A decade ago parents kept their children’s images far away from the internet. Fear for their safety and of the misuse of their images, as well as the threat of online bullying, kept parents from sharing.
Fast forward 10 years, and an increasing number of parents are creating Instagram accounts for their kids.
Some see the prospect of making a buck, while others have “stage parent” fever and enjoy the fun of creating content and gathering the adulation of followers.
But is it safe? And what are the moral implications of putting children – who cannot give their consent – on social media?
Leading the pack globally are three-year-old twins Emma and Mila Stauffer with 3.2 million followers. Their account is run by their mum, Katie Stauffer. Next up is six-year-old fashion blogger Laerta with 1.2 million followers.
South African kids are following suit, springing from birth into the Gram. Leading the pack is Kairo Forbes, daughter of rapper Kiernan Forbes (AKA) and DJ-cum-entrepreneur Zinhle, with 312 000 followers. She is followed by Sibahle, daughter of actress and entertainer Ntando Duma, with 146 000. Just behind her is child prodigy DJ Oratile Hlongwane, known as DJ Arch Jnr, the winner of SA’s Got Talent 2015, with 120 000. Next up is Valdo, the son of rapper Lindo Sithole, with 108 000 followers, and then Khanz Mbau, daughter of the queen of bling, Khanyi Mbau, with 53 000 followers.
Valdo_02 - 108 000 followers
Within seven months five-year-old Valdo had more than 100 000 followers on Instagram. A video of him and his dad, also known as “Lin Dough”, went viral on Twitter, stealing hearts everywhere and leaving viewers asking for more.
“I was not expecting such a reaction, because I have been sharing Valdo’s pictures on social media since he was a year old,” said Sithole. “The purpose behind it has always been to illustrate a positive father-and-son relationship story – something many, including myself, were deprived of growing up.”
Valdo has had paid partnerships with brands such as Cotton On kids, Milo and Milky Lane, which Sithole says have helped create investments for his son. They have sometimes even helped in difficult months when he himself struggled to make ends meet.
Although Sithole started the page, he says Valdo often communicates when he would like content posted or if he doesn’t like a certain picture.
While Valdo has been met with many warm reactions, Sithole says he does sometimes experience a backlash on social media. “We know to ignore them because the greater community embraces us and loves Valdo. We can’t expect everyone to like us.”
With his growing following Sithole says more can be expected of Valdo. “There are partnerships I can’t disclose as yet. We are also planning to make more educational videos and have Valdo teach other kids maths and languages after school, based on what he was taught. I also am considering adding subtitles to his videos, because we often get comments from followers who don’t understand isiZulu.”
Sithole’s advice to parents is to stay true to the child, and to create their page with a mind open to the possibilities for their children – and to ignore the haters. “Only money is loved by everybody,” he adds, laughing.
Cannes ‘Khanz’ Mbau
mbau2 - 53 000 followers
Khanyi Mbau told City Press she was impressed with how the account illustrates some of her child’s key attributes, but was also concerned about her daughter suffering a backlash because of her mother’s status.
“Instagram is attached to a cloud, so that’s the best way to document my daughter’s life. I also want the world to celebrate her. She loves it, especially all the DIY slime, Barbie and kids’ fashion pages. Her page functions as a time capsule that she can come back to as an adult and see herself in; see how far she has come and what the tone of the world was then.
“The cost of having the account is very high, as the world is sick, a broken place. I check in constantly to ensure that she is still safe. It’s fascinating to see what her world looks like through the Gram. And I can tell you, she is an Indigo Child: soft, responsible and disciplined.”
Mbau shares how Khanz has already started making money through the Gram. “From time to time she gets scouted for ads through the platform. Basically your child becomes a young influencer and adds to her savings account.”
Mbau dismisses critics who may say she is endangering her daughter. “We risk our kids’ lives every time they step out of our houses. Our jobs are to build solid human beings and stop expecting the world to do that for us.”
djarchjnr - 120 000 followers
DJ Arch Jnr made Mzansi hearts swell with pride this week with his debut on America’s Got Talent (Champions). He got a standing ovation from all the judges – and bowled over the usually cranky Simon Cowell to boot.
The diminutive DJ received a rousing cheer and a standing ovation after the performance of his set. “You and I need to be talking after this show because I got plans for you,” Cowell reportedly said.
His proud father, Glen Hlongwane, acts as his technical director and helps him ahead of his show. He works with a team that manages his brand.
“His talent started showing when he was a couple of months old. I had bought him an iPad and downloaded apps that help develop a child’s brain because I wanted him to really grasp as much as he could. Being into DJ-ing I decided to download the app, and he started noticing it and really figuring it out on his own. One day he created some beats and I sent a video of it to a friend. He was stunned. From there it went viral and really, the rest of the story is still writing itself. He has developed an incredible love for music and the crowds.”
Hlongwane says being on South Africa’s Got Talent and America’s Got Talent has opened up possibilities he ordinarily would not have been able to give his child.
“He is not really involved in his Instagram account. He knows he has one, but it was his mum and I who decided to open it, mainly for business prospects and to archive his life as it happens.
Hlongwane adds that a backlash is unavoidable, but they take it with a pinch of salt. “Look, people will always talk. As his parents we had honest intentions with creating his page. We know what we are doing and are thankful for his followers and the community which defends him. We deal with the critics. We can’t learn from simply blocking or deleting their comments.
“I don’t think Instagram should be used for kids because it can be abusive and harmful, since it’s not greatly regulated and doesn’t have great filtering features for content people may not want their kids exposed to.
“However, I would advise parents to go for it if they can identity some unique brilliance in their children.”
While the number of parents who are embracing the platform is growing and it’s clear that joining the Gram is in vogue, the jury is still out on how the children of Instagram will feel about their very public young lives when they reach the age of consent.
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