When Families Become Viral Content Factories, Kids Get Hurt

The dark side of YouTube parenthood.

A man and three kids — two boys and a girl — sit on a bed. The man holds a plastic water bottle.

“Okay,” he says. “We’re going to play Bottle Flip Slap.”

He explains the rules. You have to flip the bottle in the air so it lands standing up on its base. If you fail, your partner gets to slap you in the face.

The girl fails to land the flip. Her partner, one of the young boys, looks at the man—his father—in a panic.

“What am I supposed to do? You said I can’t hit a girl!”

“She don’t count. She’s just your sister. You can smack her. Go ahead!” the father responds.

The boy hits his sister across the face and she crumples to the couch, crying.

Cut to the other boy being rammed into a cabinet by the father, who holds a phone in his hand to record his son falling to the floor, crying.

Another video: The same young boy gets picked up by an older sibling and violently thrown to the floor, bouncing off the frame of a bed.

Another: The same boy again—his name is Cody — gets eggs thrown at him. His father then farts directly into his face.

YouTube user Mike “DaddyOFive” Martin captured and uploaded these scenes — and many others like them — to the internet with titles like “EASTER EGG PRANK TRIGGERS KIDS.” They were eagerly watched by the channel’s 750,000 subscribers.

YouTube parenting is nothing new. Following the success of Shay Butler’s “Shaytards” channel, thousands of families have transformed their daily lives into mass entertainment. People are fascinated by even the most mundane elements of YouTubers’ lives; viewers watch families celebrate holidays, go on trips or just try to get out the door for school in the morning.

Most of these clips are pretty benevolent. You could argue that there are privacy issues around the kids, but the vast majority of vlogger parents seem to really care for their children.

But the “prank videos” that Martin and his family specialize in show that simply living life isn’t enough for some YouTube viewers. They want drama. Violence. Raised on reality TV, they want heightened emotions.

And it’s looking more and more like Martin got those heightened emotions on camera by abusing his children.

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The video that tipped the scales against DaddyOFive was titled “INVISIBLE INK PRANK! (EPIC FREAKOUT).” In it, Martin and his wife told viewers that a while ago, Cody (the young blonde boy who seems to be the recipient of the lion’s share of their abuse) had accidentally spilled ink on the carpet. Now they were going to pull a fast one on him: spill disappearing ink on the same rug and blame him for it.

Martin’s wife soaks the carpet. It looks like a crime scene. They call Cody down from his room and lay into him, screaming profanity in his face until he’s sobbing, desperately proclaiming his innocence.

Finally, they let him in on it. “It’s a prank, brah!” Martin yells.

Cody doesn’t seem terribly relieved.

Something about this prank finally flipped the empathy switch for DaddyOFive’s viewers, who filled the comments section with sympathy for Cody and criticism for the parents.

The next day, YouTube’s “drama community” — a host of digital vultures who report on bad times in the vlogging world — picked up the video. Channels like Keemstar and PhillyD made compilations of DaddyOFive’s worst moments and raised the question: Is this child abuse?

It sure looks like it.

In the wake of all the negative public attention, Martin uploaded a 10-minute clip titled “Family Destroyed Over False Aquisations [sic].” He then deleted all the other videos on his channel.

In the video, the couple tries to explain how the actions that seem so horrible really aren’t that bad. “They’re over-exaggerated. Some videos are scripted,” they claim. “I mean, they’re just played out. They’re the kids ideas — we just act them out.”

In an interview with YouTube drama personality Keemstar, Ms. Martin doubled down when it came to her son Cody:

“Cody is gonna grow up to be an actor. In some of the videos his reactions are exaggerated. He puts on a show.”

Meanwhile, the rest of world is beginning to suspect that the Martins are physically and emotionally brutalizing their son and, in classic abuser fashion, turning it around on him. It’s Cody’s fault for acting out. He’s just “showing off.”

It’s telling that the “aquisations” that DaddyOFive rails against in this video are all things that are documented on camera and uploaded to the public by him. Instead of taking responsibility for his actions, he blames everyone else. Even his own children.

I want to believe that this horrific incident marks a turning point in parenting for YouTube stardom. More and more people are starting to recognize the toxic effects of raising children in the public eye, monetizing their lives and crafting their experiences for maximum virality.

With that said, how do I justify writing about my kids, or sharing pictures of them on Instagram? Isn’t that the same thing?

My wife and I try to be responsible with the parts of our kids’ lives that we share with the public. We ask permission before we write about them, and if they’re feeling shy one day and don’t want to be photographed for Instagram, we don’t do it. Our son Henry is a very public person due to his outreach helping people with type 1 diabetes, but he knows he can stop or take a break whenever he wants to.

I hope that’s enough.

What’s troubling about DaddyOFive and, to a lesser extent, the thousands of other parents like him, is that raising children is literally a business to them. Their children’s boundaries, their emotions—both are meaningless compared to the cash brought in from their videos.

Socialblade estimates that the DaddyOFive channel pulls in at least $51,000 a year, and probably more. That’s a decent salary in the Baltimore area, where they live.

Martin incorporated “DaddyOFive” as an LLC at the end of 2016, establishing his family essentially as a content production studio. Instead of spending time with his children ensuring they grow into caring, responsible adults, he and his wife used that time to fatten their wallets.

Parenting isn’t about getting rich. It’s about doing the hard work necessary to guide your children into becoming functioning adults who can contribute to society. It’s not glamorous, and it doesn’t get likes and subscribers. But it’s the most important job you can have.

I can only hope that Martin comes to understand how badly his children are hurt by his actions, but it’s doubtful that will happen. In the last video, his wife announces, “We’re going to continue making videos.”

Let’s hope that’s a promise they won’t keep.

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