After Leaving Neverland, the people behind social media ‘kidfluencers’ skate perilously close to child abuse

After Leaving Neverland, the people behind social media ‘kidfluencers’ skate perilously close to child abuse

When children are living out ‘glamorous’ lives for commercial gain, every experience is a potentially lucrative photo opportunity

In a week of hideous news upon hideous news, I’m going to offer you yet another juicy turd of information. Dear reader, I give you the “kidfluencer”, a term coined for children (and we’re sometimes talking under-fives here) who are paid to promote brands on their Instagram and in some cases YouTube accounts. I know, mad right?

These children are renowned for their enviable lifestyles and all the accessories and toys that come with it. These are the kind of kids you see in the park driving scaled-down versions of Daddy’s car or carrying handbags just like Mummy’s.

These so-called mini fashionistas are model cute but rather than being photographed in a studio or on location, they are snapped as they go about their everyday glamorous business, on beaches and at ski resorts, in sunglasses and straw hats, in swimwear and salopettes. They do a lot of hand-on-hip and finger-on-chin posing, there is also a great deal of kiss blowing. Feeling queasy yet?

I have nothing against children modelling, if I hadn’t been such a plain lank-haired lump myself, I’d have been itching to preen for any old catalogue that would have me. The fact is some kids are naturally that way inclined, and having worked for a photographer back in the Eighties and witnessed a couple of kiddie shoots it’s very easy to tell who’s not enjoying it. And yes I did see at first hand the archetypal pushy parent, but equally I met a lot of mums who simply fancied putting a few bob in their child’s saving account.

What I’m a lot less comfortable with is the concept of a “child influencer” whose entire life is being lived out for commercial gain in front of a smartphone lens. For these kids, every experience is a potentially lucrative photo opportunity.

Of course behind every camera is the brains behind the enterprise and usually this is the mother, often herself with model good looks, camera in one hand, glass of prosecco in the other #dreamingofDubai. Some of these mums are taking their children’s careers so seriously that they have given up their own work, although inevitably many have a businessman husband in the background, along with a fashionable pooch and a great deal of fairy lights – after all everything must sparkle.

This is a weird extension of the celebrity wannabe, whereby people who don’t do anything apart from look great with nice things are rewarded in kind or cash by retail companies.

This is sort of understandable when it’s adults playing this ridiculous game, after all, following them is only like reading a mini digital Hello! magazine, “Ooh, look at her kitchen”, but when children get involved, it’s weird.

“But he/she loves it,” comes the cry. Yes, but it’s still not normal. It’s creating an off-putting bubble of childhood perfection, a la the Beckhams, where Christmas trees must skim the ceiling and holiday sand must be silver white, where bikes are never second-hand and no one has a squint.

These are children who don’t seem to ever wear the same thing twice: toddlers in pristine trainers; manicured little girls who are never without a bow in their hair.

What I don’t get is, who is following them? I love seeing the children and, more recently, the grandchildren of some of my friends on Instagram, but that’s because I know them. I’m genuinely interested in how they’re getting on – “Oh look, this one can walk now and that one baked a cake” – but the idea of following a stranger’s child because of what they wear and do on their holidays is extremely strange.

After a week in which Leaving Neverland seemed to confirm everyone’s darkest suspicions, it seems peculiar to continue putting kids into a place where they’re potentially vulnerable. At this point I’d also like to moot that lip gloss on a six-year-old is tantamount to child abuse.

These children are being treated like props by their parents – woe betide they grow out of their wide-eyed attractiveness. God help them if those baby teeth fall out and the big teeth come in all wonky and they suddenly need specs.

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I was talking to someone recently whose wife was hysterical over their daughter being prescribed glasses at the age of 11, insisting the child must have contact lenses or her social life would be over. Really? Are most kids that shallow or is this your problem?

Vanity on behalf of our offspring is an occupational hazard and although it’s always pretty grotesque, very few of us manage to go through life without the occasional gloat. But magnifying that gloat on a social media platform is surely just stacking up problems for the future. You can’t permanently gild your life – kids get fat, they get spotty. What kind of message are you giving them if you suddenly stop snapping them every second of the day because they no longer fit the brand and the freebies have stopped tumbling through the door.

Surely life needs to be worth living even if it’s not picture perfect?

We’ll tell you what’s true. You can form your own view.

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