Child neglect masked as pranks for YouTube fame


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By Ariana Portalatin

Michael Martin begins a video with three of his five children explaining a game he wants them to play called “Bottle Flip Slap,” which requires the kids to play against each other and take turns flipping a bottle on a small table. If the bottle lands on its side instead of standing up, the player is slapped by another child. Unfortunately for his daughter, she loses a round, and a screaming match ensues when one of his sons is reluctant to hit his sister. He eventually does so after being encouraged by Michael, who doesn’t console his daughter in any way during the video after she begins to cry in pain while curled up on the bedroom floor.

This video is one of many that caused parents Michael and Heather Martin, who is the stepmother to the two youngest of the five children, to be sentenced Sept. 11 to five years of probation on two counts of child neglect after an investigation of the content of their YouTube channel, DaddyOFive.

After public outcry in May about their “pranks” that often included their children crying or in pain, the two youngest children were taken out of the Martins’ custody and placed with their biological mother, Rose Hall, who also made a YouTube video thanking the platform’s community for revealing the controversial activities and calling for action. During examinations of the two children taken out of custody, psychologists determined the two children were traumatized by what their parents called “pranks.”

The investigation ended after the Martins entered Alford plea deals, which allow them to maintain their innocence while acknowledging the evidence to the charges. According to a Sept. 11 Baltimore Sun article, the probation sentence includes conditions that the Martins may not have contact with the two children or Hall, unless permitted by the court, and cannot post videos or photos of the children on social media unless for “legitimate family purposes.” They also must comply with mental health treatment advised by their probation officer. Hall was not satisfied with the sentencing, and rightly so. While the parents’ probation will last only five years, the trauma experienced at such an early age is likely to last the kids’ lifetime.

Defense attorney Stephen R. Tully said he will be filing a motion to reduce sentencing and/or remove charges from their records if the Martins abide by their probation conditions, but this should not be allowed. The sentencing and charges should be a permanent reminder that child neglect and abuse is unacceptable and cannot go unpunished.

The parents claim harm was never intended and only created the channel, which gained about 800,000 subscribers since its launch, to help provide a better life for their children. They also posted an apology video to their channel saying they made a mistake—but are they truly sorry for the harm caused to their children or are they just sorry they got caught? It should not have taken a criminal investigation and a psychologist’s evaluation to determine that harm was inflicted on the children because it was obvious from their reactions to the pranks in the videos.

While contact with them may not be easily given to the Martins, steps must also be taken to keep a careful eye on the three older children not included in the investigation to ensure that these pranks do not continue in the future. YouTube fame should not be had at the expense of those it is supposed to benefit, and it should not be sought through controversial practices that include the harm of others.