Should You Film Your Kids During Their Big, Emotional Moments?

Kids can have big emotions, and as parents, we’ve seen it all. We’ve been there for our toddler’s sadness in the Target toy aisle and our tween’s meltdown when “unfairly” asked to don their winter coat, oh yeah … in the winter. Big feels on a tinier person may appear amusing, but what happens when parents pull out their phones to film these emotionally charged moments and then post them on social media? How do these actions affect our kids and our relationship with them? We asked two experts to shed some light on this sensitive topic to see if there are repercussions that go deeper than just losing charge on our cell phone battery.

We’ve all seen the viral videos. You know, the ones with the adorable tantruming toddler or the angry tween screaming into the void. But are these videos truly adorbs for everyone involved? Dr. Katie Smith, a licensed clinical and child psychologist, says filming your child during their vulnerable moments shifts the focus to the videoing rather than helping the child regulate their emotions. “Parents’ main focus during times of emotional dysregulation should be connecting with the child and helping the child regulate,” Dr. Smith says. So when your threenager is wailing about their peas being “too green,” being totally focused on them is a more helpful move than moving your camera in for that close-up.

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Dr. Supatra Tovar, PSY.D, RD., says, when you film an outburst, you send a big message to your child that their emotions aren’t taken seriously or valued. With roughly 87% of toddlers having meltdowns, you might think filming a few out of the many is no biggie. But kids look to parents/caregivers for comfort and guidance during times of distress. “It’s important to prioritize empathy, understanding, and support over documentation,” Dr. Tovar says. Each time your kid experiences one of their epic big feeling moments, it’s a chance to create a stronger connection — which benefits your kiddo’s development and well-being.

When it comes to connecting with our kids, parents are known for being master multitaskers. I mean, can’t we manage to hold a camera and continue that comforting connection? Well, it may not be that simple. Studies show humans don’t truly multitask, but switch their focus between tasks. This is why Dr. Tovar says that filming your child’s emotional reactions may cause you to miss subtle cues. Kids communicate their feelings non-verbally, with quick changes in facial expressions or small shifts in body language. When your focus is divided, you risk overlooking the cues. Dr. Tovar says: Actively engaging with your child during emotional moments allows you to teach them skills for managing feelings and expressing themselves constructively. Filming can detract from this important process.

Teaching kids to successfully navigate their tantrums may seem like a fool’s errand while they’re crying about mismatched socks and running through the grocery store. So, are they even going to notice being filmed? According to research, children aged 4-5 notice details adults often miss. Children are always taking in the information around them, and Dr. Smith says, “Even young children are aware when they are being videotaped and this can intensify their emotional reaction, which is never helpful.” Look for clues like heightened feelings, fidgeting, or avoiding eye contact, because these are all nonverbal cues letting you know your kiddo is totes aware and not into being recorded. “Listen to your child’s verbal responses or lack thereof when you start filming,” Dr. Tovar advises. “If your child expresses reluctance or directly asks you to stop filming, it’s important to respect their wishes.”

With these types of videos getting millions of views on TikTok or Instagram, people are clearly fascinated by watching kids’ emotional moments. While some argue these videos can bring a shared experience to parenting, the flip side is — does this act infringe on your kid’s trust and privacy?

“Children rarely see the humor in watching themselves during a difficult time. It can be embarrassing and shameful,” Dr. Smith says. And older kids are certainly aware they’re being filmed. Dr. Tovar says this action can compromise their privacy and dignity, and adds, “These moments are often deeply personal and vulnerable for children, and broadcasting them without their consent can be embarrassing and humiliating.”

Kids push boundaries and have big emotional moments with those they feel safe, but the act of filming your kiddo’s meltdown can affect trust and the parent-child relationship. If this safe space is taken away, Dr. Tovar says it can lead to feelings of betrayal and resentment. “Knowing that their parents may broadcast their vulnerable moments to a wider audience can damage the bond between parent and child,” says Dr. Tovar. And Dr. Smith adds that we, as parents, don’t want to model the prioritization of videoing and posting on social media. “Children are becoming aware of social media and ‘posting’ at younger and younger ages,” says Dr. Smith.

Being present and engaging with your kids during their meltdowns creates trust that grows with your kid. If friends or family members are having daily recording sessions around your kid without your permission, Dr. Tovar suggests establishing clear boundaries about putting cameras away and explaining the importance of respecting your child’s privacy and the potential risks of sharing on social media. And to this point, Dr. Smith adds, “… research tells us early access increases risks for anxiety and depression in adolescence, especially in girls.”

Being a parent can feel isolating, and sharing our experiences helps us feel less alone, but documenting all the things only to post them later can have lasting emotional effects on our kids. Connection builds trust, and keeping this intact strengthens the relationship your share with your kid — for all the phases yet to come. “It’s essential to prioritize being fully present and engaged with your child to nurture a strong and trusting relationship built on mutual understanding and connection,” Dr. Tovar says.

Before you go, check out these celebrity parents who don’t show their kids’ faces on social media.

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