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Kids and Babies of TikTok: Cute or Exploitative?

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Conn chapter.

Anyone who is on TikTok has seen a multitude of adorable and funny kids and babies on their For You Page. While these kids may be entertaining, how can they possibly consent to being viewed by millions of strangers on the internet? Many parents may argue that they are just sharing memories or cute moments, but at what point is it just exploitative?

where did this start? Family Vlogging.

In the age of social media, kids and babies have been going viral online since the early days of YouTube and Vine. Very quickly, many parents realized they could gain massive followings, views, sponsorships, and money by vlogging their children on YouTube. A lot of viewers have pointed out how exploitative these family channels can be. Often, the children are homeschooled by their parents and their entire days are subject to being put on camera. What they eat, what they wear, their grades, health issues, personal problems… everything is put out there for millions of strangers to see. Most of the time these vlog channels are the primary source of income for the family. This turns the children into the main breadwinners of the household. This puts a lot of pressure on the kids to put on a face and work at any time of the day. Child actors have protections under law about how long they can work, but what about these kids?

what about tiktok?

On TikTok, things are a little different. Videos have a maximum duration of three minutes, and most are way shorter than that. However, TikTok has become another large platform for children to be featured. Many channels started out with creators occasionally sharing funny moments of their children. But, as they began to garner thousands or millions of views, the content became almost exclusively about their children. Users like Maia Knight, the LaBrant family, Abbie Herbert, Laura Fritz, and way more have gained millions of followers from posting their kids (I will try not to mention their children by name in an attempt to give them privacy). Each of these accounts individually have hundreds of millions of likes, and every single one of the videos they post get over a million views.

what’s the problem?

Any child, especially toddlers and babies, has no concept of the amount of people watching them, and can in no way consent to being posted like this. They have no idea who the kinds of people watching them are. Posting this much content of children, especially when they’re in diapers or taking baths, is really scary when we remember the kinds of predators that exist on the Internet. This is free content for them. If you search these children on Instagram, hundreds of fan accounts come up that are made anonymously. Whether these accounts are made by innocent fans or predators, we cannot know, but it is also just really weird. Can you imagine strangers making fan accounts of you from the time you were in diapers? What will happen to these children once they go to school, go to college, or try to get a job? They now have an online presence and online footprint they never consented to. When these kids get millions of views on the Internet, it makes them very recognizable in public, which is a serious threat to their safety. When you search “TikTok babies” on Google, a BuzzFeed quiz titled “What TikTok Baby Are You” comes up. That should not be normal. The “babies” hashtag on TikTok has 11.5 billion views. Why are we exploiting children like this?

money, labor, and growing up on camera

Just like YouTube families, TikTok videos have become a major or main source of income for many creators. Once again, this makes the children the breadwinners of the household. Many creators will include their children in advertisements partnered with companies. Is that not explicitly exploiting your children? I can understand that this seems like a great way to make money to support your family, but is it really ethical? The opposing viewpoint argue that they are just babies, so does it really harm them? Many of these creators make multiple videos a day of their children from the time they wake up to the time they go to bed. We get videos of Mommy making them their bottles, cute outfits, what they are eating, what they are doing that day, bedtime routines… once again, everything. This is clearly a personal invasion of privacy and another safety concern. Also, how do we know the impact of shoving a camera in their face for most of the day before they even know how to talk? There’s so many unanswered questions, and we will only know once these children grow up and can speak for themselves. I myself am guilty of enjoying baby content on TikTok once in a while, but we have to think about the impact it could be having on these children.

For more content on this subject, @mom.uncharted on TikTok has a lot of great videos.

Kayleigh is a senior at the University of Connecticut, studying Political Science with minors in French and History. She loves books, Gilmore Girls, fashion, and anything coffee-related.