Katiy Woolard
Oct 29, 2015

Performative parenting: What happens when they grow up?

What will be the long-term impact of parents who make their young children into social-media properties?

Performative parenting: What happens when they grow up?

If you frequent social media you are probably familiar with the act of 'performative parenting', if not the name. Performative parenting is the phenomenon whereby parents share content celebrating their children generally and their parenting especially. This being the postmodern era, such content oscillates between the romantic and the satirical—costuming and celebrating children and assigning hashtag-able identities before kids are even walking.

Instagram feeds like @assholeparents bring this parenting trend to life in the social-media space, where each post features a tantrum-throwing toddler, as the frustrated parent broadcasts a cathartic (and creative) release to adoring voyeurs. Thanks to @assholeparents, @ramblinpeach shows what happens when he "doesn’t let his infant son drink his beer." On Facebook, an anonymous mother can innocuously "sacrifice" her screaming daughter to a T-Rex for our viewing pleasure.

Mostly children are props in a story told from the vantage point of the parent, with mum and dad as hero. From the commentary to the composition of each frame, parent’s voices and projected personalities are central to the story.

This article is part of the Cultural Radar series

And this, one fears, might become a problem. Like all social-media movements, performative parenting has sparked its share of naysayers (mostly on social media, naturally) and an emerging dialogue around the current and long-term effects the practice has on children.

It is certainly food for thought to consider how all this might impact the development of the child’s (or teenager's) identity moving forward. How will @ramblinpeach’s son feel about being the butt of his Dad’s publicised joke(s) 10 years from now?

But equally interesting is how those children will feel towards the brands that hosted and facilitated the jokes they were central to but not consulted on. Perhaps they will be brand blind and associate the experience only with their parents and put it all down to the intolerably bad humour the younger generation naturally associates with the older. In this version of the future, social-media platforms are to performative parenting today as camcorders were in the past.

Yet there is another scenario in which the now older children reject the social-media brands on which they have been so widely shared without their permission. In this version of the future, today’s social-media brands are perhaps tainted by association and seen as an embarrassing relic of their parent’s generation. The sort of thing the ‘new generation’ is over.

Which, actually, doesn’t seem all that different from camcorders does it?

Katiy Woolard is associate director at Flamingo NY


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