Aubrey Anderson-Emmons — the child actor known for playing Lily, the adoptive daughter of Cam and Mitchell on ABC's Modern Family — has nearly 16,000 followers on Twitter. But when I call her mom Amy Anderson to talk about Aubrey's account, it quickly becomes clear that the four-year-old has no idea it even exists. "Do you know what Twitter is?" I hear Anderson ask her daughter. "You know sometimes we answer questions for people on the computer."
For now, Aubrey seems far more concerned with the location of her Hello Kitty backpack within the house than with answering her mom's questions. "Okay, if you can't be quiet you need to go upstairs," Anderson warns. "As soon as I'm done, we'll go outside and ride our bikes."
A photo of mother and daughter bike riding outside their Los Angeles house, or on the set of Modern Family, are the kinds of things Anderson tweets from her daughter's account, @AubreyLily. She'll also frequently field questions about Aubrey's favorite colors and foods. Though the account's description makes clear that the tweets are typed out by Aubrey's Mom, they're all written in first person.
Child stars have long dealt with excess pressure and overexposure, which can end up being a burden on both the child and the family. Today, they have another thing to worry about – maintaining a coherent social media presence, often before the kids can even spell.
Aubrey's Twitter seems like the project of a highly ambitious Stage Mom, eager to share anything and everything and grow her daughter's fame. But Anderson says it grew out of necessity, not out of self-promotion. Anderson herself is a stand-up comedian, and she found fans tweeting at her with questions for Aubrey. "My Twitter started getting flooded with inquiries for her. And I'm a comedian, so I sometimes tweet some dicey things or make snarky comments. They're just not appropriate for her fans. She's four."
For Anderson, keeping up with the feed and responding to fan questions has become a tempting addition. "I'm addicted to my iPhone so it's hard not to look at it sometimes," she says.
While Anderson created Aubrey's Twitter to have a feed distinct from her own, other moms of celebrity kids have the opposite problem.
Eden Wood, the seven-year-old Toddlers and Tiaras star who now has her own show on Logo, is occasionally subjected to an accidental tweet from her mother. "It's kind of funny, her mom has a Twitter too. She sometimes mixes them up," explains Eden's publicist Andrew Sullivan, who stars in the Logo show alongside her.
Eden, like Aubrey, doesn't know much about Twitter in terms of how to compose a tweet or reply to a message. "But she knows how many fans she has," Sullivan says. "She'll be the first to tell you how famous she is." Though she's too young to tweet for herself, knowing her number of Twitter followers (just over 10,000, a not entirely insane number that should keep her ego in check for now) provides a quantification of her fame in a way that's new for young stars (and, well, for adults too).
But stars like Eden and Aubrey (assuming their careers continue in the direction they're headed) will have to take over their accounts some day. When?
Dr. Carole Lieberman, a Beverly Hills psychiatrist who frequently sees former child stars, says parents tweeting on behalf of celebrity kids is seriously bad news.
"It is an extension of the inappropriate stage mom relationship, and this is just taking it to another level where the mother is literally speaking for her child," she says. "With Twitter, where presumably the parents are sending out tweets that are supposedly from the child, you're further taking away the child's identity. There's already a confusion between the parent and child identity, and to have the parent actually speaking for the child can become very psychologically disturbing for the child. What happens when they're no longer the cute
Lieberman suggests that there is no way for the experience to be a positive one. Even though parents argue they're just responding to fans, she says doing so without the child's full understanding is serving a parent's needs and desires more than it is the child's. Plus, she adds, it can be unsafe. "The other part of it is the parent has to protect the child from a stalker," she adds. "If you tweet a photo of a child at a park or school, you're putting your child in danger. Parents really do need to take this into consideration, because most child stars do not make the transition into adult fame."
Anderson worries a little about the space being unsafe. "Sometimes you see people who you're like, oh that seems like a creep. It's some middle aged man saying oh I love you," she says. But mostly, she reasons, "She need learns to write and spell."
While there are "creeps" on Twitter, Sullivan argues it's actually a less dangerous space than Facebook, where there's friending, more photos, and more sophisticated messaging capacity. "Facebook is a lot riskier. It's less likely for a kid to interact in an inappropriate way on Twitter. It's so public," he says.
While Eden's too young at seven to tweet for herself, Sullivan points out that Lucas Triana, the nine-year-old star of Dance Moms Miami, manages his own Twitter and Instagram. "He responds to every tweet. He doesn't write back big words. It's cute," says Sullivan, who's Triana's manager and publicist. Sullivan argues that it's safe and suitable for Lucas to do his own tweeting because he's "so dance focused that his tweets don't stray away from dance-related stuff. He doesn't really have much personal life to tweet about." But take a quick look at Lucas' feed, @itslucastriana, and you'll find that he's actually busy tweeting photos of his younger brother and a gift he made for Mother's Day. It's innocuous (for now), but his 10,579 and counting followers are certainly not hearing only about dance.
Like his fellow youthful tweeters, his feed is also peppered with "watch our show tonight" self-promotion and the like. Somehow, self-involved tweeting feels less irritating when it's (supposedly) coming from a child.