Is it OK to feature kids in viral videos?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  March 25, 2009 06:13 AM

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Like most parents, I think my kids are pretty amazing. I shoot videos of them singing or playing or putting sunglasses on the dog or whatever silly snippet of their childhood I don't want to forget. I embarrass my teens and tween by hauling out their old artwork or retelling stories about the funny things they did when they were little. I'm proud of their accomplishments and their talents and want to share their triumphs with the world.

But posting them online? Not so sure about that.

YouTube and Vimeo make sharing video online very easy -- maybe too easy. You post that cute clip of your kid and assume that only people who know and love them are watching. But what happens when the video goes viral?

By now, most of you have probably seen the YouTube video of a little leotard-wearing girl dancing along to Beyonce's "Single Ladies" video. On one hand, it's a cute snippet of a precocious toddler. On the other, if a 2- or 3-year-old can mimic Beyonce so well, what else has she been watching? And who else is watching her?

MomLogic talked to clinical psychologist Dr. Cara Gardenswartz about six of the most popular viral videos out there, and the analysis really makes you see these videos in a different light.

The videos show kids mispronouncing words, acting hyper, or freaking out over innocuous things. They're funny -- sort of. But there's something about them that's unsettling. The viewer is being invited to laugh at these children -- by their parents. It's one thing to embarrass your older kids in front of family and friends; it's another thing to expose your child to the world when he's vulnerable.

Maybe I'm being too harsh; I'm sure most of the parents of viral video stars never intended the clip to be viewed by anyone other than out-of-state friends and family members. (In which case... set your account to private, not public.) But there are some to whom I can't give the benefit of the doubt. The videos of children who are clearly upset about something... why are the parents still taping? Drop your camera and comfort your child.

Parents, weigh in: Should videos of kids be allowed to go viral?

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at lalphonse@globe.com.


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14 comments so far...
  1. Might as well try to stop the sun from rising in the morning. Once something "goes viral", you never get it back.

    Exactly, J. That's why I'm wondering whether it's fair to the kids in them to post some of those videos in the first place. --LMA

    Posted by J March 25, 09 09:19 AM
  1. I have posted a couple 30 second snipets of my daugther dancing, on youtube so my mother in Florida, brother in Maine, and other family members can see them. My email server won't handle a file that big which is why I do it that way. I don't hit any keywords, deactivate the comments and take them down after a week or so. I think something like that is ok, but purposely posting things to make people laugh at your kids bother me.
    Especially the video that hit where the kid was druged at the dentist. I didn't think that was funny at all. I found that disturbing actually. But I think what I do (short clips for family/friends) is acceptable....(obviously I do!) ha ha.

    Posted by Susan March 25, 09 10:28 AM
  1. I agree whole heartedly with what you are saying. Children need to be able to trust that their parents are there to protect and defend them not make them the butt of a joke. Sometimes a video starts out innocently but if something goes wrong why doesn't the parent stop and rescue the child instead of continueing the filming? Most disturbing is when a parent actually sets up a child to do something embarrassing, films it, laughs at the kid and shares it with the world. I think it's sad. Then parents wonder why their kids rebel and treat them badly. You reap what you sow.

    Posted by R. March 25, 09 10:35 AM
  1. I am very active on the internet, have a blog, use Twitter, Facebook, but I do not feel comfortable putting my kids on the internet in photos or videos. It's a big, bad world out there and I don't want my kids exposed in any way. I am not sure why a parent would continue filming in situations such as the one you describe, but it is difficult to pass judgment because the videos are out of context; we don't know what normally goes on there and what happened prior to the recording. I personally would not be comfortable with it, and definitely wouldn't want to poke fun at my children. They are so impressionable and learn through our actions. What would they think if I poked fun at them or made them feel foolish on tape and then posted it for the world to see? What message would I be sending them?

    Posted by Jennifer March 25, 09 11:03 AM
  1. I mean, I don't know. I definatley understand where everyone is coming from. Espeacially if we are talking about protecting our children from dangerous people and all. But I wont go as far to say that it's wrong to post funny video's of your kids online. There's plenty of video's out there that are just really funny and are not embarassing at all. But again, I do get why people may not feel the idea of having your children become a public display.

    Posted by Anjel March 25, 09 11:38 AM
  1. I think that you REALLY need to lighten up. Of course people are laughing at the videos...because they're F U N N Y. I know all you smartypants psychologists frown upon laughter, but really. What else are you going to whine about in this blog? Maybe your next one should be on Crocs and how they may damage the feet of our children (when in reality, they're damaging good taste and fashion sense)

    Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment, Tracey. I'm not a "smartypants psychologist," but my litmus test is this: Would it be funny if I was watching it happen, in person, to some kid right in front of me? No? Then it's not appropriate as a video, either.

    Thanks for the crocs suggestion. Seems like you've got a good handle on that one already, so I'll leave it up to you. -- LMA


    Posted by tracey March 25, 09 02:08 PM
  1. My sister in law put bath pictures of our daughters (ages 6 mo-2 1/2) on facebook and I was/am not pleased. I don't want some pediphile "enjoying" our naked kids. I don't use facebook but I imagine once the picture is up, someone could copy it and send it elsewhere.

    Posted by 1 DD March 25, 09 03:11 PM
  1. I post videos on blip.tv so that family members can see them, like Susan. I am very careful not to use their names or any identifying information so that they could not be searched for and I never post videos of them in anything other than a fully clothed state (I feel very strongly about this). I would like to make them password protected so that no one can look at them but have not yet, and have considered just taking them down after a short time. I think parents just need to be mindful of what they are putting out there about their kids, though, and I think it's a fine line between enjoying a funny moment and making fun of your kid. I don't post anything that my kids don't enjoy seeing themselves in. I follow the same guidelines when talking about my kids on my blog.

    Posted by jenny March 25, 09 03:16 PM
  1. If your videos are short (90 seconds) you can host them free on Flickr.com and make them available only to friends. In reality, the chance of having your video go viral is really quite small.

    True, We all saw the video of the kid after the dentist. (I didn't like it either because the kid seemed scared. Scared kids = not funny, Startled kids = very funny) But according to CNET there are 60,000 new videos posted everyday. I don't worry that the funny video of my kid becoming is going to become the next viral video.

    In this brave new world people are going to be on video all the time. And viral video fame (or infamy) is fleeting anyway.


    Posted by daveVN March 25, 09 03:41 PM
  1. If you think the video is disturbing...check out the blog where they are also selling T-shirts about David....http://davidafterdentist.com/blog/

    To be honest, I found this to be one of the least offensive. I don't understand video taping it or posting it on youtube, but at least Dad was answering David's questions and keeping him from putting his finger in his mouth. Still, you'd think he would be more in a hurry to get the kid home and out of the car seat. I could however, easily see this being a completely normal conversation in this scenario, with the exception of the camera.

    The rest of them were pretty distubing. The little boy being upset about his brother bleeding and everyone laughing and not bothering to talk to him about what is going on. The little girl dancing so provocatively.....get her dance lessons since she is obviously talented and stop letting her watch trash. Also.....son't put it on youtube....it's a pedophile's dream! Some of these things are so distubing. It's not a good idea to put videos of your kids online to begin with......no matter how often it happens, unless they are somehow restricted so only your family and friends have accress and even then it's risky.

    Posted by wolfeyes March 26, 09 11:43 AM
  1. I wonder if parents posting these videos ever intended for the world to view them? Surely, some do...but how many?

    I don't post any photos or videos of my daughter online. I've had people ask me to upload them to my Facebook account, but I refuse. Even if I can block out unwanted viewers (which is pretty much everyone), I just don't feel comfortable putting something out there that a friend could innocently repost and so on.

    We e-mail photos and can put videos on CD to snail mail, but online? Er...no.

    Posted by phe March 27, 09 07:04 AM
  1. Phe -- I don't know if you realize it, but you are deluding yourself.

    "I just don't feel comfortable putting something out there that a friend could innocently repost and so on.

    We e-mail photos"

    If you are emailing photos, you have them in electronic form, ready to be reposted or forwarded. Once it's out of your hands, it's done -- the genie is out of the bottle. Even the people who are posting things up and taking them down are deluding themselves, too. Once it hits the Internet, it can be duplicated.

    Of course, with the tens of thousands of videos being uploaded every second, this chance is pretty darn small, but know that once it leaves your control, it's out of your control.

    Posted by J March 27, 09 01:44 PM
  1. J

    Thanks for your input. I'm fairly confident that my close family and friends, the recipients of those photos, aren't posting them or forwarding them to their entire e-mail address books. I don't know about your close circles, but I guess I'm lucky in mine. 3/4 of them couldn't find You Tube or figure out Flickr with step by step instructions and a direct link.

    Of course, you're partially right - there is always a risk there. I think the point I was making though is that we maintain a tighter control on our own e-content by not posting things publicly, posting on any websites or sending pictures out as mass e-mails. So, the risk, while there, is minimal at best and worth taking to show my mother how her granddaughter is growing.

    I don't quite see how that's "deluding" myself, but hey, if you like to think that, be my guest.

    Posted by phe March 30, 09 08:56 AM
  1. Well to the person talking about the people selling tshirts. It's the kid's family and they used it to raise money for charity. That's not disturbing that's awesome. But I do agree with you on that. I know there's this whole faction of what I call Mommy bloggers who post hundreds of pics and videos of their kids. But when one just sticks out or is uniquely funny it earns alot of hits. We can't ever know who watches our videos. I don't have children but I do alot of videos for the children's ministry at our church and here's what i do: I made a friends group on fb specifically for members of the church who's kids would most likely be in the video. I then upload the vid to youtube and post the link to that group only I set it to private so that only the people with the link can watch it. From there it's up to the parents if Grandma or Auntie Susie gets the link as well. I do this for the kids' protection. Because we as adults have an obligation to protect children from the nasty people that we know exist in the world. It's our job to make sure the kids are safe. Think about those mom's on toddlers and tiaras (don't get me started >.

    Posted by Jamie May 3, 12 01:01 AM
 
14 comments so far...
  1. Might as well try to stop the sun from rising in the morning. Once something "goes viral", you never get it back.

    Exactly, J. That's why I'm wondering whether it's fair to the kids in them to post some of those videos in the first place. --LMA

    Posted by J March 25, 09 09:19 AM
  1. I have posted a couple 30 second snipets of my daugther dancing, on youtube so my mother in Florida, brother in Maine, and other family members can see them. My email server won't handle a file that big which is why I do it that way. I don't hit any keywords, deactivate the comments and take them down after a week or so. I think something like that is ok, but purposely posting things to make people laugh at your kids bother me.
    Especially the video that hit where the kid was druged at the dentist. I didn't think that was funny at all. I found that disturbing actually. But I think what I do (short clips for family/friends) is acceptable....(obviously I do!) ha ha.

    Posted by Susan March 25, 09 10:28 AM
  1. I agree whole heartedly with what you are saying. Children need to be able to trust that their parents are there to protect and defend them not make them the butt of a joke. Sometimes a video starts out innocently but if something goes wrong why doesn't the parent stop and rescue the child instead of continueing the filming? Most disturbing is when a parent actually sets up a child to do something embarrassing, films it, laughs at the kid and shares it with the world. I think it's sad. Then parents wonder why their kids rebel and treat them badly. You reap what you sow.

    Posted by R. March 25, 09 10:35 AM
  1. I am very active on the internet, have a blog, use Twitter, Facebook, but I do not feel comfortable putting my kids on the internet in photos or videos. It's a big, bad world out there and I don't want my kids exposed in any way. I am not sure why a parent would continue filming in situations such as the one you describe, but it is difficult to pass judgment because the videos are out of context; we don't know what normally goes on there and what happened prior to the recording. I personally would not be comfortable with it, and definitely wouldn't want to poke fun at my children. They are so impressionable and learn through our actions. What would they think if I poked fun at them or made them feel foolish on tape and then posted it for the world to see? What message would I be sending them?

    Posted by Jennifer March 25, 09 11:03 AM
  1. I mean, I don't know. I definatley understand where everyone is coming from. Espeacially if we are talking about protecting our children from dangerous people and all. But I wont go as far to say that it's wrong to post funny video's of your kids online. There's plenty of video's out there that are just really funny and are not embarassing at all. But again, I do get why people may not feel the idea of having your children become a public display.

    Posted by Anjel March 25, 09 11:38 AM
  1. I think that you REALLY need to lighten up. Of course people are laughing at the videos...because they're F U N N Y. I know all you smartypants psychologists frown upon laughter, but really. What else are you going to whine about in this blog? Maybe your next one should be on Crocs and how they may damage the feet of our children (when in reality, they're damaging good taste and fashion sense)

    Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment, Tracey. I'm not a "smartypants psychologist," but my litmus test is this: Would it be funny if I was watching it happen, in person, to some kid right in front of me? No? Then it's not appropriate as a video, either.

    Thanks for the crocs suggestion. Seems like you've got a good handle on that one already, so I'll leave it up to you. -- LMA


    Posted by tracey March 25, 09 02:08 PM
  1. My sister in law put bath pictures of our daughters (ages 6 mo-2 1/2) on facebook and I was/am not pleased. I don't want some pediphile "enjoying" our naked kids. I don't use facebook but I imagine once the picture is up, someone could copy it and send it elsewhere.

    Posted by 1 DD March 25, 09 03:11 PM
  1. I post videos on blip.tv so that family members can see them, like Susan. I am very careful not to use their names or any identifying information so that they could not be searched for and I never post videos of them in anything other than a fully clothed state (I feel very strongly about this). I would like to make them password protected so that no one can look at them but have not yet, and have considered just taking them down after a short time. I think parents just need to be mindful of what they are putting out there about their kids, though, and I think it's a fine line between enjoying a funny moment and making fun of your kid. I don't post anything that my kids don't enjoy seeing themselves in. I follow the same guidelines when talking about my kids on my blog.

    Posted by jenny March 25, 09 03:16 PM
  1. If your videos are short (90 seconds) you can host them free on Flickr.com and make them available only to friends. In reality, the chance of having your video go viral is really quite small.

    True, We all saw the video of the kid after the dentist. (I didn't like it either because the kid seemed scared. Scared kids = not funny, Startled kids = very funny) But according to CNET there are 60,000 new videos posted everyday. I don't worry that the funny video of my kid becoming is going to become the next viral video.

    In this brave new world people are going to be on video all the time. And viral video fame (or infamy) is fleeting anyway.


    Posted by daveVN March 25, 09 03:41 PM
  1. If you think the video is disturbing...check out the blog where they are also selling T-shirts about David....http://davidafterdentist.com/blog/

    To be honest, I found this to be one of the least offensive. I don't understand video taping it or posting it on youtube, but at least Dad was answering David's questions and keeping him from putting his finger in his mouth. Still, you'd think he would be more in a hurry to get the kid home and out of the car seat. I could however, easily see this being a completely normal conversation in this scenario, with the exception of the camera.

    The rest of them were pretty distubing. The little boy being upset about his brother bleeding and everyone laughing and not bothering to talk to him about what is going on. The little girl dancing so provocatively.....get her dance lessons since she is obviously talented and stop letting her watch trash. Also.....son't put it on youtube....it's a pedophile's dream! Some of these things are so distubing. It's not a good idea to put videos of your kids online to begin with......no matter how often it happens, unless they are somehow restricted so only your family and friends have accress and even then it's risky.

    Posted by wolfeyes March 26, 09 11:43 AM
  1. I wonder if parents posting these videos ever intended for the world to view them? Surely, some do...but how many?

    I don't post any photos or videos of my daughter online. I've had people ask me to upload them to my Facebook account, but I refuse. Even if I can block out unwanted viewers (which is pretty much everyone), I just don't feel comfortable putting something out there that a friend could innocently repost and so on.

    We e-mail photos and can put videos on CD to snail mail, but online? Er...no.

    Posted by phe March 27, 09 07:04 AM
  1. Phe -- I don't know if you realize it, but you are deluding yourself.

    "I just don't feel comfortable putting something out there that a friend could innocently repost and so on.

    We e-mail photos"

    If you are emailing photos, you have them in electronic form, ready to be reposted or forwarded. Once it's out of your hands, it's done -- the genie is out of the bottle. Even the people who are posting things up and taking them down are deluding themselves, too. Once it hits the Internet, it can be duplicated.

    Of course, with the tens of thousands of videos being uploaded every second, this chance is pretty darn small, but know that once it leaves your control, it's out of your control.

    Posted by J March 27, 09 01:44 PM
  1. J

    Thanks for your input. I'm fairly confident that my close family and friends, the recipients of those photos, aren't posting them or forwarding them to their entire e-mail address books. I don't know about your close circles, but I guess I'm lucky in mine. 3/4 of them couldn't find You Tube or figure out Flickr with step by step instructions and a direct link.

    Of course, you're partially right - there is always a risk there. I think the point I was making though is that we maintain a tighter control on our own e-content by not posting things publicly, posting on any websites or sending pictures out as mass e-mails. So, the risk, while there, is minimal at best and worth taking to show my mother how her granddaughter is growing.

    I don't quite see how that's "deluding" myself, but hey, if you like to think that, be my guest.

    Posted by phe March 30, 09 08:56 AM
  1. Well to the person talking about the people selling tshirts. It's the kid's family and they used it to raise money for charity. That's not disturbing that's awesome. But I do agree with you on that. I know there's this whole faction of what I call Mommy bloggers who post hundreds of pics and videos of their kids. But when one just sticks out or is uniquely funny it earns alot of hits. We can't ever know who watches our videos. I don't have children but I do alot of videos for the children's ministry at our church and here's what i do: I made a friends group on fb specifically for members of the church who's kids would most likely be in the video. I then upload the vid to youtube and post the link to that group only I set it to private so that only the people with the link can watch it. From there it's up to the parents if Grandma or Auntie Susie gets the link as well. I do this for the kids' protection. Because we as adults have an obligation to protect children from the nasty people that we know exist in the world. It's our job to make sure the kids are safe. Think about those mom's on toddlers and tiaras (don't get me started >.

    Posted by Jamie May 3, 12 01:01 AM
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