I have mom friends who don’t post any pictures of their kids on social media and even use nicknames when referring to their kids. I understand their reasoning; we live in a crazy world and we all want to protect our children. On the other end of the spectrum, I have friends whose social media updates are almost exclusively about their children—what they said last night, what they’re doing now, where they’re going this weekend. I know them so well through social media that I feel like an honorary godmother to some of these kids.
But way beyond the over-sharers, in a wacky world known as kid "influencers,” lies a whole new growing trend in parenting with social media. Log into Instagram or YouTube and you'll find kids whose popularity is climbing like the Kardashians'. They may not be featured in their own reality TV shows (yet), but they're gaining followers by the thousands, becoming just as social media savvy as their parents and making money (in some cases, a lot of money) in the process.
But when is it all too much?
You probably know what a social media influencer is: someone who markets their persona and popularity on social media to promote products and services via endorsements and advertising. Meg Resnikoff and Elle Walker of What’s Up Moms are currently at the top of Forbes list of parenting influencers along Bunmi Laditan of The Honest Toddler and Jill Smokler of Scary Mommy, but did you know that there are actually kid influencers too?
A New York Times article took on the topic of parents who are putting their kids front and center on social media—and making money off the attention. These kids are delighting thousands of fans with their adorable conversations, stylish clothing, precocious opinions and general cuteness.
Toddler twins Mila and Emma Stauffer are so popular on social media that their mother, Katie Stauffer, has been able to quit her job and stay home with her kids. Mila and Emma may not be household names (yet!), but they’ve already done advertising work for companies such as Amazon, Walmart and Macy’s, among others.
Obviously, there's a lot of money to be made in the short-term, but the long-term emotional cost remains to be seen.
Carefully cultivating a social media presence for my children seems exhausting to me when I can barely manage to get my kids dressed and presentable for school every morning. But Mila and Emma’s mother calls their social media presence “lucrative" and clearly it's working for a lot of families, judging by my Instagram feed.
But how do the kids feel about it? Stauffer admits to staging photo shoots several times a week and feeding the kids "lines"—and the girls' interest is less than enthusiastic. "You can't make 2-year-olds do anything," Stauffer says in the New York Times article. Yeah, that sounds like my experience. And how authentic is it if a parent is having to tell the kid what clever thing to say?
Child actors and models are nothing new—for as long as there has been advertising and entertainment, parents have been lured by the possibility of secondhand fame and fortune to take their kids to auditions and photo shoots. Kids as influencers feels like something that was bound to happen—a natural offshoot for the smartphone generation—but I don't want to indulge it and find it annoying to be inundated with inauthentic videos designed to promote a product via dimpled cheeks and childish giggles.
I'm glad the kids are doing their "work" at home, but I question why parents are so quick to monetize their children's childhood. Obviously, there's a lot of money to be made in the short-term, but the long-term emotional cost remains to be seen.
My social media philosophy as it relates to my children lies somewhere in the middle between the normal extremes: I share pictures here and there, but I generally stay away from revealing too much about my kids’ day-to-day lives. I enjoy posting the occasional picture of them or my whole family, but I can't imagine putting them "out there" for the whole world to see, regardless of the paycheck involved.
My hope for these child influencers is that their parents are willing to pull the plug on the social media frenzy when the kids are tired of being coaxed to do yet another photo shoot in order to cash in on their cuteness.