I, as much as any young zillenial, love my 2000s shows. From fashion inspo in That’s So Raven and endless shower concerts with Hannah Montana to the knowledge that it’s okay to speak to myself everyday from Lizzie McGuire, I was truly in my pop culture lane as a kid. One show that stands out in particular, among the girl-centric catalogue that Disney especially built up for the little tween me, was The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and its two twin stars in the making: Dylan and Cole Sprouse. The sitcom rocked my world, making me dead set on wanting to spend my life in a hotel forever—playing around with bellhops and teasing a manager long enough for them to shout the famous phrase “no running in my lobby.”
Recently, however, it has come to light that the film industry leaves no prisoners—even child actors as young as 11 apparently—as Cole Sprouse (the twin whose secondary Instagram snaps strangers who sneakily try to get a shot of him) has spoken out about the heavy crown child stars bear from a young age on the silver screen. You may also know Sprouse if you’re a Friends fanatic, as he played Ross’ son on the show, but he actually got his big break alongside Adam Sandler and his brother Dylan in Big Daddy.
In a recent interview with The New York Times (NYT) on Monday 4 April, aptly titled Cole Sprouse on Finding a Healthy Balance in Hollywood, the now 29-year-old Riverdale star opened up about the “toll that fame takes” and the immense trauma child stars undergo upon reflection. Sprouse also shed light on his journey from his days as a tiny tot in the three-season run of The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, aged 11, and his career post playing the brainiac brother.
Munching on a chicken wrap and puffing on a vape pen, Sprouse “spoke about billionaires, the effects of childhood fame and turning 30.” Reflecting on the celebrity, the NYT article covered Sprouse’s highs and lows as a junior in Hollywood, and how “by age 18, [both he and his brother were] effectively burned out.”
After his time at New York University, and a swanking degree in archaeology, Sprouse was ready to call it quits on showbiz. It was by chance that the promise he made to his manager “to give one more round of TV auditions a go before quitting the industry for good,” landed Sprouse back in the belly of the beast—as Jughead Jones on everyone’s favourite, artistically-excellent and revered CW show Riverdale. Once he booked the role as the “brooding outcast,” he was promptly “sucked in again,” the article mentioned.
“I started acting when I was so young that I hadn’t actually attempted, as an adult, to think about if I really enjoyed performance,” Sprouse shared.
However, his experiences could not compare to that of young female stars at Disney Channel. Unfortunately, the brunted burden fell on the shoulders of his female counterparts and co-stars who were “heavily sexualised” from an earlier age than he and his brother by the network. “When we talk about child stars going nuts, what we’re not actually talking about is how fame is a trauma,” Sprouse continued.
“I’m violently defensive against people who mock some of the young women who were on [Disney Channel] when I was younger because I don’t feel like it adequately comprehends the humanity of that experience and what it takes to recover,” the actor said.
On the verge of turning 30, Sprouse shared, “I feel like my ducks are in a row better than they’ve ever been.” While we live in the era of reboots, the actor doesn’t think he’ll go back to his hotel escapade days again. “I don’t think I’ll ever return to [The Suite Life of Zack & Cody].” Divulging on the reasons behind his decision, he said “I’m just a big believer that if something is beautiful in the past, you should let it stay beautiful. To bring it into the future feels a bit like reheating a really good, fresh meal in the microwave.” All in favour, say ‘Aye’.
Luckily enough for Sprouse—and the rest of us—he cut the cord on some fans’ hopes of seeing him as a 30-year-old actor in their favourite high school shows. “And, I hate to break it to everybody, I’m not the only 30-year-old playing a teen on television,” he concluded. Sprouse recently appeared in HBO Max’s sci-fi romance film Moonshot, alongside Lana Condor and Emily Rudd in March 2022.
Do you ever wonder how in the world child stars on Instagram have followings of hundreds of thousands if not millions? If you can see past all your envy at the shiny brand deals and the sponsorship galore on their pages, you might notice they say ‘Account run by Mommy’ in the bio. I decided to take a closer look and what I found horrified me. Introducing the horror that is the ‘Mommy-ran account’.
In the digital age, everything is content—from teens train hopping on TikTok and participating in trash streaming abuse on YouTube to silent streams that send viewers into a serene sleep and mukbang content creators slowly killing themselves for clicks—the list of opportunities to go viral seems endless. As a result, this means that the line between what is ethical and what isn’t often gets blurry, especially when the content in question includes other people than the main creator. Today, we’re going to think of the children and investigate the bizarre and dangerous world of mommy-ran accounts.
While some might argue that TikTok has an educational value that differs from formal education in a beneficial way, it’s also important to note that the platform is yet to have found a successful approach to dealing with its problem of children being exposed to harmful content. With potential predators and even paedophiles hiding behind their screens, child safety is a concern many have on their mind, especially parents. Simply speaking, it’s dangerous to have children online in any capacity, although there are known ways to safeguard their experience as much as possible.
But what happens when the very people who are supposed to protect their children are the ones putting them in danger (either knowingly or unknowingly)?
Between aesthetic moms and mommy managers that have found ways to make money out of their little darlings on Instagram and TikTok, there are also the mommy-ran accounts—profiles of kidfluencers where their parents (usually mothers) are behind the wheel.
SCREENSHOT talked to one mother and content creator to gain some insight from the community in order to understand more about the harmful circles operating around mommy-ran accounts. Speaking to Sarah Adams, otherwise known as @mom.uncharted on TikTok, I was horrified by the world she uncovered hiding in the follower lists of mommy accounts: paedophiles and predators.
As a married mother of two children, Adams shared that she is “fascinated by the evolution and state of parental public oversharing.” She described her content as “focused around parental public oversharing—think family vloggers or influencers who have turned kids into content.” I can certainly name a few, I’m side-eyeing the ACE Family here.
The content creator also wanted to talk more openly online about the concept of ‘Sharenting’ (the practice of parents publicising content about their children on internet platforms). “I’ve also incorporated child safety, online sharing practices, and sharing stories/articles related to the topics I discuss,” she added. Asking Adams why she chose to investigate mommy-ran accounts—since it’s a very dark rabbit hole to fall into—she explained that they fell into an intersection of her content around child exploitation on social media.
Adams’ primary predicaments with these accounts fit into three categories: “One: the exploitation of children for fame and financial gain, two: privacy and consent—children cannot give informed consent [as well as] their right to privacy infringed upon and three: the disregard, or lack of knowledge on the dangers/potential consequences, for the child’s online safety.”
Some are uncomfortable with these accounts posting so much content. For example, one of Adam’s videos covers the epidemic of children being filmed sleeping, in the middle of breakdowns and intimate milestones or purposefully disrupting them from their routines in order to make so-called ‘entertaining’ content. Though Adams maintained that it is well within a parent’s right to post what they want of their children, she clarified that her issue lies with the “belief that children also have a right to privacy.”
“I do not think strangers on the internet should be privy to so much information and have so much access to your children. We are unaware of the long-term effects or potential consequences to having our children’s lives played out online for the public so as parents—we need to err on the side of caution and be mindful of what we post,” she continued.
Adams’ concern lies in those yet unknown long-term consequences. Years of being forced to be a fashionista, a brand rep for money and a constant vehicle of sometimes distressing content creation must impact a child negatively, right? “I think the long-term effects have yet to be seen other than the issues of privacy, consent and safety,” she first told me.
But the video creator seemed to share the same sentiment I did, that being judged purely for physical, aesthetic or any aspects of your life that are out of your control will most definitely have an impact on a child. “Being thrown into the world of materialism and consumerism at such a young age is bound to have some effects on a child’s psyche,” Adams explained.
Moving on, we dived into the deep end and started to peel back the curtain on the predators: the most terrifying side of the world of mommy-ran accounts. “They aren’t hiding over on the ‘dark web’, they are active and present on all the social media platforms and currently there is no effective way to remove them from [those],” Adams divulged.
Furthermore, it’s simple for them to lay in wait undetected and manoeuvre past safety blocks. “It’s easy for anyone to create an anonymous account with a photo of a puppy or a stock model and curate a whole private account of minor accounts they follow,” she continued.
In one viral video of Adams’, she brought up the use of emojis, hashtags and words—some of the most commonly seen being ‘MAP’ (for ‘Minor Attracted Person’), ‘69’, ‘drp’, 🍕—and I asked her to expand on what they signify.
“This was a new discovery for me so I am not overly familiar, however, people in my comment section on that video have stated a variety of symbols and words they use to identify themselves. The blue swirl, which is the 🌀, is one I was informed of by a fellow TikToker that stands for ‘looking for/interested in young boys’. Cheese pizza (🍕) has the acronym ‘CP’ which is covert for ‘Child Porn’.”
Furthermore, brands should let kids be kids and move away from working with kidfluencers or individuals who are exploiting their children. “There are amazing mom accounts that don’t or seldom feature their children and the brands should focus on collaborating with those individuals,” she stated.
While it doesn’t look like mommy-ran accounts will be going away anytime soon, Adams and others online are starting to call them out. And about time too. With her content, Adams remains assured in her mission to unveil the dangers of child content on the internet for other parents to be aware of. “My main goal is to present a different perspective on public parental oversharing in an attempt to have parents pause before posting and think, ‘Do my kids really need to be here?’” Adams finished off.