Protecting my child from my Internet Brain Rot

January 24, 2021

If you have a kindergartener in your home as I do, you’re likely aware of the Ryan’s World YouTube channel. Perhaps you’re also aware of J-House, Tic Tac Toy, or any number of other channels in which a well-groomed, outgoing, loud family with young children films themselves doing “challenges” or opening toys or playing in the backyard of their four-bedroom house or going on vacation, and presents the videos as aspirational lifestyle infotainment for children.

There’s always been garbage on television, and garbage books, and garbage music, all with garbage messages for children, so I’m not about to suggest this stuff is particularly harmful, even if I wish YouTube would do more to promote accountability for stuff people post as children’s entertainment. But the thing I keep thinking whenever I see these parents pointing the camera at their children and prodding them to perform is, “Thank God I was a kid before my parents could be tempted to do that.”

My dad was a photo geek back in the day, and at some point he got a camcorder to bring to my baseball games and on our vacations. We still have a couple videos of my youth baseball games, and I remember watching at least one when I was in grade school with the express purpose of analyzing my pitching motion. However, as far as I know, my parents never had an inkling about publishing that material, or, more broadly, trying to make me a public figure.

As an adult, I have a bad enough case of Internet Brain Rot that I post bad tweets, make extensive use of Instagram, and have even started a public blog/newsletter (have you heard of it?), all ostensibly so I can “share my thoughts with the world” but that ultimately amount to “seeking out serotonin hits from friends and strangers approving of my personal brand”.

I draw the line at explicitly bringing my child into my clout-chasing, though, mainly because I believe she deserves the opportunity to decide what information about her is public. My spouse and I both have locked-down, friends-only Facebook accounts. We don’t post pictures of our child on public forums or accounts, and it took me a while to get around to posting any pictures of my child’s face on Facebook. Even then, I won’t upload to Facebook directly, instead posting links to my saved Google Photos, under the theory that I’ve given in to Google, but I don’t have to give in to Facebook, too.

More recently, I’ve started posting pictures of her on my public Instagram feed, but only with her mask on, and usually with her back turned. Again, I rationalize. On one level, I tell myself this still preserves her future privacy while sharing updates on her with friends and family, but on another level I suspect her profile is already pretty fleshed out, and my attempts to give her control of her public information is just window dressing.

I hope that Ryan kid, and all the others of varying YouTube fame, end up emotionally and socially secure, whether they reap a financial windfall from monetizing their childhoods or not. It's got to be hard to be a child with that level of fame, with your parents and many other adults depending on you for their livelihoods. Am I making my child feel something like that by asking her to pose for photos that she knows I'll share? I hope not.

Now, my goal is to ensure my child is un-Google-able on the public web until she does something actually noteworthy, or chooses on her own to be a more public person. So far, I’ve been successful, and I’m optimistic we’ll be able to pull it off, but I’ve also got a little voice in the back of my mind whispering that such efforts are for naught, since multiple entities likely already have a profile on her that contains the essential information I’m trying to protect.

(Photo: "youtuber maialen" by Mario A. P. Used under CC BY-SA 2.0 license.)