A Pair Of YouTube Pranksters Lost Custody Of Their Children Over Controversial, Abusive Videos

Many would call Mike and Heather Martin among the worst parents of 2017, as they stood accused of abusing their children for fame and video clicks. The Maryland couple created YouTube accounts and online aliases in 2015 named DaddyOFive and MommyOFive, where they would post daily "prank" videos, often at the expense of their five children. The blended family includes Mike's two children from another marriage, Cody and Emma, along with Heather's three sons.

Many insist these videos inadvertently document child abuse while posing as pranks. Young Cody is often accused of bad behavior and is picked on by Mike, Heather, and the older kids. All their videos remain difficult to view, even if, as the Martins insist, they were all staged. However, one clip in particular, depicting a prank involving invisible ink, went viral, and sparked widespread outrage, leading, as many would insist, to a justifiable removal of the Martins' children from their home.

Were the Martins victims of "haters" and public over-sensitivity, or were their so-called pranks an unintentional window into severe psychological and emotional abuse?

  • A Video Involving Spilled Ink Alerted The Public To The Martins

    A Video Involving Spilled Ink Alerted The Public To The Martins
    Video: YouTube

    The above piece from Inside Edition features clips from the Martins' original video. Some viewers may find its content upsetting.

    While Mike and Heather Martin previously uploaded nearly 300 videos to their respective YouTube channels, it was Mr. Martin's video posted in April 2017 to his "Daddy O Five" account that first stirred widespread controversy.

    The video begins with Heather Martin holding a bottle of invisible ink, explaining the prank she and her husband will shortly play on their son Cody, who was nine years old at the time. (He is also, it should be noted here, Mike Martin's son from a previous marriage to Rose Hall.) Mrs. Martin squirts the novelty ink on Cody's bedroom carpet, then screams and curses at the boy and his brother, Alex, for making a mess.

    Mr. Martin joins in the berating, as do some of the other children. While sobbing, Cody pleads his innocence while his parents yell at him, tell him he's lying, and explain various forms of punishment they intend to use, such as taking his game console away and selling all of his Pokemon toys.

    The video ends with the parents laughing, and Mr. Martin exclaiming, "It's just a prank, bruh." The parents then instruct Cody, who is still red from his crying and begging, to promote their YouTube channel. 

  • The "Invisible Ink" Prank Was Not An Isolated Incident

    While the prank involving novelty, disappearing ink created an online firestorm of protest against the Martins, it was not the first video of its kind. The couple produced and published hundreds of other prank videos involving their children, with the primary targets being 9-year-old Cody and 11-year-old Emma (who is also Mike Martin's child from his previous marriage to Rose Hall).

    Nearly all the videos feature the same level of ostensible cruelty on display in the "invisible ink" prank. Among one of the most upsetting involves Mr. Martin enlisting the children in a game whereby they attempt to flip a bottle and land it right-side up. If the child does not accomplish this, one of their siblings gets to slap them in the face.

    Both Cody and Emma receive slaps from their brother Alex, so much so they both cry. Regarding Emma,  Mr. Martin reminds his sons and the camera that, “You know you don’t hit girls, but she’s your sister so she don’t count.” Emma in particular appears emotionally crushed by the behavior.

  • The Martins Made Considerable Money From "DaddyOFive"

    Prior to the controversy spurred on by the "invisible ink" video, Mike Martin's "DaddyOFive" channel alone garnered 750,000 subscribers and accumulated over 176 million views. Because of this huge following, the Martins reportedly earned between $200,000 and $350,000 for all their videos combined - which roughly calculates to $100,000 a year on the low end, from the channel's inception in 2015 to its fallout in 2017.

    The questions of emotional child abuse aside, this revenue raises ethical concerns. As New York Magazine writer Rachel Dunphy explains:

    Though many young YouTube stars essentially work as child entertainers - the Martins explicitly claim that their kids are acting, and many families are open about scripting some videos - the conditions of and income from their labor are not regulated. Most rely entirely on the generosity of their parents, who receive automated payments from ad revenue, to see any benefit from their work, and that financial coercion is important to consider when the Martin children making middling or even positive statements about their parents’ treatment, as they did in a since-privatized initial response.

  • The Martins Attacked Their "Haters" Following The Scandal

    Numerous negative comments and other online backlash prompted Mike Martin to create a follow-up to their "invisible ink" prank. The video essentially features Mike and Heather Martin denying they have done anything wrong in pranking their children, and that anyone throwing criticism their way simply don't understand their family and don't have a sense of humor. 

    The kids chime in next, effectively stating that they think the pranks are funny. Mike Martin asks if anyone has been "traumatized," to which the children all reply "No." When Mr. Martin asks Cody specifically if he feels traumatized, he replies no, but also adds that he doesn't really know what the word means. 

  • Philip DeFranco Calls The Parents Out For Being Abusive And Brings The Issue To Light

    Philip DeFranco Calls The Parents Out For Being Abusive And Brings The Issue To Light
    Video: YouTube

    Philip DeFranco is a YouTube personality who covers news stories. He decided to highlight the DaddyOFive invisible ink video to show why the pranks were disturbing. His breakdown and analysis of the abusive nature of the pranks led to massive outrage all around the web. Though DeFranco was not the first to point out the horrific emotional and verbal abuse the children suffered in DaddyOFive's videos, he certainly was a catalyst in dragging the situation into the spotlight. 

  • Numerous Psychologists Stated The Pranks Constituted Abuse, Whether Intentional Or Not

    Numerous Psychologists Stated The Pranks Constituted Abuse, Whether Intentional Or Not
    Photo: John Caffaro, Ph.D. / @jvcaffaro / Twitter

    Not only were average citizens appalled at the behavior exhibited by the Martins in their videos, in the wake of the scandal several child psychologists weighed in, confirming that these pranks - even if they were, in some way, pre-scripted, as Mike and Heather Martin insisted - were detrimental to the children's mental health and well-being.

    Washington Post writer Abby Ohlheiser consulted with one unnamed professional, who reported that he "was distressed and had trouble sitting through the videos" to the end. Ohlheiser also quotes John Caffaro, a professor at the California School of Professional Psychology, as stating:

    There is little question in my mind that the three videos depict abusive behavior between parents and children as well as between siblings. The parents’ constant and intense ridicule, involving both words and actions that express contempt, and degradation, deprive the child victim of a sense of self worth.

    Caffaro also adds that whether or not the videos are real or scripted has no bearing on the emotional effect these pranks can have on children, noting that kids as old as Cody and Emma Martin generally can't make a fully cognitive distinction between "'fake' and 'real' abusive behavior, even if the parents are."

    But what of the psychiatric professionals who observed the children following removal from the Martins' home? Baltimore Sun writer Brittany Britto reports that, according to Frederick County Assistant State’s Attorney Lindy Angel, 

    a neuropsychologist who worked with Frederick County Child Protective Services during the investigation found that 11-year-old Emma and 10-year-old Cody Martin... had experienced 'observable, identifiable and substantial impairments of their mental or psychological ability to function.'