Family Matters

Film Your Kids, Strike It Rich? Making Videos That Go Viral

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First things first: I’m jealous. Katie Clem has a 6-year-old daughter. So do I. Her little girl is earning thousands of dollars for her. Mine is not. This week, The New York Times chronicled the uncanny world we live in, where a mom with a Flip camera — a YouTube virgin, no less — can post her daughter’s priceless reaction to the news that she’d soon be going to Disneyland and earn enough money from advertisements to send said daughter to college.

Clem’s video went viral and in three weeks, she’s already made $3,000 from ads. That figure is just the beginning: watch the video, and you’ll see why Disney is eager to pay Clem an undisclosed sum to use the footage in its own TV commercials.

No one is more amazed than Clem that the video has been viewed more than 5 million times. This is hardly the case of a hard-charging mother pushing her daughter to show off for the camera; she was just trying to record her kid’s reaction for posterity. There’s Lily, on the couch, as candid-camera as it gets, unpacking her early birthday present, a seemingly bottomless pink princess backpack crammed with stuff: art projects and Oreos (for an upcoming trip — hint, hint), pajamas (to wear in the hotel during that upcoming trip), and an I ♥ Disney t-shirt because — surprise! — they’re going to Disneyland! When Lily hears the news, she is so completely flummoxed that she dissolves into tears.

MORE: Disney’s Princess: A Breakthrough for Curly Hair

And all of a sudden, there were three people crying: Lily, her mom and me. I don’t even know the girl, and I’m tearing up, envisioning her fantastic impending trip to Anaheim, Calif. Judging from her reaction to all her Ariel/Aurora/Snow White bounty, she’s still clearly and firmly ensconced in the princess stage. She’s gonna love Cinderella’s castle and the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, where my own 6-year-old — the one who’s not yet contributing to the family coffers — got primped and drizzled with fairy dust.

Lily’s wide-eyed breakdown is eminently watchable — the magic stuff of a viral video. But when the Times asked her mom for recommendations for would-be videomakers hoping to capitalize on their own kids’ cuteness, Clem came up empty. She didn’t set out to make a viral clip; all she did was say yes when YouTube asked if she’d like to plant ads alongside her video and divvy up the revenue.

“We didn’t try,” Clem told the Times. “I don’t have any advice because I literally went to bed that night and woke up and our lives were completely different.”

MORE: Millions Watch Twin Baby Boys Babble: Are They Truly Talking?

That reminded me: earlier this week, I posted on Facebook about my 6-year-old and 8-year-old, who were scheduled to play a violin concert at their younger sister’s preschool. The night before, my son, who is 8, had practiced how he would introduce himself. He settled on: “Hi, I’m Aviv, Orli’s brother. I started playing the violin when I was your age.” His delivery was as charming as it was (unwittingly) patronizing.

To my surprise, I got a rash of comments begging me to post a video of the concert on YouTube. Tiger Mom I’m not — on too many days their 30-minute violin practice gets whittled to half that and, out of self-preservation, I don’t restrict their visits to the bathroom — but I am still superproud of my two budding virtuosos.

Yet until I read about Clem’s experience, I hadn’t even considered uploading a video. Clearly, though, there’s money to be made out there on the Web. Why shouldn’t my kids and I be the benefactors of some of that largesse? Like Clem, I don’t have any experience uploading videos. But that may change.

Bonnie Rochman is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @brochman. You can also continue the discussion on TIME‘s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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