Spread out aesthetically on the table is the snack selection of my dreams – Cheez-Its, Oreos, Lunchables, Nutella snacks, Mini Cookies, CapriSuns – it’s endless. Each child operates like clockwork, moving from the savoury snack selection to the sweet, to the salad bar, to the sandwich table and then to the drinks cart. I’m lulled into a stupor. Mesmerised by the perfection of the activity. This is how Tiffany and her family of 16 reeled me in.
First I’m watching videos of her kids packing school lunches. Next, I’m watching a three-part tour of her newly renovated home. Then I find myself engulfed in a 30-minute series of each kid tearfully telling me how Tiffany saved them from the depths of an abusive family and welcomed them into her home.
From what started as watching lunchbox packing videos, I’m taken down the rabbit hole that is the Nelson family’s vlogging channel. And let me tell you – it’s hell in there, it’s horror.
Ok so if you’re not a ‘Not Enough Nelson’s’ or ‘NEN’ watcher, let me fill you in. The channel documents the life of Tiffany and her 16 kids (7 birth and 9 adopted) with very brief interludes by her husband Benji. They capture *every* part of their lives including the banal, such as what their kids wear to school, their morning routines and their family holidays to Disneyland to their more intimate moments like car crashes, boy troubles and sneak peaks into Mother NeNs schedule including when she and Father NeN settle down for sexy time.
The videos receive anywhere between 300k to 2 million views and are completely professionalised – with sponsorships, product placements and clickbait titles like “CALLED the POLICE and AMBULANCE! Rushing NAYVEE to the EMERGENCY ROOM! *UPDATE*” and “WE GOT INTO A CAR ACCIDENT!! *HiT and RUN!! GIRLS TRiP!”.
The NENs are just one of the thousands of ‘family vlogging channels’ on YouTube. Usually, they consist of mothers spearheading the channel and shoving a camera in the child’s face at random moments of the day to pretend to capture genuine reactions to what are obviously fabricated moments. In short, it’s a way to monetise being a parent.
Now at face value many of these family vlogs might seem harmless. I mean, parents film their kids all the time, right? How do you think Funniest Home Videos has sustained a 33-season run? But after hours of watching the Not Enough Nelsons channel, I see family vlogging as something entirely more dark and dangerous than laughing at a kid falling off a trampoline in the backyard.
Besides the obvious issue of consent (which these kids are not), the larger problem with these channels is the unpaid labour of it all. Because these NeN children are no longer just part of a large, 16-child family (a struggle in and of itself) – they are unpaid actors in their own lives. Each seemingly dreamy family vacation to Hawaii or Disneyland is not a holiday. It’s work. And these kids are expected to be ON 24/7, whether they’re eating breakfast, brushing their teeth or telling their mum about a bully at school.
And while some of the kids clearly thrive in front of the camera and love their vlog life – namely the TikTok contingent (NayVee, SaiDie, Paisley and LiLee – yes that random capitalisation is actually part of their name) and Kass who has grown up, moved out and made her own YouTube channel with her husband (a literal spin-off show), others clearly wish they could be valued for their personalities and not their TikTok dance abilities. But regardless of if they like it or not, this is a *family* vlog channel so each kid must smile and pack their lunch in front of the camera, making these children more like employees at Nelson Family Incorporated, rather than one of the 16 members of an unwieldy family.
Because at the very core of this channel is the publicization and monetization of intimate and vulnerable parts of their children’s lives.
Let’s first start with the adoptions. 9 of the 16 ‘NeN’ gang (yes that random capitalisation runs throughout the channel) are adopted. Each adopted child has a ‘tell-all’ episode about how they came to be a Nelson. In this video, they sit with Mother NeN and disclose the sad details of their previous lives in orphanages, broken homes or families with substance abuse. And at the very end, we’re gifted with a ‘reveal’ of their previous names.
Each episode is meant to make us as viewers feel ‘closer’ to each character, sorry *child*, after knowing their past traumas and feel relieved that they’re now living a full and happy life as a vlogger in the NeN mansion. Yes, it’s literally a mansion and no we never find out how they can afford to live like this.
But as I watch each child get hugged by Mother NeN at the end of each episode, I’m left wondering how many times this poor child must relive these clearly traumatic experiences. And what the child is gaining from this?
But wait, it gets worse.
Because not only are the NeNs profiting off exposing and publicising the past hardships of their non-consenting adoptive children’s lives – they’re profiting off their current misfortunes too. Each family has their problems, and the NeNs are no exception. Luckily for the NeNs, each ‘problem’ is also a new opportunity for monetisation. NayVee was ‘rushed to hospital’. Kass’s miscarriage got turned into a 3 part series. JourNee’s harrowing adoption story and disability earnt her valuable solo minutes in the family Q&A and her own episode. And after the fans had been DYING for it. We finally got an update on Bridger’s drug problem. Which was also a sneaky chance to tell you about their faith as Mormons.
But ok Mother and Father NeN aren’t straight-up evil. They know when to give each kid time off-screen to heal. And the way the family explain this to the viewers is yep – you guessed it – in episodes with clickbait titles like ‘WHERE Has BRIDGER Been?! *FINALLY The TRUTH’ and ‘Emotional Goodbye to our Daughter for 18 months!!’. It’s almost like their kids are beloved secondary characters in a TV show that are getting killed off.
You really have to give it to the NeN’s. They’ve created storylines so gripping that it’s hard to turn away. Even though I’m fully aware of all the ethical issues with this channel, when each new episode pops up in the feed, it’s honestly difficult not to get sucked in.
At the end of the day, how Mother and Father NeN choose to parent is up to them. And if they want to turn their family into a company with 16 underaged employees – that’s their choice.
So I guess as a viewer, the best thing I can do is ‘Not Interested’ their videos and leap out of the family vlogging rabbithole the way I came in, through lunchbox packing compilation videos. As a gift, here’s one of my favourites.
Image via Canva templates