We not only love a good prank, we live for them. From simple to outrageous, we can’t get enough. Sometimes the line between funny and mean can be blurry, depending on the response of the subject of the prank. You gotta know your audience, so pranks on animals or children should always be short lived and good-hearted (can you say, “I ate your Halloween candy?”). Other times, it is undeniably clear someone is intentionally being cruel or has so little understanding of what it means to be decent that the judicial system has to get involved. The YouTube channel “DaddyOFive” was run by the latter.
WHO IS DADDYOFIVE?
DaddyOFive is a YouTube channel created and run by Michael and Heather Martin. It showed, in detail, what turned into emotionally and sometimes physically abusive pranks these parents played on their five kids: three sons that are Heather’s biological children and the two youngest, Cody and Emma, are Michael’s. The channel, DaddyOFive, was created in the summer of 2015 and the channel’s about page stated, “we as a FAMILY DECIDED to make this YouTube channel just for fun.”
It’s clear these parents didn’t consult their children for an agreed upon definition of “fun.” At its height of popularity, it had 750,000 subscribers and 176 million views.
What Went Wrong?
So much. So much went wrong. Viewers called the Martins out for being physically and emotionally abusive to their children. DaddyOFive had hundreds of videos of pranks directed at all five children, but with Michael’s youngest, Cody, aged 6 in 2015, most often the target. In some videos he was blamed, yelled at, and cursed out for spilling ink (planted by the parents) until he was crying and visibly emotionally suffering.
In another video the parents convinced Cody that he was going to be adopted out to another family, and yet another in which Cody believed his family was leaving him behind while they all enjoyed a trip to Disneyland. Funny, huh?
The Martins played physical “pranks” on the DaddyOFive channel, including one where Cody was pushed into a bookcase, which gave him a bloody nose. The Martins also smashed their kid’s toys, including a beloved X-box, and even went so far as to ordering the older children to slap a distraught Emma.
In one, a teacher sends a note home revealing that Cody is harming himself, and his dad deals with that tid-bit of insight into the instability of their youngest by making fun of him on camera. Unbelievably, according the New York Magazine, the DaddyOFive was earning roughly $350,000 per year. You read that right; $350,000.
Many other YouTubers created their own videos detailing their outrage over DaddyOFive. Eventually, the Martins felt so much heat they deleted most their videos and stopped posting, even though they claimed to be entertainers, and that the kids “would get excited when they would get a lot of views. You know, it was more for shock value.” Well, they got the shock part right. So, the Martins issued a video apology and turned over a new leaf… ish.
YouTube shut down DaddyOFive after many other YouTubers made their own videos expressing their disgust for the Martins and demanded Google (the parent company of YouTube) stop any more activity on the channel.
A spokesman for Google released the following statement: “Content that endangers children is unacceptable to us. We have worked extensively alongside experts in child safety to make sure we have strict policies and are aggressively enforcing them. Given this channel owner’s previous strikes for violating our Guidelines prohibiting child endangerment, we’re removing all of his channels under our Terms of Service.”
All channels, you ask? You didn’t think they’d stop at just one…
Unbelievably, the Martins “re-branded” their channel DaddyOFive to MommyOFive. Clever, huh? Then after some big-time legal trouble (we’ll get to that), changed it to FamilyOFive, and began a new round of pranks on their three oldest boys. That’s right, they just gave it a new name. Well, and a disclaimer: “We are ENTERTAINERS. We are real people, a real family. Some events may be staged/re-enacted/or exaggerated for entertainment purposes.” Again, it feels like the Martins need to check in with their kids on a family definition of “entertainment.”
On this new channel, while more pranks were more directed toward the adults, there was evidence that the Martins couldn’t stay away from harassing their kids. In one, they exposed one son’s text messages to his girlfriend. There was also the video of their son Alex screaming at his dad, “turn off the camera,” and falling to the ground in pain after a ball hits him in the crotch. YouTube lit up with complaints, and now all channels owned by the Martins are shut down for good.
You can’t just abuse your kids on YouTube and expect the only consequence to be a ban on that channel from YouTube. In August 2017 prosecutors from the Frederick County Circuit Court in Maryland filed criminal charges against Michael and Heather Martin, with each person facing two counts of “neglect of a minor.” On September 11, 2017, the Martins pleaded guilty with an Alford plea; a plea asserting innocence but admitting that the evidence presented by the prosecution would result in a guilty verdict. They were sentenced to five years of supervised probation.
The Martins also lost custody of the two youngest children, Cody and Emma. Their biological mother was given emergency custody. The probation maintains that the Martins cannot have contact with Emma or Cody, or their biological mother unless permitted by the court. Heather Martin’s three biological children were not part of the lawsuit, so they continue to live with the “prankster” couple. The children being taken away sparked yet another apology from Heather Martin.
This is the statement given by Heather after the couple lost custody of their two youngest children because of DaddyOFive and its fallout: “This has been the absolute worst week of our lives and we realize that we have made some terrible parenting decisions and we just want to make things right,” Heather said. “As a mother, over the past week, looking back at the videos and just thinking about things, if I didn’t know the people and I saw some of those things, I would be thinking the same things.”
You know, things and things and things.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
The mother of the removed children has issued a statement saying of Emma and Cody “They’re doing good. They’re getting back to their playful selves.”
“The kids are in a deprogramming sort of mode at the moment,” the mother’s lawyer added. Things don’t seem to be going as well for the three remaining boys in the Martin home.
Once FamilyOFive (Get it? Family of seven becomes five because CPS removed two. Awesome parenting math.) was shut down, the remaining three boys from DaddyOFive went on their own publicity campaign condemning those that contributed to the shutdown.
Jake, the oldest of the boys said in a television interview, “We had everything we ever wanted because of YouTube, we enjoyed the attention from YouTube, all these people that were out to ‘help’ somebody, you didn’t help anyone. People ruined our lives over a hobby that we loved claiming they were saving us when the people we needed saving from was you.”
On Probation until 2022, one would hope the Martins would be laying low. Nope. They have a new site with more Martin brand hi-jinx, and will be offering live streaming on Twitch. They’ve made sure everyone knows they’ve learned their lessons by stating on their new page “We have learned many lessons in this journey called life; and we just hope that we can inspire others to know that when you get knocked down, or make a bad decision, it is possible to get back up. That just because it’s the ‘popular’ vote doesn’t mean it’s the truth. And lastly, that you define yourself, no one else can take that power from you.”
The internet is a hilarious venue to show off your pranking skills. We love the creative and outrageous pranks we see every day. However, there is a line. The Martins and DaddyOFive crossed that line, and then continued to cross it. When children are involved, we all need to remember that they don’t recover as quickly as we do, aren’t necessarily as resilient as adults, and can suffer without us even knowing. Getting physically violent with children so you can make a buck by getting more viewers is never ok. That should really go without saying.
Having a family channel to show off how goofy and fun loving a family can be is a fantastic idea, and many do it successfully without crossing, not just personal, but legal lines. The Martins did so much harm to two of their children, they admitted the prosecutors could get a jury to find them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s a problem. And it makes them a lot of money which, in all honesty, seems like the bigger problem.