Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Lucrative rewards of viral videos encourage parents to put their children on YouTube

The voices of young people are important. We need to respect and listen to young people, and sometimes in our homes, our classrooms and our broader society we don’t. The advent of YouTube has led to interesting dynamics between parents and children when it comes to sharing and showcasing their voices, however, and Lisa Belkin’s article in the New York Times yesterday, “Exploiting Kids on YouTube?” provides several examples.

  1. David After Dentist. Views on YouTube as of today: 57,105,747
  2. Miracle-Herb Brooks” Pre-Game Speech. Views on YouTube as of today: 2,856,540
  3. Joshua Sacco, 5 Year Old at Fenway Park. Views on YouTube as of today: 669,108
  4. The Yippity Yo Cooking Show. Views on YouTube as of today: 139,841
  5. Scarface School Play. Views on YouTube as of today: 119,764

Kipp Rogers alerted me via Twitter to the video, “A 2.5 Year-Old Has A First Encounter with An iPad.” This was featured on BoingBoing, and now has 798,064 YouTube views. Is this exploitation of your own child for financial gain, or digitally saavy, entrepreneurial parenting in the 21st century? Perhaps it’s just innocent fun? I lean toward the first answer.

If you publish a video which is getting a lot of views, YouTube contacts the channel owner and asks if you want to place advertisements on your video and revenue share the profits. The article “5 Secrets of YouTube’s Success” in the April 2010 issue of Wired Magazine highlights various examples of people who have become global, YouTube superstars and struck it rich in different ways. The race to create the next YouTube viral phenomenon is an element of an ongoing “Internet gold rush” which is unlikely to subside anytime soon. The payoffs can be BIG, easily numbering in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for videos with millions of views.

This past fall, my 9 year old published a 90 second response video to President Obama’s speech to students. Neither Sarah or I anticipated the response this video incited globally. This situation, and recent presentations I’ve shared with my own children at educational conferences, have raised similar questions as those Lisa Belkin discussed in her article about parents, their children, and social media. Seeing Adora Svitak present a couple of weeks ago over Skype to a group of educators in New Hampshire made me wonder about this too. So does my daughter’s online video publications on “The International Cooking Show” project. Where do we draw the line between a healthy, supportive opportunity for young people to share their voice and express their ideas with social media, and a parent pushing the child to become an online superstar to earn money for questionable motives?

Should there be rules about publishing videos of your own children online? How is young David, the boy in the video “David After Dentist” which has been seen (to date) by over 50 million people worldwide, going to feel about this stardom when he’s in high school? When he’s in college? Would it make a difference if the video made him look smart and saavy, instead of showing him plainly hurting from the effects of dental anathesia? One of the commenters on Lisa’s NYT article reflected on this by writing:

[The] worst [scenario] is to be a kid who got famous because people hated you. But is it better to be David or the less photogenic kid whose post-dentist video will be floating around forever as a testament to his lack of popular appeal? Based on child actors, I think it’s probably better to be the less famous kid. But it still probably sucks to find out your parents tried to exploit you but you weren’t likable enough.

Adults are often quick to lament a lack of common sense, ethics, or responsibility when it comes to young people’s uses and mis-uses of social media, but what about parents like David’s Dad? He’s doubtless cashing in on his Flip video of his anathesia-hung over child. What do advocates for digital citizenship say about this?

At the Palm Beach County (Florida) Technology conference a few weeks ago, David Jakes suggested I share a presentation or write an article about my experiences with Sarah publishing on YouTube. There are a lot of important lessons to mull over from that situation. I don’t have all the answers, but I definitely DO think there is “a line” out there which should not be crossed by parents when it comes to publishing children’s voices / videos online. We’ve all probably known mothers who pushed their young daughters into beauty pageants for their OWN egos. In those cases, I’ve wished the mom would think of the needs or desires of her child more than her own desires for parent stardom. Bad parenting choices are all around us, they’re not hard to find. It’s strange to see, in at least some cases, parents financially rewarded by YouTube’s ad revenue sharing program (the “YouTube Partners Program“) instead of facing societal censure. Hopefully we won’t see these trends increase and get worse, but I fear we shall.

The following posts give more background on my experiences with Sarah’s YouTube publishing this past fall, and some of the things we learned:

  1. Remember to turn YouTube channel comment moderation ON
  2. A hazard of moderating comments on a popular YouTube video
  3. Addressing the R Word Proactively and Flagging YouTube Videos
  4. Criteria for moderating comments on a viral video
  5. YouTube comment moderation is great (and recommended) when videos go viral
  6. Over 17,000 views on YouTube in 24 hours
  7. Using Blogs and CoverItLive to Discuss President Obama’s Speech
  8. President Obama’s Speech to Students: A Great Opportunity for Synchronous, Live Discussions
  9. YouTube Honors for Sarah’s video response to President Obama’s speech (<24 hours after posting)

It definitely would be worthwhile to reflect at greater length on these issues of publishing a video of your child on YouTube, especially if it goes viral. What are your thoughts?

H/T to Larry Ferlazzo for sharing this New York Times article via Twitter.

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3 responses to “Lucrative rewards of viral videos encourage parents to put their children on YouTube”

  1. John Lacey Avatar

    I’m grateful that this is a dilemma I don’t personally have to contend with. However I do know one woman (a wonderful video creator who creates fun videos featuring her two young children) and the rewards have really been quite wonderful for her family. They’ve actually had opportunities to travel the world and be spokespeople for charity initiatives and meet celebrities and other fun stuff.

  2. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    John: Do you have a to that video creator’s site or YouTube channel? There definitely are positive aspects of this environment… There are many that Sarah’s YouTube publishing experience demonstrated as well. Like many technology issues there is a positive and negative side, and it’s important to acknowledge as well as understand both to have a balanced perspective. Often the outliers tend to color people’s perception of a topic when it comes to social media, and I think that can lead to misconceptions. I’d love to see the person’s website you mention, and hear more about her family’s story.