While some parents of Insta-famous kids hire photographers, many work the camera themselves. Ardola Dedukaj has been snapping and sharing Instagram images of her 8-year-old daughter, Laerta, since she was 4 as a way of playing dress-up and bonding with her toddler, she told me. Much to Dedukaj’s surprise, the process of getting Laerta to sit still for a picture was nothing like wrangling a teary-eyed kid at the Sears photo department. “For Laerta, taking photos is equal to playing with dolls,” Dedukaj, who lives in the United Kingdom, said in an email.
More than 1 million followers later, Laerta still has the same passion for posing as she did at the start: She wants to be a model or a doctor when she grows up, and eventually hopes to take over the reins of her Instagram account, “maybe when I turn 15.” (Her mother relayed her answers over email). For now, Dedukaj puts the thousands of dollars her daughter earns in sponsored content—Laerta bags a minimum of $1,000 per post—in a separate account.
When parents earn money by posting images of their children, it can be hard to draw a line between what is work and what is play. While a 1939 bill called the Coogan Law protects child actors by ensuring that their parents don’t spend their earnings, no such guidelines exist for kids who make money on the internet. The responsibility lies with the parents who manage their little influencers. Wixom is socking away money for her sons; Grey wants to use his funds on a car, she said.
Read: The bargain at the heart of the kid internet
The ease with which fun with kids can easily become work leads many Instagram parents to draw careful boundaries. Foos told me that she took a step back from social media after she woke Vada up one day before school to take a picture. “That just didn't feel right,” she said. Foos and Vada took a couple of two-week posting hiatuses at the start of the year to reset. Dedukaj said she once canceled one of Laerta’s appearances because she thought she was putting too much pressure on her daughter.
As these kidfluencers age—and age out of their parents’ vision of their life—what will become of their platform? Princeton Cannon, a 10-year-old from Atlanta, is aware of the work involved in making his Instagram pop: the photo shoots, the exclusive events, the outfit selection. (Princeton receives thousands of dollars’ worth of clothing to model on his feed.) “He says, ‘Do you think my fans would like this?’” Keira Cannon, Princeton’s mother, told me.
The aspects of managing an online brand were Keira’s sole duty from 2014, when she made her son’s Instagram account, until recently. Now they have begun to filter down to Princeton, who likes posting Instagram Stories to his feed. Keira is adamant, however, that certain aspects of Princeton’s life stay private. She typically keeps the camera away when they’re at home, and doesn’t post any photos or videos of Princeton performing everyday activities, such as baking or doing his homework.
Although Princeton’s future aspirations don’t lie with the photo-sharing network—he wants to be a YouTuber when he’s old enough—he does appreciate the work his mom has done on his Instagram account. “She does a good job taking the photos, she has a real talent,” Princeton told me over email, as relayed by his mom. He’d never want his mother to delete his Instagram for good, though, Princeton explained: “Our Instagram is important for us. It really represents us.” The account would live on in some capacity, Keira said, and change as her son’s interests evolve.