In the last few years, family channels have taken over every single social media platform. But their presence is particularly strong on YouTube, where they post vlogs about their daily life, parenting advice, pull pranks, and keep their followers updated about anything that’s going on behind their house’s walls.
And while some videos might be wholesome to watch, some others should contain a trigger warning. Or, if you ask me – or any social worker for that matter —, they shouldn’t have been either recorded or uploaded at all.
A disclaimer appears now necessary. During my researches for this article, I haven’t watched a single video on these families’ channels. I read a lot about the topic and watched plenty of videos made by other YouTubers and content creators, preferring those who had blurred the children’s faces or didn’t use footage from such channels at all. I did so in an effort to minimize an increase in the views, popularity, and – most of all – earnings of these families.
And money is the decisive argument when it comes to the discussion about family channels. Recording your kids’ milestones and family vacations isn’t inherently bad, whereas taking advantage of your children’s naivety, cuteness, and inability to deny their consent to appear on camera in order to make a profit is.
As the YouTube Smokey Glow further points out in one of her videos about this topic, the two main differences between family channels and family movies are:
1. Families don’t earn a single dollar from recording family movies;
2. Family movies aren’t shot in order to be seen by an audience of millions of people.
And those things cannot be said about family vlogging. On the contrary, these videos are open to the public and can be seen by anyone – yes, even by those who have the worst intentions either towards the children or the family as a whole.
And this is exactly the reason topics such as bra shopping, shaving, periods, and literally anything concerning the sexual and overall physical development of minors is better off kept private.
It is no news, in fact, that pedophiles put time-stamps in the comments or share those video segments during which minors appear either distressed or vulnerable in any way.
It is also important to remember that all the information these family channels share about their children remains at the immediate disposal of employers and college recruiters forever. Considering this, it would be better not to share your children’s grades on your channel. Nor their potty training or their tantrums.
A couple of years ago, one of the most successful family channels on YouTube uploaded a video about a break-in into their home. And while many said that the robbery had been staged, the video still managed to spark an entire different discussion: sharing intimate and constant details about their lives and their whereabouts makes the protagonists of these family channels easy preys.
On the other hand, faking a robbery or pulling inappropriate pranks makes perfect sense according to the mindset of these parents.
Part of the success and the large presence of family channels is due to the fact that they are very profitable. And that’s because they gather a wide and different audience and have easy access to content for long periods of time (i.e., until their children decide otherwise in the best case scenario).
However, this quest for success and money can lead these parents to cross numerous boundaries in an effort to keep their viewers interested and – most importantly – engaged.
As I’ve already mentioned in my previous article about the exploitation of children on social media, one of the main concerns related to the children’s involvement in the content posted by these family channels is the one about consent.
Minors cannot be considered able to give an informed consent, because they cannot fully fathom the impact that such frequent exposure can have on their future and their perception of themselves. The children might also agree to take part in these videos acting on their desire to be praised by their parents or out of guilt. Besides, they’re made aware at an awfully early age that their family’s whole lifestyle depends on the success of their social media platforms.
And what happens when the children involved grow up and find out how much of their lives has been shared with complete strangers?
They might retract their consent, or they might be exposed to hateful comment and experience some kind of delayed bullying. And what if their parents didn’t defend them, but continued to feed their children to those haters for clout?
When children with physical disabilities or serious illnesses come into the equation, things get even more nuanced and complicated. But if you’re interested in this topic, you might enjoy this article by Dr. Deborah M. Vereen.
One of these vlogging/blogging mothers already had a similar experience. However, when her daughter finally asked her not to write about such intimate details of her life, she wrote in an article on the Washington Post:
She continued, saying: “So my plan is to chart a middle course, where together we negotiate the boundaries of the stories I write and the images I include. This will entail hard conversations and compromises.”.
But is this enough? Should consent be compromised? What is this teaching to young women? Mainly, that their wishes and needs don’t matter enough in order to be truly taken into consideration by their own parents.
Unfortunately, these ethical and moral issues are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to family channels.
The parents involved have been the cause of many abusive episodes. And before we dive in this further topic, it is important to emphasize that abuse comes in different forms and might not always be as obvious as we imagine.
Mike Martin and his wife Heather, owners of the YouTube channel FamilyOFive (formerly known as DaddyOFive), lost custody of two of their five children due to physical and emotional abuse.
Actually, the two minors were born from Martin’s previous relationship with Rose Hall, under whose custody the children have eventually returned.
One of these two kids was constantly the butt of every joke and prank, and many videos show him being hit by his half-siblings and his father as well.
Yet, as I said before, physical abuse isn’t the only possible form of abuse. Ruby, mother of six children and main manager of the 8Passenger YouTube channel, is also known for her far too strict parenting methods.
She stripped one of her sons of his bedroom for seven months because of a bad, minor, prank he pulled on his younger sibling: he had only pretended they were going to Disneyland.
And to make matters worse, she refused to bring lunch to her at that time 5-year-old daughter because she should have known it was her responsibility to pack something to eat before going to school.
Well, it shouldn’t come as a surprise from someone who defines food as a privilege and constantly disregards her children’s wishes, as the one to not be filmed.
Finally, we are left with – at least – two major sources of concern.
How can these children defend themselves from those same people who should actively protect them? And how can we stem the spread of the phenomenon of family channels, in order to avoid the imitation and perpetuation of these toxic parenting methods?