A new trend I have witnessed over the past two years or so on Instagram is parents opening up pages for their toddlers; little human beings whose only mission in life is to eat, cry, sleep, and, oh yea, poop. And who by default are completely oblivious to the 99% of things happening in the world around them – talk less of mummy and daddy opening up an Instagram page in their name, with cute pictures of them, sometimes dressed up as a vegan entree at a buffet.
And these kids are prepped, propped, and served to us on the platter that is social media, in well-manicured, well-curated, and filtered photographs that celebrated the milestones that are akin to the lives of a toddler; – their sixth month anniversary, their first tooth, their first day of weaning, their first step, their first word; all the believe-it-or-not, major accomplishments that come with a child going from 0 to 2 years of age.
I have always wondered about the real motivation behind this. Positioning these kids for a possible brand collaboration? Genuinely wanting to share the growth of the child with the world? Documenting the child’s life? Building the child’s image in the public eye to make them become a superstar in the future? Or is it just the parents’ own penchant for social media validation from a sea of faceless digital individuals, that has found another venue to out itself?
What is the motivation behind a parent opening an IG account for their child and going as far as paying blogs to promote the said page? I strongly tend to think it is the latter of the possible motivational factors listed above. At the very least, it very possibly layers the bedrock of whatever the motivation might be.
A couple of weeks ago, I had tweeted about what I deemed was the veiled immorality in such an act and one of our followers questioned what I thought was wrong in trying to turn a kid into a brand. “Isn’t there such a thing as kid models or even child stars?” she asked. “Is there a moral way to go about it in this digital era? How do kid brands or magazines scout for kids to work with?”
Good questions, no doubt if one could first roll the proverbial eye at this generation’s obsession for becoming and clamoring brand ambassadors; a topic which we have covered already.
But to come back to her questions, advert agencies have always had to scout children to use in adverts and in catalogues showing products made for children, like toys, baby food, and children’s clothes. The most important part of this endeavour was/is the fact that the whole process is controlled. There are systems and procedures put into place to ensure that these kids’ interests are protected and safeguarded in the best manner possible. It was birthed out of the necessity of putting out an advertisement and selling a product to a defined market. Today it is birthed out of an addiction to social media validation.
Even if you want to argue that this is not the case, one can ask and, aptly so, that what is the point, then. Why do it at all then? Especially at a time when the internet is rife with stories of paedophiles trading photos of infants on the dark web.
And as for the point about being a child star, like a child actor, it takes talent to get there. You can open an Instagram page for your toddler and recreate movie scene setups for the photos and it won’t turn them into a Dakota Fanning.
You can send a child to an art school with the hopes that they become an actor, and all that they show interest in is in picking up sticks to build model cars, trucks, and airplanes. The closest that child might end up doing in the movie industry is in building sets for movies. A behind-the-scenes work that is not in line with the parents’ aspiration. Also, the child may just suck at acting and will stand no chance at all.
I can understand if a child has shown an innate ability at singing and/or dancing and the parents feel like social media might help them get a better shot at landing representation by an agency that has connections with the movie industry. Their social media might then focus on showing the child’s creativity. There is currently a Latino kid on TikTok, about 6 years old, who with his dad, does skits that show the expanse of the boy’s acting abilities Everything they post on TikTok is focused on showing the child’s skill. How does that translate in the pictures of a 2-year-old on Instagram who is only shown wearing cute outfits and nothing else?
I remember even when Tiwa Savage’s son, Jamil, was featured in a Pampers digital advert, it happened because of the star power of Tiwa and the fact that she had been showing her son on Instagram in a NATURAL manner. In ordinary, everyday life situations. The agency handling that brand felt she and her son would be a great fit for the advert. Of course, such an advert targets the parents (who have the purchasing power) and not children – hence Tiwa’s audience on Instagram amongst whom are parents.
Parents want the best for their children. They want their children to look good in the public eye. When our parents pushed used to write 11 papers at the O Levels or tried to make sure we turned out doctors, lawyers, or accountants, it was because they thought they were doing the best for us; even in the instances when that completely ruined most of our lives. A lot of that was born from the desire of making us look good in the public eye. We know very much how our parents are faithful believers in the gospel of “what will people say.”
But while one can pardon them because their expectations were channeled towards making us have respectable career choices, this social media-induced trend of curating Instagram photos of children and doing paid promotion for these pages is to put it dramatically, a newly-unlocked level of witchcraft.
We are already aware of the numerous ills that social media has brought to the world. Today, more than at any time in our human history young people are diagnosed with problems of self-esteem, online buying has risen exponentially and people are getting diagnosed with depression at an alarming rate.
Having children knowing from an early age that they have a social account can imbibe in them a very false sense of reality about the world and their self worth because they start thinking that their lives have to be curated and perfect like in the pictures that mommy and daddy have put together for the world to see. When faced with the real-life and its very real problems, they might have serious difficulties to adjust
Your child is not a star unless they are a star. And no amount of paid promotions can genuinely turn that around in a way that is beneficial in the long term for the child and even for the parents. We cannot project our desire to have our perfect social profiles be extended to our kids.
We did just fine without our parents making perfect picture albums for us and thrusting it in the face of every visitor who came visiting. Let kids be kids.