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The New Child Actor: The Scary Parenting Trend in Our Digital Age

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(The tired toddler enters from stage left. She struggles to keep her head up. Her body sways back and forth uncontrollably.) (One foot sluggishly slides past the other.) (With her blanket in hand, she reaches out to find her bed. But it's dark. Her eyes can barely stay open. And she's in the kitchen.) (Father stands at a distance capturing the hilarious incident with his camera phone.) (She loses her balance completely. Her body slams off the floor. Her head hits last. Hard.) (Father bursts into a fit of laughter.)



Once uploaded, this sad scene will receive hundreds of likes on Facebook and hundreds of thousands of hits on YouTube, even making it into a Kids' Fails Compilation. Score!

But who really scores in this scenario? Surely not the child who was physically hurt not to mention emotionally hurt when she likely experienced a serious loss of trust after she realized that her father chose not to intervene and prevent it. Chose not to parent.

Then comes the humiliation of being the butt of the joke. Little does this poor child know, she will remain the butt of the joke for years to come. The digital footprint has been created so it will live on far longer than she will.

Does the parent score with the newfound popularity the video has received? The likes, hits, and shares? Anyone see a stage dad's proud eyes gleaming from the sudden jolt of popularity he is receiving vicariously through his child? Some parents even create channels on YouTube to showcase and profit from these videos.

Many would call this abuse.

When did it become acceptable to parade your child's vulnerable moments for the world to see? You don't have to look far to find more examples, though most are less extreme, in controversial videos such as David After Dentist, Sadie Doesn't Want Her Brother to Grow Up, Jimmy Kimmel's Parents Prank Children know, I Ate All My Kid's Halloween Candy and I Gave My Kid a Terrible Present...not to mention the boatload of parents-shaming-their-children videos.

Even if the act itself is a mistake in judgment, a human error (We, parents, are human, right?), the second mistake comes when a parent shares it with the world. Neither can be taken back.

Are we so starved for entertainment that we are willing to engage at a child's expense? Have our standards as viewers dropped so low that this can now be labeled "comedy" or "drama"?

This entertainment factor is alive and well. Parents are sharing videos more than ever. Take a trip to a local Chuck E. Cheese or your favorite amusement park and you will find loads of persistent parents chasing their children around in a desperate attempt to collect video. Most of the time with great resistance from their muses. Some may have no intention of sharing it at all or only plan to send it to close family and friends. Many are on a treasure hunt for video gold. If it's cute enough, funny enough, or humiliating enough, it could be worthy of an upload. Oversharenting, anyone?

Savvy advertising companies are even tapping into this trend. Take Scrubbing Bubbles' recent commercial "Going Viral"...where two kids treat their bathroom to a serious make-over with a slew of bath products and brightly colored finger-paints. Their Dad secretly kneels in the doorway to capture the spectacle on his phone. Now seeing that "gleam in the eye" I alluded to earlier?

Suddenly, Mom arrives. Shocked and ready to barge right into that bathroom and scold her pesky little rebels, she questions why the heck her husband hasn't done that already. Instead, he zooms his phone in on his soon-to-be stars and exclaims that their video will "go viral". Both parents' eyes gleam. After the product is plugged, which of course saves the day and restores the bleached-out bathroom, Mom checks her phone and exclaims that the video has received 20,000 views! Curtain closes again.

I wish I could say this type of behavior was isolated. It isn't. It is part of a disturbing trend that is thrusting children into the spotlight at an alarming rate. And at their own expense. YouTube and Facebook have become popular platforms for these controversial videos starring child actors.

The soft spotlight of the good ol' days has been replaced by the bright light of a camera phone. What was once families nestled in their living rooms is now a plethora of piercing digital eyes. The director no longer shouting orders from behind a large, professional camera but instead from behind a small yet powerful camera phone.

Except today's child actors don't have contracts and are often forced into the spotlight without their consent. They wouldn't want to disappoint their directors, would they? The show must go on!

But in reality, the show needs to come to a close. Quickly. These children are in need of a break. Childhoods are over in the blink of an eye. Before we know it, our children are no longer children. Let's allow them to trust our intentions again. When we selectively share our photos or videos online, let it be for the right reasons. Let's worry less about capturing these moments and worry more about living them. Instead of racing to grab our phones, let's race to grab their hands. Our children deserve it. So do we.

Let's dim the spotlight. Lower the curtain. Remove the director's hat. And offer hugs instead of poses.

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