Mila, the chubby two-ponytailed 3-year-old is an internet sensation and almost everyone has seen her videos. One of the sassiest kids on social media, she is more ‘millennial’ than I will ever be. She talks about everyday things, disses a few, and already has a career plan in place. Her follower count on her YouTube channel run by her mother is above 400,000!
Like Mila, there are dozens of kids across the world whose videos are shooted and shared across platforms for fame. The children, in most cases, are exploited by their parents for instant fame and likes. Earning money through it is bonus but an ultimate aim for a few.
We see a lot of videos where a child is either crying and demanding something irrational or is back-answering someone. They all seem funny at the first glance (crying kids at times can be cute too). But is this what children have become now— a source of entertainment and fame?
Sukanya Phansalkar, a psychologist, counsellor and life coach, says this kind of behaviour started with the advent of electronic media. “Earlier when the kids reality shows began, parents wanted their children to participate in these kind of shows. The shows to increase TRP created a lot of emotional drama. The more bold and brash the kid, higher the footage and TRP. This created an understanding among parents that this was an easy ticket to fame and success.” This attention-seeking attitude continued with the rise of social media.
Phansalkar says that each parent wants their child to stand out from the rest. But which methodology they use is of importance. “Sometimes the child is in physical pain or going through a mental trauma or is just expressing an emotion. But parents exploit this vulnerability and showcase it to the entire world just for a couple of thousand likes.”
A recent video on WhatsApp where the small girl was back-answering her mother made me go to YouTube. A simple search of ‘child arguing’ popped thousands of results with more than a million views on each. The statistics are shocking. The number of parents who shoot impromptu or staged videos of their child for the whole world to see are staggering. Did they ever think what would happen once the child grows up?
Vivek Acharya, a parent says, “I believe that in homes where both parents are working and the child spends a good amount in daycare, it is extremely important that they monitor the exposure given to children. I also believe that the child should not become the parents’ tool in battling over some ridiculous popularity contest of likes and votes.”
According to Phansalkar, the scripted/staged videos have a very negative and lasting impact on the child. In case of Mila, she recently almost had a break-down when her mother refused to shoot her video. Tears were rolling down her cheeks after being said ‘no’ to something she wanted to do. This was again captured on the phone and posted online. Millions obviously saw it. Mila now has zero privacy. She can’t even cry without being videoed. Whom do we blame? Whom do we hold responsible for her tantrums and her attention-seeking behaviour? Where do we draw a line?
Phansalkar says, “The attention-seeking behaviour of the kids increases, they can’t take no for an answer then. Most of these scripted videos where a child is told to repeat or say a certain set of lines are not even age appropriate.”
Gyrating on sleazy Bollywood songs to arguing or back-answering, the videos have it all. The children are blissfully unaware of what they are doing. Ankita Warrier, another parent too blames reality shows. “These days it’s all about going viral in very less time and social media is the best platform. I blame reality shows for this where kids other than dancing and acting also talk or behave in a particular manner which makes the judges and those watching laugh or cry (obviously most of it might be planned). You can click videos of your children for personal memories but showing each and everything to the world is not the right way. In a world, where we want instant likes and fame, getting a kid into this is not the way out,” asserts Warrier.
In a society where the parents primary responsibility is to protect their children and their innocence from all evils, seeing a parent exploit their own kids is a worrisome trend. Yes, you get instant fame, you might even rake in a few bucks or a couple of million, but what about the ramifications in the long run? Phansalkar points out that in our country parents are pushing their kids to grow up fast. They fail to understand the child’s need for space and time to grow and develop as per their functions and requirements.
Snehal Lunkad, another parent, says that waiting for that particular moment or forcefully creating situations where the kid is doing something hilarious while you always have your phone glued to your hand sets a bad example. “Parents don’t understand that social media is a brutal place where more than positive comments, the negative comments will affect the kids the most. Certain things need to be done at a certain age and looking for glorification is just wrong,” she says.
As a parent myself, I have an entire hard-disk filled with photos and videos of my daughter since day one. I have tried to capture all her moods, emotions, expressions in the camera, but never has anyone other than my immediate family seen them. For me they are memories I would like to revisit a few years down the line not a shortcut to fame and success.