I realize that turning your kids into viral content can be a lucrative line of work. A family that films their child unboxing toys on YouTube pulled in $11 million last year; a far more insidious family that filmed their kids suffering emotional abuse in the form of “pranks” had more than 750,000 subscribers before their empire collapsed.
Given the exploding popularity of YouTube celebrities and the huge amounts of cash the streaming video site is handing out, there’s lots of incentive to find (or create) the next child star. And who better to mold into the Shirley Temple of the digital age than the cutie pie living in the next room over?
So, like I said, I get it, on some level. Parents have long turned their kids into entertainment for others and reaped the rewards; the Hollywood dream factory has mutated into the YouTube content farm. More disturbing than the businessmen, however, are the folks who film their children having some sort of emotional breakdown and then put it on the internet, just for kicks.
I’m thinking of the parents who tape their children dealing with the effects of anesthesia (“Is this real life?”), or the ones instructed by Jimmy Kimmel to film their children breaking down into tears because they think their folks have eaten all their Halloween candy, or the parents who tape reaction videos after telling their children that their favorite athlete has been shipped out of town.
I’m thinking of a poor little boy in Tennessee crying about being bullied, a poor little boy whose tears went viral, a poor little boy to whom celebrities reached out and offered support and love and trips to movie premieres, a poor little boy whose family the howling mobs on Twitter quickly tried to tear down.
A poor little boy who will forever be known to bullies as the kid who cries when you’re mean to him.
I don’t want to name the boy because I don’t want to add to what will surely be a lifetime of Google woes, but if you’ve been online in the past few days, you’ve seen him.
And you’ll forget about him in time, as the next viral kid pops up for his 15 seconds and then disappears and then the next viral kid pops up and disappears and ... well, you get it. As the perpetual internet meme machine keeps rolling.
But after we forget the boy and after we bury whatever “awareness” his mother was trying to raise (for her son and for bullying, of course; certainly not for her YouTube page), and after we forget about the GoFundMe page that either hit its goal or got shut down or just kind of limped along, and after we forget about the good deeds done and the angry tweets tweeted, you know who’s going to remember him? The bullies. Taping a kid crying about other kids being mean to him is like slapping a meat belt on a diver and dropping him into the ocean from a helicopter; every shark within smelling distance is going to take a bite.
For God’s sake: Stop putting your kids’ tears online for the rest of us to either laugh at or empathize with. Everything on the internet will be there forever. Your children shouldn’t be forced to live with your need for attention.
Sonny Bunch is the executive editor of, and film critic for, the Washington Free Beacon.