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A worrying number of Instagram, TikTok challenges are harming children

September 11, 2023 03:44 pm | Updated 04:25 pm IST

Instagram and TikTok trends encourage parents to post their children’s most vulnerable and emotional moments online for the world to laugh at, without considering how this will haunt their lives

More parents have started sharing their children’s most emotional moments online for laughs and likes [File] | Photo Credit: REUTERS

Risky challenges that trend on social networks are not new. While in some cases, they were self-imposed – like the ‘Milk Crate Challenge’ where users fell off stacked boxes - other such challenges are inflicted on young children who never asked to be involved.

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One recent example is the viral ‘Egg Crack Challenge’ where adults call their unsuspecting children to the camera under the pretext of cooking or baking with them, only to break an egg on their forehead. Older children sometimes see the joke, but toddlers often end up crying or screaming in pained shock. The footage is then uploaded on platforms like TikTok and Instagram.

The ‘Egg Crack Challenge’ was immediately criticised by parents who claimed it would teach children that violence was an acceptable part of play. Others noted it could damage children’s trust in adults, make them unwilling to spend time with family, or even harm their relationship with food.

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The ‘Egg Crack Challenge’ often leaves children in tears and makes their distress public | Photo Credit: Screengrabs taken from Instagram; Edited and Compiled with Canva

Sometimes, even those parents and guardians who don’t make their children cry for “likes,” upload videos of their wards’ most vulnerable and emotional moments on social media. There can be many well-intentioned reasons for this, such as showing other parents how to gently comfort a toddler throwing a tantrum, or even capturing a child’s comedic reason for crying - like wanting some extra dessert.

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The viral nature of such posts can result in viewers making extremely personal remarks, criticising both the parent and the child, laughing at the crying child, and even promoting violence.

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Videos of children crying can quickly go viral, bringing them to the attention of strangers | Photo Credit: Screenshot taken from Instagram; Edited and compiled with Canva

Children could feel betrayed by parents who post about them in spite of being asked not to, warned neonatologist and paediatrician Prathap Chandra.

“Sharing sensitive moments run the risk of making the youngster feel embarrassed and distressed when they realise these moments are being seen by others. Additionally, it could foster an atmosphere in which kids believe that their emotions are constantly being scrutinised or used for amusement,” Dr. Chandra said.

Entertainment or emotional abuse?

Social media algorithms are built to not only pick and play videos posted by parent influencers, celebrities, and professional baby vloggers. A post from a user with followers in the single digits can also be scooped up by the algorithm and shown to thousands or even millions of users scrolling through random social media feeds.

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Psychiatrist Samir Kumar Praharaj warned that the attention which some parents are seeking online could come from sexual abusers who misuse children’s pictures.

“Also, negative, or inappropriate comments on the photos or other details shared can affect the self-esteem of the children, and their trust in the parents, and may involve other forms of neglect or abuse. This can affect the socio-emotional development of the child,” Dr. Praharaj said.

He pointed out that digital content lives on forever, and that it could harm children even in the future.

A sampling of comments left under a video of a crying toddler | Photo Credit: Screenshot taken from Instagram; Compiled with Canva

“Sometimes, parents could potentially coerce their child to pose or act in a specific manner against their will to obtain certain content. All these would comprise forms of emotional abuse and neglect of the child and are not ethically appropriate,” said Dr. Praharaj.

Another online challenge prompted parents to throw cheese at their crying babies | Photo Credit: Screengrabs taken from Instagram; Edited and compiled with Canva

Digital best practices
Ask children for permission before posting photos or videos of them online - avoid posting embarrassing or difficult moments.
Adjust privacy settings on social media platforms so only family and friends can view posts about your children.
Do not reveal locations like the child’s home, school, extracurricular activity centres, hospital, clinic, relatives’ homes, friends’ houses, etc. Do not share their birthdate, full names, private health information, and/or addresses.
Block abusive users and delete negative comments to keep your child safe. Moderate comments frequently.
Be aware that the more you publicly post about your child online, the more likely they are to be recognised by strangers offline.
Do not livestream your child from recognisable locations or post public Instagram Stories/TikTok videos which show their live location.
Never post personal routines such as bath time and diaper changes.
Do not reveal your house exterior, street view from windows, nearby buildings, and recognisable landmarks in pictures or videos.
Contact the police in case your child is being stalked, cyberbullied, threatened, or receiving unsolicited messages.
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