The first social media babies are adults now. Some are pushing for laws to protect kids from their parents’ oversharing

Cam Barrett knows the precise date of her first menstrual period. Her mother posted the news on Facebook.

“I was in fourth grade. I was 9 years old. The date was September 9, 2009. And my mom posted … something like, ‘Oh my God, my baby girl’s a woman today. She got her first period,’” Barrett said.

“A lot of my friends and their parents had social media, so it was super embarrassing.”

Barrett’s childhood overlapped with the dawn of the social media era. She said her mother was an avid user of MySpace and Facebook, where she posted details about their lives and many of Barrett’s private moments.

Nothing about her life was off-limits, including her tantrums, her medical diagnoses and the fact that she’s adopted, said Barrett, who uses the pronouns she and they.

The popularity of her mother’s posts earned them attention and perks from celebrities, such as front-row tickets to a Demi Lovato concert, Barrett said. But the oversharing severely impacted her as a child. In middle school, bullies used the information to mock her, causing her anxiety and other mental health struggles, they said.

Sometimes, she hid in her room to avoid appearing on camera. She didn’t confide in adults during her teenage years because she feared her secrets would end up on social media, she said.

Her mother did not respond to repeated requests from CNN for comment.

Now 25, Barrett is part of a growing movement of young people who are urging lawmakers to protect children whose parents monetize their images, videos and private lives on social media. Though it’s unclear whether her mother earned revenue from the content — Barrett was too young to understand the process — the oversharing took a toll on her mental health, she said.

The young advocates are calling for financial compensation for these children, and their right to delete unwanted content when they become adults.

Posts about her staph infection led to bullying at school, she says

Barrett shares with her 240,000 followers on TikTok her views on exploitive “sharenting” or family vlogging culture. The term “sharenting” is a mashup of sharing and parenting — involving the publicizing of kids’ personal information — while vlogging is shorthand for video-led blogging.

Barrett, a social media strategist who lives in Chicago, said her life was chronicled so much online that a man once sent her a private message on Facebook when she was 12. The message said he’d followed her home as she rode her bike and knew where she lived. The incident increased her anxiety and made her feel like strangers were watching her every move, she said.

Cam Barrett appears virtually from her car during a Washington state legislature hearing on February 14, 2023. - TVW
Cam Barrett appears virtually from her car during a Washington state legislature hearing on February 14, 2023. - TVW

At a hearing in February 2023, she tearfully urged Washington state lawmakers to pass a law that protects minor children whose private lives are documented by family members on social media.

In addition to the details above, she also told lawmakers that when she was 15, she was in a car accident. Instead of extending a comforting hand, her mother shoved a camera in her face, she said. She later told CNN that her mother took photos and videos of her on a hospital gurney and posted them to Facebook.

CNN searched her mother’s social media accounts and found one photo that appears to be from the accident. It’s unclear whether she removed the other photos or restricted her Facebook settings.

Barrett also testified that in her first year of high school, she got a staph infection that landed her in the hospital. Her mother posted to social media exaggerated accounts of her condition, she said.

“When I returned to school, my math teacher — who had seen my mother’s posts — would taunt me and tell kids to stay away from the infected girl,” Barrett told lawmakers. This led to bullying and eventually to her dropping out of school, she said.

“I plead you to be the voice for this generation of children because I know firsthand what it’s like to not have a choice in which a digital footprint you didn’t create follows you around for the rest of your life.”

In interviews with CNN, Barrett said the oversharing created a lot of tension between her and her mother, and the two barely talk now.

Advocates want legal protections for child influencers

Gen Zers like Barrett, who were born between the late 1990s and the early 2010s, have almost never known a world without social media. As adults, they’re now unraveling the effects of having their childhoods documented online.

Barrett said she realizes that her mother was navigating new technology at the time and may not have understood the harm caused by her posts. Today’s parents likely have a better awareness of social media’s effects on children, and the advocates hope their warnings will help provide more insight.

Children’s advocates said it’s important for parents to respect their kids’ autonomy and allow them control of their own digital footprint. They said their biggest concerns are not parents who post occasional photos of their kids but family vloggers and other influencers who seek followers and revenue on platforms such as YouTube and TikTok. These influencers document their families’ most personal moments online, turning their home lives into reality shows.

Until recently, no states had laws protecting the privacy and financial interests of children influencers. But that’s starting to change.

Illinois, Barrett’s home state, passed a law last year that requires parents to compensate child influencers.

The bill, which amends the state’s child labor law, mandates parents set aside a percentage of the money they make from content creation to compensate minors who are featured in online videos.  The funds must be put into a blocked trust fund and accessible to children when they turn 18 or are emancipated. Several other states are looking into similar proposals.

Caroline Easom has 3.4 million followers on TikTok. She makes videos mocking parents who seek to monetize their kids' private moments. Courtesy <a href="">AJ</a> <a href="">Grimm</a> - .

“Social media happened to us so quickly and changed many of our daily habits and behaviors virtually overnight. It’s like we all started taking a new medication, with no clinical trials or studies and no information about long-term side effects,” said Caroline Easom, a comedian who posts skits mocking parents who monetize social media content about their children. “And now, over a decade later, we’re just starting to realize how reckless that was.”

In one of her skits, titled “let’s un-normalize filming children during vulnerable moments,” she uses an example of a friend whipping out a phone to film another friend who’s just announced something’s bothering them.

“One of the biggest lessons we are learning from people who were overshared as children is that social media is not the place to let your guard down, as a viewer or as a creator. Social media is not a safe space,” said Easom, who has more than 3 million followers on TikTok.

“These platforms invite and reward your vulnerability and authenticity, but that authenticity has lasting consequences, especially when it comes to children. The cost of posting your child for your own validation and attention might be their trust, or worse, their safety.”

They’re seeking new laws similar to those governing child actors

Family vlogging can be lucrative. Influencers on YouTube can earn about $18 for every 1,000 views, according to a January post by Werner Geyser, founder of Influencer Marketing Hub. That number rapidly multiplies for influencers with massive followings. In 2022, the typical compensation for YouTube content creators in the US was approximately $1,154 per week, Geyser said.

Chris McCarty, 19, a sophomore at the University of Washington, started the organization Quit Clicking Kids to combat the monetizing of kids on social media.

Some children of family vloggers are living in homes that feel like sets and with parents who double as their bosses, said McCarty, who uses the pronouns them and they.

“I have spoken with some… child actors, and one of the things that really stood out is that when they were filming as child actors, there was a very clear distinction between when they were on and when they were off camera,” they said.

“When they were home at the end of the day, they knew they didn’t have to perform anymore. But this new generation of children, there’s no home to go to at the end of the day where they can disconnect, because the camera is inside the house. It’s like living in a movie set all day, every day.”

McCarty said family vloggers should be regulated like the film industry, citing as an example a California law that mandates 15% of all child performers’ earnings be set aside in an interest-earning trust.

More states are weighing measures to protect children

Some states are catching up with internet culture and taking a harder look at the world of child influencers and their families.

The Illinois law, which goes into effect in July, will require family content creators to put a portion of their earnings into a blocked trust fund for their children.

The bill was inspired by Shreya Nallamothu, a teenager who became increasingly alarmed by how often she saw children featured in family vlogs and wrote a letter to her state senator.

In February, both Barrett and McCarty testified before Maryland lawmakers in support of a bill that would require people who use minors in monetized social media content to put a percentage of their income aside in a trust for when the kids turn 18.

Shreya Nallamothu looks at her phone in May 2023 in Bloomington, Illinois. The teenager was instrumental in persuading Illinois lawmakers to pass a law creating protections for child social media influencers. - Claire Savage/AP
Shreya Nallamothu looks at her phone in May 2023 in Bloomington, Illinois. The teenager was instrumental in persuading Illinois lawmakers to pass a law creating protections for child social media influencers. - Claire Savage/AP

The bill also would allow adults whose content was posted on social media when they were minors to be able to delete unwanted posts when they come of age.

Lawmakers in California, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio, Minnesota and Arizona have considered similar legislation.

“Everyone deserves fair compensation for their work, and these children deserve to share in their family’s financial success, especially if it comes at the cost of their privacy,” said state Sen. Steve Padilla, a Democrat from San Diego, in a statement. Padilla introduced a bill last year that would require online family content creators to set aside a share of their income in a trust for their children.

McCarty is working with lawmakers in their home state of Washington on a similar bill.

“It’s been so inspiring to see states taking up the mantle, and I hope that we are able to keep this momentum,” McCarty said. “These kind of simultaneous firecracker moments happening across the US … give me hope that we can reduce the harmful impacts on a federal level.”

But Easom said while financial compensation for child performers is a step in the right direction, there are still other issues that need addressing. For example, she would like to see limits on the number of hours children can shoot content.

In September 2022, she read a letter from the child of a family vlogger who implored her to warn her followers not to subject their kids to monetizing their lives online.

“Any money you (parents) get will be greatly overshadowed by years of suffering,” the author of the letter said. “…your child will never be normal.”

Parents should think how they’d feel if someone shared their personal details, experts say

Jessica Maddox, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama who studies social media influencers, is hopeful other states will follow in Illinois’ footsteps.

“Many people don’t view social media content creation and influencing as work, but it takes time and skill to do,” Maddox said in an email to CNN.

“Social media has changed the nature of labor, and as a result, the nature of child labor. While it may be fun for a child to want to be in their parents’ videos, children, especially young children, don’t have the capacity to understand how far and wide social media content can go. In cases where their parents are receiving financial compensation for featuring their child, that child has essentially performed as a type of labor.”

Chris McCarty, a student at the University of Washington in Seattle, as seen on February 24, 2023. - Eli Lu/For The Washington Post/Getty Images
Chris McCarty, a student at the University of Washington in Seattle, as seen on February 24, 2023. - Eli Lu/For The Washington Post/Getty Images

Advocates said many parents are starting to realize their children deserve control of their own digital footprints.

“A lot of people who follow family channels and kid accounts have never zoomed out and asked themselves why they have such intimate access to a kid they’ve never met,” Easom said. “I want people to remember the curated videos (that) family channels are putting out do not necessarily represent what happens when the cameras are off.”

CNN reached out to several family vloggers for comments on this issue but they did not respond.

McCarty said the most egregious offenders are parents who seek out and even create drama among their children to boost their followings.

“Imagine a family vlog where instead of antics, intimate details such as mental health issues, grades and personal things like potty training and first periods get shared online, where they live forever,” McCarty said.

“Parents then use this clip as clickbait to generate intrigue and revenue for a monetized family channel. Some accounts even record and monetize videos in which the parents encourage their kids to fight each other as a prank.”

McCarty advises parents to operate under the golden rule of do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

“If your child posted things like, ‘Oh, you know, my mom just got into a really big fight with her colleague at work the other day.’ ‘Oh, my mom didn’t close this business deal at work, and she might get fired.’ ‘Oh, my mom and my dad aren’t getting along because he spends too much time at the bar,’” McCarty said. “It’s the intimacy of what’s being shared that strangers don’t have any right to know.”

Adults would be hurt if someone revealed their most personal details online to make money, McCarty said, adding that parents should assume their children would be, too.

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