Family Vlogging – Helpful or Hurtful?

YouTube began as a website to share funny fails and cat videos but has turned into something much greater. Today, thousands of creators consider YouTube their full-time job, and rely on the income provided by their videos to buy groceries or pay rent. Interestingly enough, it's not just funny young adults making videos anymore, but also families sharing their experiences and daily life. This is often through a video form called “daily vlogging,” where a family records and uploads content every day about what happens in their lives. While it sounds very simple, it can be extremely interesting to see the daily tasks of a person’s life, and often viewers feel attached, like they're part of the family too. However, is there a breaking point to these family vlogs? There have been cases of abuse and neglect seen in these videos, but is it one rotten family, or vlogging itself that is tearing families apart? Is it possible to protect your children while still exploiting them on the internet? Is there a question of ethics among this? 

The good side of family vlogging is being able to see a lot of family dynamics different from your own. For example, there are plenty of family vloggers out there that want to share their experiences to others who may not understand, or new parents who have never gone through something like that before. Two channels that do a good job at this are Fathering Autism and Our LANDing Crew. Both of these families have a child who suffers from Autism; Fathering Autism has a daughter who is non-verbal, and Our LANDing Crew describes their struggles with learning disabilities and low muscle tone as well. They are both honest and upfront, providing details to families who may be going through a similar thing and teaching viewers who have never met someone with autism what it's like. What I love about these channels is their respect to their children. Both channels have openly discussed their boundaries with their children and ask before they put them on camera or share details of stories that have occurred. While Abbie from Fathering Autism is non-verbal, they have shown her physical cues that signal when they should turn off the camera. Similarly, Stephanie, the mother of Our LANDing Crew, is often seen asking her son if it is okay to describe a story or show him on camera, and promptly turning it off if her son disapproves. 

However, it is impossible to be sure if any child is truly consenting to being on-screen when they're that young. Many children may have just grown up around the camera and see it as a part of their life, not even knowing that they could ask to turn it off. Furthermore, even kids with parents who ask may feel pressure to keep it on, especially if the kids know that their family is relying on that video to feed them for a week. Another popular YouTube family, TheWeissLife, is extremely open and honest with their viewers about raising their daughters. They often show videos of them talking about periods, going bra shopping, school crushes, and buying their first makeup. The mom of the family, a seemingly wonderful woman, always describes being this honest and open with their viewers to play a mom-role for people who may not have a mom, or a mom who isn’t as involved. Their videos are in-depth and often very informative of what is it like growing up as a girl, which I understand could be very helpful to a girl being raised by a single father. Yet, while the girls always seem excited and comfortable talking on screen, I have to wonder if they are only like this because this is just the reality they know. In their future, will they be okay with employers potentially seeing videos of when they got their first period? Will they be upset when future boyfriends watch videos of them bra shopping? It makes me think if the kids are truly accepting of their time on-screen or if they are just pressured into it because it is what provides their family with groceries and toys and vacations and they truly don’t know any better.

There is an even darker side to family-vlogging as well. Recently, the parents of DaddyOFive were convicted to five years of probation because of child neglect. These parents became internet famous off of the harmless pranks they would pull on their children; however, they didn’t stay harmless forever. The family’s pranks became increasingly worse, often causing the children to have anxiety attacks in fear, which they often just titled as “child meltdown.” These videos continued for a bit as they got more and more views until they were eventually charged with child abuse and neglect for the behavior. They passed the point of no return and abused their children to gain views and money, which I believe anyone would think is beyond unethical. These serious cases are not rare either, and it is difficult to prevent them since YouTube is an open platform. Another YouTube family faced the unthinkable when their son died at thirteen. The semi-famous YouTube family, Bratayley , then had to announce to their viewers that their son had passed and would deal with grieving privately to a crowd who had once watched their every move. Subscribers criticized their decisions following the death, often saying they were using it for views or followers, and some creators and fans even creating theories that they killed their son, who seemed perfectly healthy, just to get more views. Even if it was a sudden death, it is still a sticky situation to have to explain to millions of fans that your child has passed and handle grieving while the entire world knows exactly what is going on. 

There are plenty more examples of uncomfortable, unsafe, or unethical family situations on YouTube that have arisen because of family vlogging. However, there are also many family vloggers out there who are teaching others what a family could look like (whether its interracial, LGBTQ+, or a family with disabilities) and healthily showing their everyday lives. There is no one right answer to whether family vlogging should be acceptable or not, and many people have differing opinions about it. I think it's worth mentioning that other entertainment industries have child labor laws to protect the kids from working too much or being hurt, while YouTube is an open platform and does not. Maybe there is a possibility of laws surrounding child YouTubers in the future, preventing families from exploiting them or making decisions for their children that the kids might regret in the future. Time will only tell what will happen to these kids as they grow up, and whether or not any of them speak out about the love or horrors of their time as children in front of the camera.