YouTuber Parents Sentenced Because They Abused Their Kids, Not Just 'Pranked' Them

Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Juliette Virzi, The Mighty’s Associate Mental Health Editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway. 

Editor’s Note: If you have experienced emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

On Monday, “DaddyOFive” YouTubers Heather and Michael Martin were sentenced to five years probation for child neglect after their video series “pranking” their children sparked near unanimous outrage.

Though the videos have now been deleted from their YouTube channel, BuzzFeed News reported “some of the videos depicted the Martins yelling at their children until they cried, screaming obscenities at their children and — in one instance — shoving a child who then got a bloody nose.”

One of the most chilling aspects of this story is that the videos consistently bore the label “prank.” But these videos aren’t pranks, and we need to call them what they are — emotional abuse.

According to PsychCental, a classic sign of emotional abuse is the use of humiliation and discounting. Not only have the Martins humiliated their children online in front of thousands of viewers, they have also used the word “prank” to discount the reality of their actions.

We need to talk about the way this kind of minimizing language can affect a child who has experienced very real emotional abuse and trauma. When a parent is at fault and says things like, “You should have known I wasn’t serious,” it unfairly shifts the blame to the child, effectively telling them: “You can’t feel the way you feel because you misinterpreted my intentions.”

By assigning the term “prank” to their actions, the Martins have controlled and minimized the narrative of their children’s experience — and the psychological effects of these actions may be lifelong. We need to take this seriously, because as many people who experienced emotional abuse as children know, the impact, unfortunately, isn’t confined to just childhood.

A study examining the effect of abusive experiences on adulthood found that adults who were abused as children were more likely to experience physical health problems, negative health-related behaviors and have impaired coping mechanisms.

Emotional abuse is serious, and parents who engage in abusive behavior should be prosecuted like the Martins were. According to BuzzFeed News, as a result of The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office and Child Protective Services investigations, the Martin children have undergone psychological evaluations. Through the evaluations, two of the children were determined to have suffered “mental injury” because of the videos.

The parents’ probation includes no contact with those two children and they are barred from posting videos that feature them on social media.

If you’ve felt personally impacted by this news, know you are not alone. If you identify with having your story reframed by someone else, please reach out. Your experience is real, and your feelings matter.

If you or a loved one is affected by domestic violence or emotional abuse and need help, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Screenshot via YouTube.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of the post included the names of the Martin children. We’ve since removed their names to protect their privacy.

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