I do not have children (that I know of), so I’m admittedly no expert on parenting. I’m not even sure how I would approach raising a kid, except for one thing, which I have learned from the past decade of being on the internet: I would not let my kid go viral.
There have been two profiles in the past week about viral children, one in the midst of his 15 minutes of fame and another who is 12 years removed from it. Tariq, a.k.a. the kid who really loves corn, was profiled in the New York Times, and Greyson Chance, a product of early era YouTube and Ellen Degeneres, was in Rolling Stone.
The Times piece goes to great lengths to ensure readers that Tariq is not being exploited, and that actually he really enjoys the ride. So far he has collaborated with Chipotle, started selling Cameos for over $200, and, somewhat ironically, gone on The Drew Barrymore Show. However, his mother has kept their surname private, she turned off his Cameo account once school started, and set up boundaries with his principal around how people should interact with her son.
“Before it was really getting to me because people were saying really mean stuff like, ‘He’s being exploited,’ ‘He’s being forced to do these things,” Tariq’s mother Jessica said. “But anyone that knows Tariq knows he loves the camera. He loves to talk. And this is something he always wanted.”
I have no doubt that this is what Tariq has always wanted to do, he’s seven. When I was seven I wanted to be an actress or the president, and one of the greatest gifts my parents gave me was not putting me on the fast track to either. You really do not have to let your kids follow their bliss before they have a full set of adult teeth.
This is echoed in the Chance profile, where the one-time sensation describes the whirlwind of being swept up into Degeneres’s orbit after appearing on her show as a child following his viral performance of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi.” The talk show host got him top-tier management, signed him as the first act to her record label, and became “domineering and way too controlling,” according to Chance.
In one anecdote, Degeneres went through his wardrobe and told him what to wear on her show, barring any leather due to her own veganism. In another, she berated both him and his mother for not watching an advanced copy of Justin Bieber’s documentary she gave to them.
“I just remember hearing on the other side of the phone, just yelling [and] beratement: ‘What type of mother are you? Do you realize that I went out of my way to get this for you, and he can’t sit down and watch it,’” Chance told the magazine. When his career began to decline, the singer said Degeneres “completely abandoned” him.
Now, this could be read as a rather limited warning to never let your child work with Ellen Degeneres. While that’s great advice, the piece is also an indictment of the “viral video to brief period of stardom” pipeline. Children, no matter how good their parents are, are not equipped to deal with what happens when their moment in the spotlight is over. The younger they are, the less they even realize what is happening at all, they just feel abandoned — look to the devastating finale of The Rehearsal to see how that goes.
Consider this a plea: if (god forbid) your kid goes viral despite your best efforts, do nothing. Ignore the brand deals and TV opportunities, do not put them on Cameo, and for the love of whatever you believe in do not pull them out of school to go on tour with Miranda Cosgrove. If for whatever reason you feel that you have no other option, make sure you set aside a good chunk of that cash to foot the therapy bill in a few years. They’ll need it.