Opinion | Instead of entertaining your baby, your baby is entertaining us


AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

The YouTube app is shown on an iPad.

By Anita Bengert, For The Pitt News

My beautiful newborn niece just arrived from her nine-month silent retreat and is already overwhelmed by talking heads and flashing cameras. Don’t worry about her though — she’s going to be famous. She has all the essentials from the 21st-century infant starter pack — costumes, props, selfie sticks, sour foods to sample and, of course, video cameras catching all the behind-the-scenes footage.

Never wake a sleeping baby, unless it’s to shoot a TikTok. Addictive trends can entice millions of caregivers to drop whatever they’re doing to film and show off their little ones. The internet is unsafe as it is for minors, but now grown adults are misleading them to participate in dangerous, embarrassing or disturbing trends for entertainment.

As the internet is increasingly becoming a large source of capital for many users, platforms must enforce rules for what and who can be used as content. Otherwise, social media creates a dangerous loophole in child labor laws, with the exploitation of children being one of the most popular attractions.

Falsified online personas make it extremely difficult for kids to distinguish which emotions and events are faked for social media and which feel real. Future leaders-in-the-making are having their most embarrassing, private and proudest moments forever and unwillingly shared by millions. Creepy strangers — or in other words, “fans” — of family channels across all social media platforms are obsessively commenting and comparing children’s looks, personalities and upbringings.

Parents proudly showcase their adorable babies for everyone to see, without realizing the long-term effects of having your child’s face and information so easily accessible online. But the line shouldn’t be drawn at whether or not you have a public or private account — some parents post rarely for a much smaller audience. The line is crossed when posing and staging a child for monetized content takes precedence over their comfort.

There is a big discrepancy between child actors and online personalities. Though both have grave issues concerning the well-being and morality of this child labor, television and movie production have a hierarchy of power with, more or less, checks and balances. Minors are in relatively safe and controlled environments with laws that make sure they are happy, healthy and fed.

The internet has no such regulations for these children who are scripted, dressed and posed like needle-felt mice. Instead of reporting and showing concern for minors who may have no say in this labor, social media algorithms boost this “hilarious” entertainment as more viewers engage.

Companies are using marketing strategies such as copying viral trends to promote their products. As soon as a family’s account blows up on social media, businesses slide into their direct messages, asking for the kids to pose with “fun” products. The more likes these promotional videos get, the more the child becomes a marketing tool and less of a person. These companies then continually depend on this child labor to sponsor their brands without fully understanding the consequences on the child. As the tapes are rolling and the kids are squirming, parents are leisurely collecting all the dough.

Family channels don’t show the discomfort their child is in when repeatedly posing and re-shooting for hours a day, just to snap one picture. I imagine these parents scrolling through albums in search of the perfect post, mindlessly deleting the stills of their crying child. Parenting mode only activates once the cameras are propped up in front, ready to capture the “cute” moments, frame by frame.

Parents are taking it too far by not realizing just how dangerous of an audience they might have. Cyberbullying has always been an issue. Due to cancel culture and trolls, oblivious minors who may not understand why their account has a blue check mark are being body-shamed, insulted and compared to others. As children watch and participate in their parents’ videos, they are also learning unrealistic and filtered portrayals of themselves and reality.

This online self-perception can be unhealthy for young minds. Playing dress-up is one thing, but kids dressing up for videos to impress strangers is another. Trends are meant for adults, but oversexualized songs and dances have become appealing to kids who are enticed by the thought of going viral, sometimes at the amusement of their parents. Everything is backwards — children are the breadwinners and immature adults are pranking their trusting hearts for the sake of a laugh.

Parents should capture treasured moments, as we all know just how easy a perfect memory can fade away. But what kind of memory is it that you’re looking back on? Were you really in the moment as you filmed it, or were you watching a pixelated version through a screen? Put down the phone and pick up a rattle, just let kids be kids. There will always be trends, your account will stay preserved, but your child is quickly growing.

Anita Bengert writes primarily about her perspective of 21st century America, the influence of social media, and the humor behind societal flaws.