About ten years ago, I did a YouTube thing for a friend of mine. I showed up at a space in Hollywood, and did some silly gaming stuff with them to help get their channel off the ground. They’d done the same for me with Tabletop, and I was happy to return the favor. As I’ve said many times, nobody gets their foot in the door without some help, no matter how hard they try to rewrite their origin story.
There were a TON of YouTubers there, most of whom I didn’t recognize because I’m not in the demo. Most were twentysomethings, but there were a couple of teens, and maybe half a dozen younger kids who seemed to be having a pretty good time playing with toys and games. About halfway through the day, a mom who appeared to be around 27 or so brought her son over for a picture with me. He looked to be about 7. You know, the age I was when my dogshit parents ended my childhood and put me to work.
So this mom tells me that she’s super excited to “get his channel going” and before I even knew what was happening, I heard this come out of my mouth: “He wants a channel? Or you want a channel? He only gets one chance to be a kid, and no kid should have to work at all, or perform if they don’t want to.” Then I looked at the kid, and I saw a VERY familiar face from about … 1979. It’s in the eyes and the way the shoulders slump. I looked back at the mom. “Don’t take his childhood away from him.” Then: “He only gets one childhood.”
She looked shocked. This was clearly not something she had ever thought about, and certainly didn’t expect to think about at this thing. I felt like she was seeing her child as a child for maybe the first time? I don’t know. She was clearly uncomfortable, like nobody had ever spoken up on behalf of her child before.
“He loves it! He’s always having fun!” She said, with the same fake enthusiasm and terrible lying I knew from my mother. I glanced at the kid and knew that was not true.
What I wanted to say to her was, “I hope this is a total failure for you. I hope you get zero views, get your own job, and support your kid being a kid so he grows up with a mom.” But instead, I looked at this sweet little boy and said, “You deserve to be a kid.” Then I walked away before I caused a scene. I did not participate in his exploitation by posing for a photo that he didn’t care about, that would be used by his mother for some kind of promotion.
I think about that kid from time to time. He’s probably right around 18 or so, now, and I hope that his childhood wasn’t anything like mine. I hope he’s happy and living his best life. I hope his mom grew up and chose to be his mom, not his pimp, and that they have a loving and supportive family relationship.
So that all came back to me this morning when I saw this story from Teen Vogue, about Influencer Parents:
“Claire, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, has never known a life that doesn’t include a camera being pointed in her direction. The first time she went viral, she was a toddler. When the family’s channel started to rake in the views, Claire says both her parents left their jobs because the revenue from the YouTube channel was enough to support the family and to land them a nicer house and new car. “That’s not fair that I have to support everyone,” she said. “I try not to be resentful but I kind of [am].” Once, she told her dad she didn’t want to do YouTube videos anymore and he told her they would have to move out of their house and her parents would have to go back to work, leaving no money for “nice things.”
“When the family is together, the YouTube channel is what they talk about. Claire says her father has told her he may be her father, but he’s also her boss. “It’s a lot of pressure,” she said. When Claire turns 18 and can move out on her own, she’s considering going no-contact with her parents. Once she doesn’t live with them anymore, she plans to speak out publicly about being the star of a YouTube channel. She’ll even use her real name. Claire wants people to know how her childhood was overshadowed by social media stardom that she didn’t choose. And she wants her parents to know: “nothing they do now is going to take back the years of work I had to put in.”Bolding is mine. “Also her boss”? Fuck you, Claire’s dad. Fuck you eleven different ways, you piece of shit.
Children deserve to be children. Children are not the property of their parents who can use and exploit them for their own gain. They are CHILDREN and they will spend the rest of their lives hurting because you stole that from them. Ask me how I know.
I see you, Claire, and I am so sorry for what they took from you. You did not deserve that, and you are enough. When you are of age, if you choose to hold them accountable, I have your back.