Impact of  early exposure to fame and public attention on a child’s cognitive and social development

After seven-year-old child vlogger Muhammad Shiraz from Pakistan’s northern region announced in a heartfelt video that, following his father’s instructions, he would no longer be making videos for social media, a debate was sparked among his fans about this decision.

Shiraz had captured the attention of millions with his engaging vlogs, offering an authentic glimpse into the simple life of his small, remote village in Gilgit-Baltistan, bordering Indian-administered Kashmir. His daily activities and the raw beauty of village life resonated with viewers not just in Pakistan, but also in neighboring countries like India and Afghanistan.

His popularity soared to such an extent that the country’s Prime Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, hosted him at the Prime Minister’s House.

A screenshot of Shiraz’s Youtube channel (https://www.youtube.com/@shirazi786/videos)

Shiraz’s father explained his decision to pause his son’s vlogging journey, citing concerns about Shiraz’s education and the “negative effects of his sudden fame.” While education was a key factor, his father emphasized that “the overwhelming attention had begun to affect Shiraz’s humility.” The fame that stemmed from his innocence and simplicity was now eroding those very qualities, leading to a noticeable shift in his behavior.

“The Shiraz who used to make vlogs from his small village, living a simple life, was kind of fading away….  After all, he is still a child, and this fame was changing him,” his father said. He expressed his worry about Shiraz’s changing behavior and his desire to preserve his son’s childhood innocence. However, this decision was not long-lasting, and Shiraz made a comeback with a new vlog in less than a month.

VOA spoke to several experts to find out the impact of childhood fame on children’s mental development and health.

Early childhood development (ECD) expert Fazilat Notta says that children in their natural state are born to explore, play, and live in real-life experiences. “This is how they make sense of the world, and this is how they grow. When they are exposed to public attention very early on, it could be ‘detrimental’ to their mental health, their social skills, and their ability to have typically developing age-appropriate skills” she added.

Notta says that such constant notifications and pressure of gaining new subscribers, sets unrealistic expectations for creators.

Mental health counselor Fizza Suhail shares same concerns, highlighting the stress and anxiety that can come from constantly being in the spotlight which means there is a constant need to perform.

“The child becomes a ‘performer’ who will do whatever he needs to do to get as many likes as possible,” Suhail said.

Suhail says it also makes children vulnerable to exploitation from sources such as media which can lead to future traumatic stress symptoms as a result of this exploitation.  “This is ultimately just glorified child labor if a child is used by the family to earn money” Suhail added.

Suhail also pointed out the issue of identity, stating that children with early fame might prioritize public demands over their own sense of self, leading to a diffused identity. To mitigate these risks, she emphasized the importance of shielding the child from constant expectations and providing a supportive environment for the child’s development.

According to Notta, Shiraz’s fame was very fast, overwhelmingly and quite ‘scary’, “Exposure to such a fame could lead to issues like cyberbullying, poor academic performance, and developmental delays.” She said.

Notta also emphasizes the crucial role of parents in monitoring their children’s online activities. she urges parents to set time limits for internet use and to spend quality time with their children offline, away from mobile phones and the internet.

Citing research on this matter, she said that grown stars and gifted or talented individuals have all considered their childhoods to be unenjoyable, full of unrealistic expectations, and lacking real connections.

One such example is Canadian singer Justin Bieber, who rose to fame at 13. He also took to social media to share the challenges of dealing with childhood stardom. In his Instagram post, he said that the responsibility and stress at such a young age had a significant impact on him. “There is insane pressure and responsibility put on a child whose brain, emotions, and decision-making abilities aren’t developed yet.”

Despite these challenges, Suhail believes that Shiraz’s mental health can remain unaffected in the long run if his family successfully manages his transition away from fame and provides a nurturing childhood. “He will always remain a little celebrity in his village, and I personally do not see it seriously impacting his mental health in the long run if his family is able to contain his grief at losing this opportunity and provide him with the childhood he is still in,” she concluded.

This story was originally published at VOA Urdu

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