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Those 'Harmless' Videos Pranking Kids Are More Damaging Than You Think — 'Childism' Is A Bias We Should All Avoid

Photo: TikTok
Childism TikTok

An hour on TikTok can lead you through a matrix of hundreds of strangers' kids caught on camera falling over, being adorable, living through their morning routines or dancing.

The holiday season was particularly saturated — videos of kids opening gifts and having less than satisfied reactions, pranks from parents to illicit a dramatic response.

Good harmless fun, right? Perhaps not.

Growing concerns over ‘Childism’ on TikTok need to be heard, and children need to be protected.

As explored in a TikTok by Danna Bodenheimer, a therapist, licensed clinical social worker and founder of Walnut Psychotherapy Center in Philadelphia, childism on TikTok is rampant.

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Bodenheimer references acclaimed analyst, political theorist, and biographer Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, who explains “Childism” as prejudice against children akin to racism, sexism, and homophobia.

It’s the belief that because children are smaller, younger, and still developing human beings with fewer experiences, society legitimizes and rationalizes behaviors toward them that are not “in the best interests of children.”

As Bodenheimer notes, the systemic oppression of children "subscribes to the idea that children don't have real feelings, that they can be compulsively homogenized and it won't harm them."

Among many common justifications for the exploitation of children is the idea that children, particularly pre-verbal children, don't store memories.

Despite the many studies proving the existence of trauma in infancy, or even postnatal and birth trauma, we justify the online abuse of children by arguing that they won't remember it when they are older — even though these videos are immortalized once shared.

As Bodenheimer states, the want to document kids online often gets in the way of experiencing intimate moments and improving parent-child bonds.

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This holiday season, there were hundreds and hundreds of videos posted where parents pranked their children.

Videos throughout the holiday season saw children being forced into having intense emotional responses to prank videos.

One popular trend saw parents hiring complete strangers dressed in Grinch costumes to break into homes and steal gifts.

Kids' terrified screams while their parents laughed in the background wracked up views on TikTok

This blatant neglect and lack of care for the thoughts and feelings and well-being of children is exactly what the term “childism” refers to.

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Even outside of the holiday season, childism on social media is rampant.

In October 2022, four Mississippi daycare workers were fired after posting a video inside a classroom of themselves using Halloween masks to scare children they believed were “bad.”

In March of the same year, Bramty Juliette, a popular family vlogger downplayed the concerns of fans and family therapist who criticized her over a viral "prank" she did on her 3-year-old son by spraying water on his head until he began to cry.

Another 2022 trend saw parents pretending to hit their kids heads off a wall — by banging their hand against it instead of hurting their kids — to see if they would cry.

Babies who did, likely confused and upset by the loud noise and their parents' reaction, were dubbed "dramatic."

   

   

Long-term trauma and mental health issues could arise as these children have brains that are still developing — not only that but to be outright lied to, betrayed, and deceived by the people that love you most is likely to cause irreparable damage to a child’s ability to trust or feel loved.

But it's not just prank videos or clips of shrieking children that should be criticized for their exploitative nature.

The reality is that we use our children every time we post a video of them for strangers on the internet.

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Children are unable to consent to be shown in videos.

Minors and children are scarcely afforded the same rights as adults.

From the moment children are born and brought into this world, they are handed over to their parents, who will act as their legal guardians until they turn 18 and gain independence of their own.

Parents on TikTok are, little by little, beginning to push for the protection of their kids online.

Over the course of the past year, a reckoning began on TikTok in response to the controversy surrounding a toddler "influencer" on the app — Wren Eleanor.

#SaveWren trended as fans urged her mother to act upon noticing the increase of sexual and predatory comments and responses from grown to videos of the toddler.

In response, several creators have began blocking their children's faces out in the videos. And though many still make regular content out of their kids' lives, it's a start.

As the kids we've watched online since infancy age into adults, we will likely learn more about the direct effects of an upbringing documented online.

In fact, some former internet child stars are already speaking out.

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This week, Lia Marie Johnson spoke candidly about the addiction and abuse she survived after documenting her life on YouTube.

The now-26-year-old first gained a following at 14 after appearing in the Fine Brothers' "Kids React" YouTube series.

Thrust into internet fame, Johnson says she moved to Los Angeles at 17.

"I was drinking, using drugs, and partying almost every night," she said. Johnson survived abuse, mental illness, and a suicide attempt.

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It is hard not to wonder how much could have been different if Johnson had been allowed to grow up without a camera in her face.

Other children may go their entire lives without fully understanding the scope and impacts of the catalogs of videos that their parents uploaded of themselves online.

Their entire lives were documented and viewed by the world, and they had no choice or say in the matter whatsoever.

As society grows more accustomed to the current era of social media and the neverending search for virality and imaginary internet points, people become less and less concerned about who ends up getting caught in the crossfire.

We constantly fear that strangers will exploit or hurt our children — but what if, thanks to "childism," we're doing it all by ourselves?

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Isaac Serna-Diez is an Assistant Editor who focuses on entertainment and news, social justice, and politics. Keep up with his rants about current events on his Twitter.

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