Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
This week: What do you do when you think your best friend is exploiting her kids for clout? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Scary Mommy,
I’ve been good friends with “Jen” for over a decade now. Our kids are roughly the same age and we live in the same neighborhood. Right before the pandemic hit, Jen lost her job. She started posting on TikTok at the height of the pandemic, and was kind of using that as an outlet to vent and commiserate with others who were in similar positions. As someone who finds tons of entertaining videos to watch on TikTok, I didn’t think anything of it for a long time. Lately, though, it seems like she’s made TikTok her job. She doesn’t have a massive following, but it’s sizeable. The problem is that she’s on it CONSTANTLY. She pops up on my FYP a lot and it’s always the same thing: every waking minute of her young kids’ lives. Tantrums, potty training, eating, sleeping, sicknesses, etc. Even when they’re playing, it’s orchestrated and controlled by Jen. I once even caught her making them do a “re-do” for a video she wanted to upload. I feel like I need to say something, but it’ll put our friendship at risk if I do.
Oof. A “re-do,” huh? Yeah, that’s not…great.
This is the downside to TikTok family accounts. Kids, usually minors, are featured in the content their parents create and it’s then broadcast to, well, anyone and everyone. The thing about that is, even if it seems “harmless,” children don’t have agency. Using them for clout, if that’s indeed what Jen is doing, sucks.
In recent years, we’ve slowly started to see the emergence of the whole “I was featured in my mom’s blog and now I’m an adult and I hate that she did that” era. Gen Z (and anyone who comes after that) is a digitally native generation. And while that does mean that they’ve never known and will never know a world without some form of social media or life outside of the internet, that does not mean it’s OK to conduct The Truman Show as part of their childhood.
Vulnerable moments (the tantrums and potty training you mention) are particularly sacred and should be treated as such. Sure, it’s nice to hear commenters say things like “oh that happens in our house too, my kid is just like that.” But that validation from strangers comes at the cost of your children’s privacy.
I would tread carefully if you do bring it up, and I think you have a right to bring it up if her content creation is happening right in front of you. By doing it in front of you, she’s made it your business. I would maybe ask, somewhat casually, “Does little Benny always enjoy being filmed?” or “It seems like Carrie just wants to play right now, why don’t you do that later?”
And while it may not seem subtle, it shows you’re concerned without being blatantly judgmental. And you have a right to be concerned—you love your friend, and I’m sure you love her kids. If you think Jen needs a real come-to-Jesus awakening, I wouldn’t hesitate to show her articles like this one and this reaction to that piece.
Jen’s children are not going to be little, cute, and compliant forever. They will grow up, as kids are wont to do, and they will have opinions about their photos and life snippets being shared with millions of strangers. This is not to say Jen can’t have social media accounts that feature her children, but a happy medium is possible that doesn’t include exploitation. If social media influencing or content creation is something Jen’s passionate about, there are other ways to explore that interest.
I think it’s great you’re looking out for her kids. All too often, people don’t think about the bigger picture behind the 60-second glimpse they get to see. Good luck confronting your friend.