling. Moreover, producers broadcasted his entire existence 24/7 around the world, exploiting every ounce of Truman’s privacy. Thankfully, The Truman Show is just a silly fictional movie… right?
Unfortunately, the invasive documentation of one’s life is a reality for many children whose parents run family vlogging channels. Such Youtube or TikTok accounts give parents a platform to share their precious family moments online while simultaneously raking in millions of dollars. This sounds like a dream job! I’ll make substantial money just for raising my kids (which I was already obligated to do!). While family vlogs initially seem like a harmless form of documenting memories and making a living, the majority of family vloggers fall into a trap of manipulation, corruption, and borderline abuse in order to get that lucrative ad revenue. All types of family vlogging that depends on kids for revenue and content is inherently unethical and demands immediate reform. Family vlogging unjustly employs children, blurs the line between reality and fantasy, and leaves kids in a vulnerable, dangerous position.
Most kids get their first job around 16 or 17, but for family vlogging channels, kids work as soon as they come out of the womb. “8 Passengers,” a family vlogging channel with over 2 million subcribers broadcast everything from pregnancies to puberty. Ruby Franke, the manager of the channel and mother of the family, relies on her 6 children for her massive income. These children work nonstop; the youngest child appears in 1,438 videos all before the age of 7— that’s around 369.5 hours of content, not including cut footage. Family vlogging gives children an incredibly impractical schedule filled with more work than play.
To make matters worse, there is no legal protection for child stars on social media to profit off their work; parents could pocket the earnings of the entire channel despite the child playing the lead role. Some parents defend this exploitative nature of family vlogging. Anna Saccone Joly, the mother of the Saccone Joly family, told the Daily Mail her justifications of using her kids for views: “They’re lucky. I’d say to them, ‘Don’t you like going to private school? Don’t you like the things we’ve been able to afford because of this lifestyle?’” Evidently, family vloggers quickly become venal, sacrificing their kid’s childhood and privacy for a luxurious lifestyle, then dismiss their violating behavior by giving the children material goods as some sort of reparation.
Child actors such as Macaulay Culkin and Amanda Bynes, though terribly exploited by Hollywood, had a distinct separation of work and life. Their ability to distinguish their set from their home is a privilege that child vloggers lack. Family channels blur the lines of truth and falsity, distorting a child’s perception of reality. In order to generate clickable content, families create issues and dramatize discussions. Thus, in the same Truman Show manner, the child’s perception of their entire life revolves around a fabrication. If the parents consistently hide behind a camera, the child’s perception of their parents will be severely warped. In addition, it begs the question if the parents, or more accurately, videographers, are a true present in their child’s life. Do their children long for alone time with their parents without the presence of a camera? Do they worry about always being filmed, even in their most intimate moments? A psychiatrist and director of the Child Mind Institute, Harold Koplewicz, notes, “All children want to please their parents… we trust the caretakers in our lives that they’re looking out for us” (Koplewicz). If a parent shoves a camera in their child’s face, the child has no inclination to reject the action, especially since they are accustomed to a filming environment. So parent vloggers often claim that their kids consent and enjoy making videos. Yet, they fail to recognize that not only is their child still developing, but the power dynamic that combines employer with parent will most likely hinder the child’s ability to say no.
As child stars grow into more capable adolescents, they feel more comfortable with declining their parents—and for logical reasons. Ruby Franke exposes her own children’s most confidential, often embarrassing moments on a channel with over 1 billion views. Periods, shaving, the “bird and the bees” chat, and other personal discussions should not be on the internet where they are immortalized, yet Ruby has a video on each of these topics. Of course, informational videos about puberty is beneficial, but watching a family discuss very intimate moments is uncomfortable for the children and for the viewers. The Franke children have stated on camera multiple times that they feel uneasy being on camera and discussing personal topics. Moreover, digital footprints last forever no matter how many videos you delete; family vloggers have no way to fully backtrack if their child later feels mortified by a video.
The permanent and public content of family vloggers leaves children in a dangerous position. Despite multiple safety concerns, the LeBrant family continues to go about their vlogs, disclosing private information to 12.8 million fans. Cole and Savannah LeBrant, the two parents behind the account, encountered multiple stalkers, had their identity stolen, and dealt with address leaks. Clearly, their vlogs give immense power to strangers, handing them personal knowledge that may lead to hazardous circumstances. Rather than rethinking their content, the LeBrant family capitalizes off their danger, making multiple videos with clickbait titles about their stalker issues. Furthermore, with over 4 billion views on their channel, have the LeBrant parents not stopped to think about who are the faces behind the numbers? Out of the billions of views, one must wonder if there is an ill intended person constantly watching these channels. Sadly, there is always a chance for pedophiles to get ahold of footage when a family publicizes their entire life. Yet, family vloggers seem to neglect the major threat and vulnerability they create while pumping out their family friendly videos.
If you long for a sequel to The Truman Show, tune in to any family vlogging channel where the children are exploited for clicks and checks. Thankfully, countries like Germany have taken steps in order to protect these young, exposed children under the Youth Protection Act. Though California has the Coogan Bill to safeguard a child’s earnings and protect them from abuse, the bill fails to account for children of the digital age. We must push for greater protection of children who work ridiculous hours and have their privacy constantly violated by their own parents. As well, YouTube and other social media platforms have a responsibility to ensure the rights of minors and require the child to receive their profits. But even with protective laws, family vlogging should be frowned upon. Making a living off of filming your children at the expense of their privacy and safety is intrinsically immoral.